Government imposes coronavirus ministry, civil servant travel restrictions

Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Tallinn.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Tallinn. Source: Ministry of Foreign Affairs

The Estonian government is restricting ministry and government agency officials' travel as a result of the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak, Baltic News Service reports, meaning many will have to skip planned trips.

Trips to New York, Copenhagen and Brussels have been canceled for representatives of the Ministry of Social Affairs.

A trip to Austria has been canceled for an interior ministry employee, with conferences and meetings in the U.K. and Belgium postponed, according to the ministry.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has asked its employees to cancel trips to some of the most at-risk areas, namely Northern Italy and China, with travel to Japan, Singapore and South Korea only to be made if absolutely necessary.

Ministry employees have also been asked to avoid going on vacation in risk areas, since the situation is changing rapidly, and some countries may opt to take additional measures to try and contain the virus with little or no warning, including in areas where there are currently no such restrictions or warnings, ministry spokesperson Leen Lindam said.

The Ministry of Justice has asked its staff not to travel without a strong need and make use of electronic channels instead. These guidelines concern around 30 planned trips.

The Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications says it respects any employees' decisions not to travel, and is looking at alternative ways of working. In cases of trips which are unavoidable, the ministry is to try and find a different solution, depending on the situation and importance of the meeting.

According to Postimees, the Ministry of Rural Affairs says some trips have been canceled, often because the event itself was called off.

Minister of Social Affairs Tanel Kiik (Center) said that while the decision is not an outright ban, ministries are expected to review business trips and consider postponing them.

"Looking at the spread of the virus in Europe, we can expect that chances of catching the virus within EU member states will only grow," Kiik told daily Postimees.

Kiik said that while he plans to attend a meeting of EU health ministers in Brussels, it is to focus on preventing COVID-19 from becoming a Europe-wide problem. Kiik added that every foreign trip needs to be evaluated as to whether it is absolutely necessary.

The Health Board diagnosed another two Estonians with the COVID-19 virus on Thursday and five more on Friday morning. All seven returned from Bergamo in Northern Italy on February 29. The total number of people infected with the virus in Estonia as of Friday afternoon stands at 10, including one high school student.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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