2020.03.17 08:59

Coronavirus: 22 confirmed cases, Lithuanians offered charter flights from Spain

BNS, LRT.lt2020.03.17 08:59

Four new coronavirus cases have been confirmed in Lithuania on Tuesdat. One of the patients belongs to a risk group and his condition is complicated, according to the health minister.

The latest case of Covid-19 was diangosed in Vilnius. The person has returned from the Netherlands and has been hospitalised in Vilnius Santara Clinics, the Ministry of Health has announced.

Three more cases were diagnosed in Klaipėda earlier in the day, two in Klaipėda and one in Vilnius.

Read more: Coronavirus in Lithuania: information for foreign citizens

The people diagnosed with Covid-19 in Klaipėda recently returned from north Italy and Denmark. The third case, a person who has returned from the Czech Republic, was diagnosed in Vilnius, the Ministry of Health confirmed to BNS.

Klaipėda Mayor Vytautas Grubliauskas has said that one of the patients in Klaipėda is a 32-year-old woman who visited Italy. The second one is a man who worked for the same company in Denmark as two other Lithuanian men previously diagnosed with the coronavirus.

Complicated case

Tuesday's first case is a man who has returned from South Africa. The patient is being treated at Panevėžys Hospital.

He belongs to a risk group, Health Minister Aurelijus Veryga told LRT RADIO on Tuesday morning.

“He was tested [for the coronavirus] when he was already in treatment and his condition was complicated. It's the first risk-group patient in Lithuania and such a complicated case,” Veryga said.

The patient is over 60 and needed intubation, according to the minister.

Arvydas Skorupskas, the director of Panevėžys Hospital, later commented that the man was being treated in the emergency room where he is isolated from other patients.

He said the man was hospitalised on March 12 due to gastroenerocolitis, or inflammation of stomach and intestines. Only later was he diagnosed with the coronavirus, according to Skorupskas.

The patient's condition is severe and his lungs need to be ventilated. “He is of advanced age, has a classical set of concomitant conditions that are described in medical literature,” Skorupskas explained.

According to him, members of the hospital staff who were in contact with the patient are currently under observation.

In all, Lithuania has diagnosed 22 coronavirus cases. All of the patients so far are thought to have contracted the virus abroad.

The first patient, who was diangosed on February 28, has recovered and has been released home.

As of Monday, anyone who develops at least one symptom of acute respiratory infection, such as a sudden onset of fever, cough and shortness of breath, within 14 days after returning from any foreign country is considered potentially infected, the Health Ministry said.

Anyone arriving in Lithuania from another country must self-isolate for 14 days.

Four flights from Valencia, Tenerife booked for Lithuanians

Four commercial flights, including two from Valencia and two from Tenerife, have been booked for Lithuanians stranded in Spain, Transport Minister Jarosval Narkevič told reporters on Tuesday.

Lithuanians will be able to return from Tenerife on Wednesday and those from Valencia will return on Thursday, he said.

People will have to pay for the flights themselves. Tickets from Valencia will cost 295 euros per persons, and 500 euros for the flights from Tenerife.

The flights from Valencia are being organized by Kidy Tour, and people are being invited to register for the flights at One plane will be able to accommodate 220 passengers.

The first plane from Valencia is scheduled to take off at 10:00 local time, and the second flight will take place in the evening of the same day, with the exact time to be announced later.

Teztour will fly Lithuanians from Tenerife, Narkevič said.

"Teztour will organise two flights from Tenerife to Vilnius, and the planes will take 170 passengers each," the minister said.

People are invited to register for these flights on the company's websites.

Based on initial data, there are around 2,000 Lithuanians in Spain willing to return to Lithuania.

Stuck in traffic in Germany

Traffic congestion is preventing Lithuanians from reaching a special train and a ferry that are waiting to bring them home from Germany, Foreign Minister Linas Linkevičius said on Tuesday.

The situation will not change unless Poland speeds up the flow of traffic through its border, he added.

The Lithuanian foreign minister and his Baltic and German counterparts discussed the situation during a video conference meeting earlier on Tuesday.

The foreign ministers agreed to seek a European solution to establish humanitarian corridors for people who want to return home, according Linkevičius.

Under an arrangement approved by the Lithuanian government, drivers of Lithuanian-registered passenger cars, which are not allowed to enter Poland from Germany, are to drive their passengers to Frankfurt's central train station and then head for a ferry in Sassnitz.

“Everything seems to be technically ready, but physically, people can't get either to the train or to the ferry,” the minister told BNS. “Nothing can be done unless the throughput capacity of the Polish border improves.”

Linkevičius said he thanked German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas for efforts by German police to control the situation at the border with Poland and for making it possible for Lithuania to arrange the repatriation ferry.

The situation at the Polish-German border escalated after Poland decided not to allow Lithuanian passenger cars to transit through its territory in a convoy.

Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda told BNS after a conversation with his Polish counterpart that Warsaw made the decision because of the risks due to drivers' fatigue.

Lithuanians are allowed to transit through Poland in organised bus convoys.

The Lithuanian, Latvian, Estonian and German foreign ministers also discussed the possibility of cooperating at European level on medical supply purchases, according to Linkevičius.

Additional ferry booked for Baltic citizens to return from Germany on Wednesday

An additional ferry from Germany's Sassnitz to Latvia's Ventspils has been booked for Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian citizens, according to the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry.

"The departure is scheduled for 23:55 German time on March 18. Tickets are available on Tallink's website," the ministry said. The ferry can accommodate 2,500 passengers and 300 vehicles.

First convoy crosses Poland

The first convoy of vehicles returning home via Poland crossed into Lithuania on Tuesday morning. Latvians and Estonians travelling in minibuses were escorted by the police to the Latvian border.

Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis says four convoys have been formed in total.

According to Giedrius Misutis, a spokesman for the State Border Guard Service (VSAT), the first convoy of 20 vehicles with 71 people entered Lithuania shortly before 10:00.

“Polish authorities escorted the convoy to our border. (It crossed the border) via the Kalvarija checkpoint at 09:47,” Misutis told BNS.

“In total, there were 20 vehicles, 16 with Lithuanian citizens and four with Latvian and Estonian citizens,” he said, adding that the latter have been escorted by the police to the Latvian border.

Fifty-two Lithuanian nationals, four Ukrainians and a Belarusian with Lithuanian residence permits have already arrived in the country, the spokesman said.

Skvernelis said that a total of four convoys have been formed so far.

“Four convoys are currently on their way through Poland to Lithuania. One of them has already reached Lithuania. Seventy-one people have returned,” he told reporters.

According to Misutis, a second convoy of 25 vehicles with 126 people was at about 250 kilometers from the border with Lithuania at Tuesday noon.

Poland closed its borders to foreign nationals on Sunday, leaving some Lithuanians stranded in Germany.

The situation at the Polish-German border escalated after Poland decided not to allow Lithuanian passenger cars to transit through its territory.

Lithuania has arranged a special train from Frankfurt (Oder) to bring home passengers of these cars and a ferry from Sassnitz for the cars and their drivers.

However, people are having difficulty getting to these locations due to traffic congestion.

Skvernelis told reporters that the departure of the train from Frankfurt was delayed.

“The train's departure is being delayed. It appears that it is filling up. I hope it will reach Kaunas late tonight. We'll see how the ferry is filled up,” he said.

The prime minister said it was regrettable that Poland failed to leave a temporary humanitarian corridor for Lithuanians, despite informally promising to do so.

However, Skvernelis does not think that this situation will harm the relations between the two neighbouring states.

“I don't think this should affect our interstate relations. In fact, Poland has made a number of exceptions and publicly unannounced ones, too, but they decided not to allow cars through and they are standing firm on that,” he said.

Skvernelis expects EU leaders to discuss the border crossing issue at their video-conference summit on Tuesday evening.

Stranded Lithuanian nationals can still return, interior minister says

Lithuanian nationals trapped in foreign countries by border closures can still return home, Interior Minister Rita Tamašunienė said on Tuesday.

"There are still possibilities, and we are certainly waiting for all citizens and are ready to meet them," she said on LRT RADIO.

The minister urged all stranded Lithuanian nationals to register with the Foreign Ministry, warning those who are attempting to return on their own that the flight situation is changing "every day".

Around 2,000 Lithuanian citizens have informed the country's diplomatic missions that they are unable to return home due to movement restrictions.

Poland closed its borders to foreign nationals on Sunday, leaving a number of Lithuanians stranded in Germany.

Warsaw agreed late on Monday to allow six convoys of buses and minibuses to enter Poland from Germany and transit through its territory with two or three stopovers.

Lithuania has arranged a special train to evacuate people traveling in passenger cars. Their drivers will have to return home by ferry.

According to the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry, all people will be subjected to health checks on the border and only those with no clear symptoms will be allowed through.

Those with symptoms will have to stay and wait for Lithuania's authorities to arrange for their return, Tamašunienė said.

Lithuania asks for additional checkpoint on Polish border

Vilnius is asking Warsaw to open at least one more checkpoint on the Lithuanian-Polish border where a massive tailback of vehicles has formed, Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis said on Tuesday morning.

According to the prime minister, the talks, in their fourth day, are “quite difficult”, but the situation can still be resolved.

“The Polish side [is asked] to increase the number of crossings, possibly, at Kalvarija-Budzisko. Another possible option is to open the Lazdijai-Ogrodniki checkpoint,” Skvernelis told reporters. “They should at least let through their own commercial cargo vehicles. More than half of the vehicles queuing up at the border are with Polish license numbers.”

“If the passage capacity on the Polish side remains as it is now, there will be a tragedy,” he warns.

According to Skvernelis, at Kalvarija-Budzisko, currently the only border crossing open to traffic, Polish authorities perform thorough health checks on each truck driver before allowing them cross the border.

“Talks have been continuing for four days now. We are negotiating with the Poles on all fronts and on all issues,” he said.

Skvernelis confirmed that Poland allowed two convoys of buses and minibuses to transit its territory on Monday night.

Commenting on the situation at the German-Polish border, the prime minister called on Lithuanian citizens stranded there not to block the roads, but instead use the alternative route – by a special ferry from Sassnitz for personal cars and their drivers and a special train from Frankfurt for passengers.

Commercial flights are also being arranged and the Lithuanian Air Force's Spartan plane will also be used to fly home citizens, but it can accommodate only up to 35 people, he said.

Lithuania delays departure of repatriation train from Germany

A special train that will bring home Lithuanian nationals from Germany will not depart from Frankfurt (Oder) until 14:00 local time on Tuesday, according to Transport Minister Jaroslav Narkevič.

Drivers of Lithuanian-registered passenger cars, which are not allowed to enter Poland from Germany, are to drive their passengers to Frankfurt's central train station and then head for a ferry in Sassnitz.

According to Narkevič, only 30 cars have so far registered for the ferry trip that can accommodate around 250 vehicles.

"We are making arrangements for people to drive their cars from the border [to Frankfurt] so that their families could board the train there," the minister told reporters.

"We first delayed the train's departure until 10:00 and now until 14:00," he said.

The train can accommodate up to 650 passengers.

The ferry, which is scheduled to leave at 18:00 local time, can accommodate up to 250 vehicles and their drivers, enough to bring home all passenger cars trapped at the German-Polish border, according to Narkevič.

"However, only 30 cars have registered so far. The question is why our citizens are reluctant or unable to make use of the complex arrangement. We are working on that," he said.

The minister also warned that minibuses would not be allowed onto the ferry.

Poland closed its borders to foreign nationals at midnight on Sunday in an attempt to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Military plane airlifts 31 Lithuanians across Poland

On Monday night, the Lithuanian Air Force's C-27J Spartan transport plane late flew home 31 Lithuanians stranded in Germany after Poland closed its borders.

The Lithuanian nationals were subjected to checks on arrival, the Defence Ministry said.

The Spartan also brought donor stem cells to Lithuania for transplantation. The military aircraft will be disinfected before it is used for other purposes. Its crew wore protective suits during the flight, according to the ministry.

Poland denies entry to passenger cars with Lithuanian license plates, but allows buses and minibuses to transit through its territory in organised convoys.

The Lithuanian Foreign Ministry has said that drivers of cars will have to return to Lithuania from Germany by ferry and other travellers will be tranported home by train.

Lithuanian dairies ready to meet local demand

The two major Lithuanian dairy groups – Žemaitijos Pienas and Pieno Žvaigždės – said on Monday they're ready to meet increased local demand, while production continues as usual despite the nationwide quarantine.

Žemaitijos Pienas said it continues to purchase raw milk from farmers as usual.

"Sales in Lithuania are currently increasing, [...] but the closure of schools, kindergartens and catering establishments makes us to adjust our production range and volumes," Žemaitijos Pienas said in a statement to the Nasdaq Vilnius Stock Exchange on Monday.

"Sales in export markets are based on the existing contracts," it added.

Pieno Žvaigždės said production process continues as usual. "Raw milk supply process continues as well; all orders to our customers are fully executed," it said in a statement to the stock exchange.

"The company is capable of satisfying the local market's increased demand for fresh dairy products," it added.

Both companies said it was too early to say what impact the coronavirus crisis might have on their financial results.

Žemaitijos Pienas is quoted on the stock exchange's Secondary List, and Pieno Žvaigždės is listed on the blue-chip Main List.

Lithuania opening another checkpoint to ease queues at border with Belarus

Lithuania is opening an additional border checkpoint in a bid to ease long queues of vehicles at the border with Belarus, according to Rustamas Liubajevas, the commander of the Lithuanian State Border Guard Service (VSAT).

The number of border checkpoints was reduced after a nationwide quarantine took effect in Lithuania on Monday.

"Following consultations with the Belarusian side and the [Lithuanian] Customs Service, we are opening [Šalčininkai] border checkpoint at 09:00 [local time]," Liubajevas told LRT RADIO on Tuesday morning.

"We hope we will manage to resolve the situation," he added.

Liubajevas said 340 vehicles were waiting to cross into Lithuania from Belarus at the Raigardas and another 810 were queuing up at Medininkai border posts.

Twenty-five vehicles were waiting to cross into Belarus from Lithuania at the Kybartai checkpoint.

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