Estonian government declares emergency situation against coronavirus ({{contentCtrl.commentsTotal}})

Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Center), Minister of Foreign Affairs Urmas Reinsalu (Isamaa), Minister of Finance Martin Helme (EKRE).
Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Center), Minister of Foreign Affairs Urmas Reinsalu (Isamaa), Minister of Finance Martin Helme (EKRE). Source: Government Communication Office

The Estonian government has declared an emergency situation in connection with the global novel coronavirus pandemic and the likelihood that the virus may spread locally. The emergency situation is in effect through May 1, unless the government should decide otherwise.

Changes in effect under the emergency situation will affect schools, cultural events and ferry travel, and public events are banned.

"The government's absolute priority is to protect the health of the people in Estonia in the situation that has arisen," Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Center) stressed late Thursday night. "An emergency situation is necessary in order to most effectively combat the spread of the coronavirus. The state must be able to give its citizens clear and, if necessary, mandatory orders which will help halt the spread of the virus."

The prime minister added that state activities alone will no longer be enough to manage the crisis. "We have reached a situation in which each person has to contribute to the defense of public health," he stressed. "I understand the inconvenience that the declaration of an emergency situation will cause all of us, but it is not just people's health, but the protection of lives that is at stake."

Ratas also said that as the spread of the virus is a complex phenomenon that will have an impact on various sectors of life in Estonia, addressing it will thus require extraordinary measures. "Of foremost importance alongside public health is ensuring the effective and operative resolution of economic problems connected to the spread of the virus," he said.

"The state of emergency caused by the spread of the virus can no longer be resolved without implementing the command organisation or measures provided for in the Emergency Act," he added.

The proposal to declare an emergency situation was made by a government committee convened Thursday morning and led by the prime minister. The government committee will convene again on Friday.

A press conference with Ratas, Minister of the Interior Mart Helme (EKRE), Minister of Foreign Affairs Urmas Reinsalu (Isamaa) and Minister of Social Affairs Tanel Kiik (Center)  will be held at Stenbock House, the seat of the Estonian government, at 9:00 a.m. on Friday. ERR's Estonian-language online news portal will broadcast the news conference live.

Emergency situation measures

Public gatherings

All public gatherings are banned.

Education

All schools will be closed beginning Monday, March 16, with regular studies substituted by e-learning. All primary schools, basic schools, high schools, trade schools, higher education schools and universities are to hold internal info sessions on Friday, March 13 at which they are to distribute instructions and materials for the arrangement of further studies.

Research and development activities will continue at universities and research institutions.

Education institutions serving students with special needs will be handled separately.

Local governments or other kindergarten operators will decide over the operation and organization of work of kindergartens and daycares.

Extracurriculars are canceled as of Monday, March 16.

These new measures will remain in place until the situation changes. The necessity of these measures will be assessed on a biweekly basis.

Border, international passenger ship traffic

Health control measures will be imposed at all border crossing points in order to identify people with symptoms of coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

Anyone entering the country will have to fill out questionnaires in order to determine where they have been.

Health control measures will be imposed at airports and ports, and questionnaires will be required.

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

Measures for curbing the spread of the virus will be worked out and implemented in cooperation with passenger ship operators.

At-risk areas

The Ministry of Social Affairs and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will review what regions are high and medium-risk each morning.

As of March 12, the following countries and regions are considered at-risk: China, Italy, Iran, South Korea, certain administrative regions of France, the states of Germany, the Austrian state of Tyrol, Japan, Singapore, and the Madrid, Catalonia and the Basque Country regions of Spain.

Any Estonian residents or foreign citizens arriving in Estonia from these regions must spend two weeks in quarantine.

Other changes

Libraries will remain open to a limited extent.

Museums and movie theaters will be closed through May 1. All performances, concerts and conferences are banned.

All sporting events are banned through May 1.

A visitor ban will be implemented at all care homes, hospitals and detention facilities.

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 thereto 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: Aili Vahtla

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