2020.03.18 09:37

Travel updates: charter flights from Spain, Lithuania extends humanitarian corridor

BNS2020.03.18 09:37

Hundreds of Lithuanians will be flown back to Vilnius on two chartered flights from Tenerife.

The flights have been organised by the Lithuanian government in cooperation with Tez Tour. The two flights are scheduled from Tenerife's southern airport after midday local time, and the planes are scheduled to land in Vilnius before 21:00.

Read more: Coronavirus updates: Over 900 tests done in Lithuania, clinic employee diagnosed with virus

Inga Aukštuolytė, a spokeswoman for Tez Tour, told BNS there are 360 seats on both flights. Before noon on Wednesday, there will still 18 vacant seat.

Tickets for these flights will cost 500 euros.

There are over 6,000 Lithuanian citizens on Spanish island of Tenerife, according to the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry.

On Thursday, additional charter flights are scheduled from Valencia. On Friday and Saturday, charter flights will depart Paris, France for Vilnius.

An additional flight is scheduled to depart Amsterdam, the Netherlands, at 16:25 on Thursday afternoon. Those seeking tickets need to fill out a form (found here). There were still around 10 empty seats as of Wednesday afternoon.

Lithuania to leave ‘humanitarian corridor’ until end of week

Lithuania decided on Wednesday to leave its “humanitarian corridor” open through the end of the week to allow foreign nationals to return home via its territory.

“We are extending transit until [March] 23. I think this will allow sufficient time [for foreign nationals] to return, and we have to close [our borders],” Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis said at the Cabinet meeting on Wednesday.

Lithuania closed its borders to foreign nationals on Monday in an attempt to slow the spread of the coronavirus, but opened a 72-hour “humanitarian corridor” to allow transit by foreigners returning to their countries.

All Covid-19 cases confirmed in Lithuania so far are thought to have been contracted abroad.

The border closure does not apply to freight traffic and Lithuanian nationals returning home.

Poland opens Warsaw airport for Lithuanians

Polish authorities will allow Lithuanians to use Warsaw Airport for connecting flights, while bus convoys will be allowed to cross the country in the future, according to the Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevičius.

Lithuanian government delegation arrived in Warsaw on Tuesday to resolve the problems of Lithuanian citizens, as well as trucks, being stuck on the Polish border.

Read more: Lithuanian delegation departs for Poland as border closures wreak havoc

Following consultations with the Polish counterparts, Linkevičius said Lithuanians will be able to use the Polish airline LOT if it starts operating a flight to Vilnius. The connecting flight would allow Lithuanians to return from elsewhere in the world.

"Warsaw Airport is closed for [Lithuanians] and there are no flights to Vilnius, but LOT flies to countries across the world," said Linkevičius. "There have been cases when our nationals were not allowed to board only because there was no agreement on what they would do once in Warsaw."

The minister hoped a solution would be found. Meanwhile, Linkevičius also said that the Polish government promised to allow organised bus convoys to cross the country.

Many Lithuanians were left stranded on the German-Polish border after Poland closed its borders to foreigners. Warsaw then refused to allow a convoy of passenger cars to cross its territory.

Following diplomatic efforts, the Polish authorities allowed buses and vans with no less than seven people to cross the country on their way to the Baltic states. Meanwhile, a dedicated ferry and train were organised for the stranded drivers and their passengers.

Read more: Coronavirus updates: 4 new cases, total of 26 reported in Lithuania

However, due to the traffic build-up, the Baltic citizens stuck on the border were reporting difficulties on reaching the port and the train station in time.

Some 50-kilometre queues of commercial vehicles had also formed on the Lithuanian-Polish border, but the situation started improving on Tuesday night after a second border crossing point was opened.

"I asked for us not to return to that situation. Border crossing capacity is a key thing to avoid buildups and virus hotspots." Linkevičius said.

The Polish authorities also promised that the second border crossing point in Lazdijai would be open as long as it takes, he added.

"It was a visit to meet friends and allies who we can find [...] a solution with," said Linkevičius.

Ferry with Lithuanians onboard leaves Germany for Klaipėda

A ferry with Lithuanians who were stranded on the German-Polish border left the German port of Sassnitz for Klaipėda early Wednesday morning.

"The ferry [...] is scheduled to arrive in Klaipėda at 18:00," Jevgenij Pavliukov, from the Limarko Maritime Agency, told BNS.

"There are Lithuanian, Estonian and Latvian car plates but there's no information on passengers' nationality," he said, adding that the ferry is carrying 99 vehicles and 137 people,

A special train for Lithuanian citizens left Frankfurt (Oder) for Lithuania via Poland on Tuesday afternoon, carrying 61 people, including 35 Lithuanian citizens.

An additional ferry from Germany's Sassnitz to Latvia's Ventspils has been booked for citizens from the Baltic states late on Wednesday.

"The departure is scheduled for 11:55 German time on March 18. Tickets are available on Tallink's website," according to the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry. The ferry can accommodate 300 vehicles and 2,500 passengers.

Sixty-one passengers arrive by train in Lithuania's Kaunas from Germany, undergoing health checks

A train with Lithuanian, Belarusian, Ukrainian and Latvian citizens arrived in Lithuania's Kaunas from Frankfurt (Order) early Wednesday morning.

"The train arrived at 05:30. Everything went well," Linas Baužys, from the state-owned railway company Lietuvos Geležinkeliai (Lithaunian Railways), told BNS.

The train brought in 61 people, including 35 Lithuanian citizens, who were stranded on the German-Polish border.

Public health officials are carrying out medical examinations, people are then accompanied to a bus one by one.

Non-Lithuanian citizens were by met by the staff of their embassies. "Buses are provided for foreigners and Lithuanian residents to take them home," Baužys said.

The train left Germany on Tuesday afternoon, and the trip cost up to 50,000 euros, according to estimates by the Lithuanian Railways.

Queues on the Lithuanian-Polish border grow again

After a second border crossing was opened with Poland, the queue of lorries waiting to leave Lithuania via Kalvarija border crossing had halved to around 20 kilometres as of Wednesday morning.

Some 50-kilometre queue had formed at the Kalvarija border crossing with Poland earlier this week after Poland crossed its borders to foreigners. Despite commercial vehicles able to pass, the additional paperwork and health checks were causing delays.

However, the queues grew again later on Wednesday.

There was a 35-kilometre queue at the Kalvarija-Budzisko border crossing with Poland at around 10:00 on Wednesday, and a 4-kilometre queue at the Lazdijai-Ogrodniki border crossing, according to Rokas Pukinskas, a spokesman for the State Border Guard Service (VSAT).

Queues are likely to vary considerably, he said.

"Transport flows are very likely to vary considerably. We had 45–50 kilometres yesterday, 20 kilometres this morning and now we have 35 kilometres," Pukinskas told BNS.

According to Pukinskas, queues on the Belarusian border are also longer than usual.

"There were around 400 trucks waiting to leave at the Medininkai border crossing [with Belarus], and over 500 vehicles are waiting to enter Lithuania," the VSAT representative said.

Sixth convoy of Lithuanian, foreign citizens crosses Poland

A sixth convoy of Lithuanian and foreign citizens entered Lithuania from Poland early Wednesday morning, according to VSAT.

"At 03:40, a sixth convoy of 11 vehicles and 51 people entered Lithuania. They include 32 Lithuanian citizens, 12 Latvians, and several Ukrainians and one Russian," Rokas Pukinskas, a spokesman for the VSAT, told BNS.

Several other convoys with over 400 people, including 260 Lithuanian citizens, crossed Poland on their way to Lithuania.

Lithuanian president calls for flights from Frankfurt

Meanwhile, Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda said it was important to preserve direct flights between Frankfurt and Vilnius so that Lithuanian and Baltic states' citizens could return home.

He said he had discussed the issue with his German counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier during a phone conversation on Tuesday.

Lufthansa was operating direct flights from Frankfurt to Vilnius, but the scheduled flight for Tuesday night was cancelled.

Nausėda also thanked Steinmeier for his involvement in solving the crisis on the German-Polish border, and also discussed cooperation in organising ferries from Germany to Lithuania's Klaipėda, according to the Lithuanian president.

CORRECTION: The earlier version of this article stated an incorrect departure time from Amsterdam.