SALOCIAI – Lithuania closed its borders to foreigners on Monday to slow the spread of the new coronavirus in the country.
On the Latvian border at the Salociai-Grenstale border crossing point, four border guards and two volunteer soldiers, wearing respirators, work, a BNS correspondent reported. A narrow stretch has two lanes, with one leading to Latvia and the other one leading to Lithuania. The lights of border guards' vehicles attract drivers' attention from a distance.
The task of Lithuanian border guards and troops is to stop every car arriving from Latvia and leaving from Lithuania and check ID of every person in a car.
Only the movement of heavy vehicles is not restricted, and the majority of those vehicles slow down slightly but continue driving after seeing a border guard's gesture to go on.
Three vehicles had to wait a bit longer on the border during the first quarantine hour. The first one was a white Mercedes van with Ukrainian car plates, carrying people who were returning home to Ukraine.
After several minutes, as their documents were checked and they were instructed to travel via Belarus, the van was allowed into Lithuania.
A bit later, a gray minivan taxi with Latvian car plates was stopped, carrying five men returning from Norway. Border guards refused to allow the car to enter Lithuania.
"They are not letting us in as the driver is a Latvian citizen," Andrius Smolin, 33, told BNS.
Working in Norway for a mobile connection equipment installation company, the man said his company let its staff go come and the men were travelling to Vilnius.
"Our transport was left in Sweden as we tried to go via Denmark, Germany and Poland with our own transport but Denmark closed the border completely," he said. "Then we turned around, drove to Stockholm and then flew to Latvia, and we left our cars there and everything else."
Andrius and the other men were forced to take their luggage and continue their trip to Vilnius by foot, and the taxi was forced to turn around and return to Latvia.
An Estonian citizen, 40, the owner of a construction company, also had to end his trip to Lithuanian at Salociai.
"I am going to Salcininkai to collect my workers as there are no buses. I will collect my people and we will return to Estonia," Denis Komar told BNS.
But he was forced to turn around and leave after some 30 minutes.
Free movement within the European Union has been appreciated by Lithuanians as the biggest pro of the country's EU membership for more than 10 years.
But it has become the biggest threat for the past few weeks as all 14 coronavirus cases have been confirmed in Lithuania for people who arrived from other European countries.
Lithuania allows its citizens to come home but they must self-isolate for 14 days. Haulers as well as foreign citizens who permanently reside in Lithuania, diplomats and NATP troops are also allowed to enter the country.
Lithuania vows to let foreign citizens cross its territory up until Wednesday night so that they could reach their countries.
Lithuanian border guards returned to the country's borders with Poland and Latvia on Saturday night when Lithuanian became the fifth country to restore border control in the Schengen Area, and several other countries followed.