12 June 2020 | OPINION
Richard Rimkus is Editor in Chief of Conservatives Global and Chairman of Conservative Friends of the Baltic States.
The UK has recently introduced a mandatory quarantine at its borders for all incoming traffic to the country. This is on top of the now more than two-month-old Foreign Office recommendation not to travel abroad. However, it is suggested that our Prime Minister is extremely keen to do away with quarantine procedures for new arrivals to the UK as soon as possible. It has been reported that he is instead in favour of so-called “Air Bridges” between nations, coming into force as soon as the end of the month if the levels of infection remain low.
But what is an Air Bridge? According to a recent government statement, they are:
“Agreements between countries who both have low transmission rates to recognise each other’s departure screening measures for passengers and removing the need for quarantine measures for incoming passengers.”
This possible shift in the Government’s approach to international travel may come just in time for part of the Summer Holiday season, providing a much-needed boost for international travel and the associated industries.
As such, as Chairman of the Conservative Friends of the Baltic States, a new organisation seeking to build stronger links between the Conservative Party and the Baltic States, I strongly believe that the Government should consider the Baltic States as a natural starting point for the agreement of Air Bridges.
Firstly, the Baltic States are certainly within the requirement for a low transmission rate of Covid-19. Both Latvia and Lithuania have fewer than 650 cases per million people, and Estonia has fewer than 1,500 cases per million. By contrast, the UK has more than 4,000 cases per million. Not only do they have impressively low rates of transmission, each of the three countries has suffered fewer than 60 deaths per million people – in comparison the UK, which is at almost 600 deaths per million.
Secondly, tourism is an important part of the economies of the Baltic States, with it making up almost 5 percent of GDP for Latvia in 2016, for example. Not only is tourism a part of the Baltic State economies, they are also very good at it – the Baltic Sea region is recognised as having a strong, sustainable approach to the industry. All three nations are in the top half of the Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Index (2017). As such, there is a great opportunity for the UK here to take advantage of the tourism that the Baltics offer, which in turn will drive our untapped potential forward.
Moreover, at this time of international upheaval – Covid-19, Brexit and Russian aggression – now is a great opportunity for the UK to reaffirm its commitment to its strategic friends and allies in NATO. The Baltic States are a vital part of this transatlantic alliance, as they represent the easternmost European states in the organisation. Establishing Air Bridges between the United Kingdom and the Baltic States would acknowledge the importance that the UK places on both its own role in NATO and the roles that Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia play.
Finally, and most importantly, choosing the Baltic States would not represent a leap into the unknown. Around a month ago, the Baltic States established the first “travel bubble” in Europe. Therefore, they have already got valuable experience in easing travel restrictions in this time of coronavirus – I am certain that the Prime Minister will consider this to be an important factor in his deliberations.