Helme: Ship traffic to Sweden should be halted, schools and malls closed
Minister of Finance Martin Helme (EKRE) said on Thursday that the Estonian government has a slew of measures to consider in the afternoon in connection with halting the spread of the novel coronavirus, among them an immediate suspension of ship traffic between Estonia and Finland and the closing of all stores at shopping centers but supermarkets and pharmacies.
"We're not talking about any sort of overreaction in any case," Helme said at the government press conference on Thursday. "And if there are any complaints that the government is taking too steep steps and this could cause panic, then I'm sorry, in my opinion it will cause panic if the government doesn't take the necessary steps."
He cited a number of measures that the government committee convened on Thursday morning would be discussing that afternoon.
Halting ship traffic with Sweden
Helme noted that there is no longer any significant difference between at-risk areas.
"The entire world is an at-risk area; all neighboring countries are at-risk areas," he said. "The most acute at-risk area for us is Sweden. What solutions are we considering? An immediate halt to ship traffic with at least Sweden, perhaps also Finland."
He added that this would also extend to air traffic, with the exception of extraordinary trips allowing Estonians to return home.
School, shopping center closures
The next potential measure noted by the minister was the immediate closure of all schools for a period of at least two weeks, to ensure that the virus could not spread locally.
"But also the complete shutdown of movie theaters and theaters and various public gatherings," he continued. "The closure of shopping centers, leaving only supermarkets and pharmacies open."
He added that the Ministry of Rural Affairs reported that Estonia has guaranteed sufficient food supplies.
"Estonia is a food exporting country, and the primary task is to ensure that our food industry continues operating," he said. "There is no reason to start making panic purchases."
Border closure within two hours
According to Helme, Estonia's land border should be taken under full control, and that everyone who crosses the border is checked on spot and is placed under not a recommended, but a required quarantine.
"The Ministry of the Interior reported that from the moment that the government orders it, they are prepared to shut down the border within two hours," he said.
Helme said that the matter of whether or not a state of emergency would be declared in Estonia or not is a governance tool in an extraordinary situation.
"If we find that these measures need to be implemented, then we will do so," he added.
According to the finance minister, Estonia is now facing a joint crisis, with a healthcare crisis on one hand and an economic crisis on the other.
"And all of society and the state are being put to the test by this," he continued. "I am calling on all of society to act rationally and cohesively in this crisis. And for those who do so, pray that God protect Estonia!"
He also illustrated the seriousness of the situation with some figures.
"If this is on the same scale as the regular flu, then there will be up to 70,000 cases," Helme said. "If the mortality rate is around the same as in other European countries, or approximately 3 percent, then we're talking about more than 2,000 deaths in Estonia. If what Angela Merkel or the British National Health Service (NHS) is saying is true, that the infection rate could reach up to 70 percent of the total population, then we're talking about 900,000 cases and 27,000 deaths in Estonia."
A government committee convened on Thursday morning and led by the prime minister met at 2:00 p.m. to begin discussing these measures.
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Editor: Aili Vahtla