Each European country is already working on ways to reopen its borders to give way again to freedom of movement, lost during this coronavirus crisis, and gradually reactivate their economies. Among these countries are three from the Baltic area –Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania– and Austria, which on Saturday night will open its doors to six of its eight neighboring countries.
In the case of this Central European country, the Government’s objective is to facilitate the free movement of goods and people, especially of employees crossing the border to get to their jobs.
At the moment, as reported by the Ministry of the Interior of Austria, will open the borders with Germany, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary. From now on, these six borders will only carry out random health checks on travelers.
The objective, according to the government of the coalition between conservatives and ecologists, is to fully open its borders with those countries as of June 15, as long as the epidemic allows it.
Austria, with almost nine million inhabitants, is one of the most advanced European countries in the control of the pandemic, with less than a thousand patients and a downward trend in infections. So the Austrian government said on Friday that it does not see for the moment no chance of opening its borders with Italy, one of the countries of the European Union most affected by the coronavirus.
The last country bordering Austria is Slovenia, which announced on Friday the full opening of its borders. However, Vienna is still negotiating with that country to also open its side of the border.
In the same way, the Government of the Czech Republic for the time being keeps its border closed for all non-resident foreign travelers. That entry ban for tourists remains despite the fact that this Saturday the state of emergency decreed two months ago to fight the pandemic expires.
The three baltic republics
North of the Old Continent are Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, that this Saturday have reopened their internal borders to create a kind of micro Schengen area which they appreciate as a positive political message to other countries of the European Union (EU) in the progressive de-escalation of measures against the pandemic.
In statements to Efe Ojars Kalnins, a former Latvian ambassador to the United States, commented that the measure approved this week by the leaders of his country together with those of Lithuania and Estonia “shows that the three baltic countries can cooperate, as they have already been doing in a large infrastructure project, Rail Baltica “, in reference to the plan for the railway interconnection between these republics to unite them with Western Europe.
Kalnins cited a recent article published in the magazine Foreign Policy who praised Latvia for its rational and science-based approach to the pandemic, which has caused fewer than twenty deaths.
Small boost to the tourism sector
Unlike in the Austrian case, whose objective is mainly to promote the transport of goods and people who need to cross the border to work, these three Baltics expect a modest recovery of the tourist market, which represents between 5% and 7.8% of its GDP, although the “Baltic bubble” is still awaiting the arrival of Germans and Scandinavians, its main visitors.
Since COVID-19 alerts were issued in mid-March in all three countries, there has been an almost complete closure of tourist travel and the joint decision of their prime ministers to reopen the borders creates a “tourist bubble” within a European Union with many more restrictions.
“It is a wonderful step,” he told Efe Janis Pinnis of the Latvian Hotel and Restaurant Association. However, he warned that local demand and visitors from Lithuania and Estonia only represent 25% of total hotel capacity. “What we need is for travel to resume from Scandinavia, Germany and Russia,” he said.
Iveta Gruodyte, specialist of the Lithuanian tour operator Baltic Tours, wrote for his part that “most of our tourists come from the United States, Germany and some Australians. The borders between our three countries are already open but our clients cannot come, there are no flights from other countries. “
Restrictive measures have been relaxed in all three countries, although in Latvia, for example, bars and restaurants did not completely close at any time during the crisis. In this way, arriving tourists will have places to stay, rest and eat, always respecting social distancing and security measures -as a more controlled capacity limits-, which are maintained everywhere.