All schools to close on Monday, additional border controls introduced ({{contentCtrl.commentsTotal}})

Mailis Reps.
Mailis Reps. Source: ERR

All schools and universities in Estonia will be closed from Monday to limit the spread of the coronavirus and the measures will be reassessed in two weeks time, Minister of Education Mailis Reps (Center) said on Thursday evening. Border controls will also be reintroduced.

Speaking on ETV's "Aktuaalne kaamera" Reps announced a series of measures the government will introduce to limit the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) in the country.

The government declared an emergency situation* on Thursday evening which is likely to remain in place until May 1.

On Thursday evening it was announced confirmed cases of the virus had increased to 27.

Key points:

  • Schools and universities closed from Monday, March 16.
  • Kindergartens will remain open.
  • Museums, cinemas and theaters to close.
  • Shopping centers to remain open.
  • All public gatherings are banned.
  • The measures will remain in place until the situation returns to normal.
  • The measures will be reviewed every two weeks.

Reps said, starting Monday, schools, colleges and universities will move to teaching online. On Friday, students will be able to go to school to collect their learning materials and take them home.

Kindergartens will remain open for the time being but parents are being encouraged to keep their children at home, Reps said. The government hopes parents can continue to work normally.

Reps said the Crisis Committee's decision will remain in effect until the situation returns to normal. The government will review the situation every two weeks to see if the measures need to be kept in place.

She said the government has decided to close museums, cinemas, and theaters. All public gatherings are banned.

The government has not initially planned to close shopping centers. However, Reps said, they may adjust their activities. 

Border checks to be reintroduced

Reps stressed borders are not closed, but people will have to fill in a form about where they have traveled from. Border guards will also have the power to put travelers into quarantine. Reps said this means people from risk areas may no longer be able to enter Estonia.

"The state of emergency in the Republic of Estonia has never before been established and this is a special situation. In reality, the question is about the interpretation of the Constitution, but I dare to tell you - the decision has already been made in principle," the minister added.

Passenger ship traffic will continue but ports are required to ask passengers for documents and procedures may be delayed. Reps said shipping companies had already announced restrictions themselves. For example, night clubs and bars will be closed.

The sale of passenger ship tickets on the Tallinn-Stockholm-Tallinn route will be halted.

Wrong decision taken in Saaremaa

Speaking later on ETV's "Esimene stuudio" Reps said she thought the decision to organize a volleyball match in Saaremaa between an Estonian and Italian team at the weekend was "very wrong".

"In a situation where the team could not compete in Italy, they did in Estonia. A lot of people made a very wrong decision," she said.

The minister added that summaries of where the mistakes were made are always made afterwards.

"This is also one of the reasons why the government has formed a Crisis Committee this time around, and why there is a high probability of an emergency decision being made within minutes," Reps said.

The Health Board is monitoring the situation in Saaremaa. Reps said if there are critically ill patients they may be moved to mainland Estonia for treatment.

Small periods of quarantine are likely

Reps explained in "Esimene stuudio" the government had decided to close all concerts, museums and other cultural events which could still be managed. She said it is likely a decision will also be made about the closure of nightclubs in the future.

The minister acknowledged private businesses have already taken steps to prevent the virus from spreading.

"In all likelihood, there will be small periods of quarantine," said Reps.

The emergency situation may also see restrictions imposed on restaurants and shopping centers in the future.

Government is still debating economic aid 

Reps said the government had a brief discussion on Thursday about how to help companies in financial difficulties. The government will discuss this in more detail next week.

"The government has not yet discussed every detail of the economy. The reason is that we do not want to repeat the mistakes of 2008. If there are some sectors which are clearly the hardest hit, those sectors need to be helped. We are not ready to say today what the consequences might be, because no scientist, or virologist, has yet said when the coronavirus in Europe will be restricted," said Reps.

While the Italian state has said they will help people cover their mortgages, for example, Reps said the Estonian government is not yet ready to confirm that it would do something similar. 

Reps stressed, however, that the credit capacity of the Estonian state is very high and that Estonia has reserves that would provide extraordinary capacity to help.

Emergency situation vs. state of emergency

* An earlier version of this article mistakenly stated that the Estonian government had declared a state of emergency in connection with the novel coronavirus outbreak. This article has since been updated to accurately reflect that the government instead declared an emergency situation.

Under Estonian law, a state of emergency ("erakorraline seisukord") is only declared in case of a threat to the constitutional order of Estonia and it is not possible to eliminate a threat without the implementation of the measures provided for in the State of Emergency Act. Under the Emergency Act, the Estonian government may declare an emergency situation ("eriolukord") for the resolving of an emergency caused by a natural disaster, catastrophe or spread of a communicable disease.

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Editor: Helen Wright

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