Reinsalu: It is illegal to punish people for not being able to come to work

Minister of Foreign Affair Urmas Reinsalu.
Minister of Foreign Affair Urmas Reinsalu. Source: ERR

The government decided on Saturday evening to temporarily restrict crossing the border and restore border control. The restrictions also hit people working in Finland, which is why it is sensible to move around as little as possible, member of the government's crisis committee, Minister of Foreign Affairs Urmas Reinsalu told "Aktuaalne kaamera" in an interview.

Let us be precise, who will be allowed to cross the border?

Everyone will be able to leave Estonia, there are no restrictions there. As concerns entry, third country citizens who are not Estonian residents will not be allowed into the country from Tuesday, March 17.

There are a few exceptions. Firstly, international carriage of goods, secondly, transit passengers – people going home to Finland from Latvia etc.

It is very important for us to have a transit corridor through Poland. I have prepared a diplomatic note to have Poland open its border to people seeking to travel to Estonia from the German-Polish border. Efforts are underway, while there is no positive news to report at this time.

Exceptions can also be applied for.

Applied for where?

The director of the Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) will decide on the procedure of applications. It is sensible to apply for an exception before arriving at the border. The PPA will have that procedure in place by the end of Sunday.

Are we done separating countries into risk areas – is the whole of Europe now a risk for Estonia?

If we want to get the situation under control, we need to reduce human contact and this is one measure we decided on after very serious deliberation. We can point out countries where the virus is spreading more rapidly, but coming to Estonia, people inevitably use public transport. Right now, the important thing is to reduce the number of human contacts both internationally and in Estonia.

People who live on the islands must get home and those who live on the mainland return from the islands. However, a lot of people are registered as living on the islands but are working on the mainland. How will they get to work?

As concerns procedures for allowing people to leave the islands, they are in place. The principle today is allowing people to return to their place of residence. It needs to be kept in mind.

Will it not be counted as missing work?

Public restrictions have been laid down in accordance with the law, and punishing people, taking disciplinary measures in labor relations because people are complying with the law – it would not be humane on the one hand, and I'm pretty sure it's also illegal.

People who permanently live in Estonia but work in Finland – would it be wiser for them to remain in Finland to be able to continue working on Monday?

The commonsense thing to do is to move around as little as possible. Whereas the general principle that people who come to Estonia from other countries must isolate themselves for two weeks also applies. The latter makes it pointless to return to Estonia for the weekend. It is more sensible to move around as little as possible – both in Finland and Estonia.

It has been said that people would do well to stay home. How to make sure people who have been ordered to self-isolate comply?

There are enactive provisions – the state can wield punitive authority if a person is intentionally infecting others. Thinking about how many people will be expected to isolate themselves, it is in the interests of the state for people to realize that it is an actual obligation, that people will have to sign corresponding documents starting from Tuesday night. Will it mean mass control and police patrols showing up at people's doorstep – no.

We have come face to face with the challenge and the question is whether we will be able to pull together. And that requires everyone's voluntary contribution. The virus will spread if people fail to comply with the rules.

People may become paranoid. Could we see people who are believed to carry the virus arrested after their location is reported to the authorities?

The state has sanctioning power. If people see someone who should be quarantined, they should be told what they're doing is not right. It is sensible to point such things out. It is definitely important in organizations where an infected employee might halt the entire operation.

To ask whether there will be draconic punitive mechanisms and surveillance, I will only say that the state will impose measures it deems proportional. We have legal means for influencing people's behavior. However, our position is that this crisis is a common problem. We urge people to comply with the rules we have laid down to stop the virus from spreading.

Is that it or will there be other restrictions? Will shops close, will it be possible to go out to eat?

We spent yesterday (Saturday) putting into effect existing restrictions so they would not remain measures only on paper. Are there any other restrictions on the table – I will be honest in admitting there are. We will be preparing them today and the crisis committee will convene again tomorrow to review them.

Whether there will be other restrictions on domestic activity I will not say at this time. The public will be notified of any measures taken.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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