Prime minister: Cruise ship visits, larger events halted due to coronavirus

Prime minister Jüri Ratas addressing the Riigikogu.
Prime minister Jüri Ratas addressing the Riigikogu. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

Cruise ships will not be permitted to dock in Estonia at least until May 1 in the wake of the spread of the novel coronavirus, the government has announced. Large-scale events with more than 100 attendees are also off the table, Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Center) announced Thursday morning. The prime minister said that Estonia was in an emergency situation, but that no official state of emergency had been declared.

Speaking before the Riigikogu from 10:00 a.m. Thursday, the prime minister also did not rule out closing all educational institutions should any new coronavirus cases emerge involving students. At present one school in Tallinn is closed for two weeks after a student was diagnosed with coronavirus last Friday, and all schools on Saaremaa are closed Thursday and Friday following two cases there (not involving schoolchildren).

Ratas noted that as an additional measure, the government decided on Thursday morning to postpone cruise ship reception until May 1.

These new measures [that cruise ships cannot dock from now until May 1] must be communicated to shipping lines who have plans to take cruise tourism trips to Estonia," Ratas said.

Events with more than 100 participants must also be postponed. In doing so, the Health Board (Terviseamet) is to coordinate these activities and assess the compliance of permits already issued.

"All those applying for a public event permit is currently being dealt with by the police and the rescue service (Päästeamet), and also by the health service. As regards events with 100 or more attendees, I think it makes no sense to organize these."

Social affairs minister Tanel Kiik said Wednesday evening that this restriction did not apply to theater and cinema shows, meaning they continue to function in Estonia. 

The prime minister also said the government has set up a new commission to deal with coronavirus and its ramifications, which comprises justice minister Raivo Aeg (Isamaa), economic affairs minister Taavi Aas (Center), finance minister Martin Helme (EKRE), interior minister Mart Helme (EKRE), social affairs minister Tanel Kiik (Center), foreign affairs minister Urmas Reinsalu (Isamaa), defense minister Jüri Luik (Isamaa) and the Secretary of State, Taimar Peterkop.

This roster could be expanded where needed, and will meet for the first time on Thursday afternoon, ERR's online news in Estonian reports.

The Commission, which according to a government press release published shortly before Ratas made his speech stated would work in conjunction with both state and local authorities.

The commission will also have the authority to entrust tasks to the executive authorities and to obtain information from them on the exercise of same. The commission may also delegate tasks in a manner which will not interfere with the authorities' statutory powers.

The government did not declare any emergency situation, though the prime minister stated that the country was in emergency in his speech.

MPs' questions: Schools, official visits, Estonians abroad

Responding to MPs' questions following his presentation, Jüri Ratas said that should students from any other schools test positive for coronaravirus, closing all educational institutions for a 14-day period would be seriously considered.

Jüri Ratas is canceling or postponing all his own official trips, with the exception of one to the European Council at the end of the month, for a meeting which itself is to address the coronavirus issue.

Estonia's foreign missions are prepared to assist Estonian citizens abroad should they require it in at-risk zones, and noted that an Estonian citizen had been evacuated from COVID-19's original epicenter in the Hubei province of China early last month (by French authorities -ed.).

Several hundred Estonian citizens were still in Italy early on in the week, with around 200 of them in quarantine areas in the north of the country.

A new crisis helpline is also to be unveiled on Monday, March 16, the prime minister said.

Cruise ship figures

According to recent data, 2019's cruise season brought a record-breaking total of 656,000 tourists from 175 different countries to Tallinn.

Estonia's other major cruise destination, Saaremaa, saw a total of 3,900 cruise tourists last season.

The Port of Tallinn was expecting to break the 660,000-mark this year, before the coronavirus outbreak, with nearly 80 different vessels expected to call on Estonia's capital city, a total of 336 times.

The cruise "season" gets going from late April, meaning that as things stand at present, the ban on ships will be lifted just after it. The season is generally taken to run to mid-October.

Scheduled ferry trips to and from Estonia are currently still running.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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