Kaja Kallas: We need balance between coronavirus and society functioning

Kaja Kallas, chairman of the opposition Reform Party.
Kaja Kallas, chairman of the opposition Reform Party. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

We cannot give the government absolute power and a monopoly on truth in a democratic country. That is why the Riigikogu must continue working, asking questions, making proposals, representing our freedoms and making sure society functions," opposition leader Kaja Kallas writes.

The government has declared an emergency situation to tackle the coronavirus crisis. A necessary step for more efficient decision-making in a time-critical situation. The government has introduced a number of restrictions to impede the spread of the virus and will likely introduce more.

It is difficult for the public to provide an assessment of specific government steps as we aren't nearly as well informed as the government nor do we have access to official forecasts for the coming days. Therefore, attempts to try and manage the crisis alongside the government would have little practical value. However, this line of credit given to the government only adds to the responsibility they hold for their actions.

We must not forget the principles of democratic governance

The government should take the opportunity to keep the Riigikogu up to speed and explain the background of decisions made. It can be done behind closed doors if necessary, but we cannot give the government absolute power and truth as ours is a democratic state.

That is why the Riigikogu must continue working, asking questions, making proposals, representing our freedoms and making sure society functions. Of course, everything that is possible needs to be done to avoid the virus spreading in the Riigikogu and keep from creating unnecessary work for the government and agencies. However, we cannot allow crisis moods to overshadow the principles of democratic governance.

The most burning question is how to retain people's income, offer aid to companies suffering from the crisis and boost state capacity to handle a spike in social and healthcare expenses. These solutions cannot be too bureaucratic or vague.

The Reform Party is working on its proposals, but this is neither the time nor the place to instruct the government via the media. We are prepared to cooperate fully with all parties.

I believe that keeping enterprise afloat at any cost is key to society recovering from the crisis as quickly as possible. Next to containing the spread of the COVID-19 virus, we must do everything we can to avoid widespread unemployment, the economy freezing, social vulnerability and a general wave of pessimism in society.

We need a plan for returning to normal life

The other field that requires support quickly is healthcare. I have no doubt the government is taking every opportunity to bolster the healthcare network. We know the capacity of the Estonian medical system in broad strokes, and no major leap in terms of that capacity can be achieved in the short term.

Therefore, it is crucial to manage expectations and send clear messages. Whether we're talking about actual capacity for testing for the virus, the future spread of the virus and real availability of medical assistance. The more accurately people can gauge the state's inevitably limited capabilities, the more attention everyone can pay to their own actions in the crisis.

The people of Estonia have realized the seriousness of the situation and we can see the government's recommendation and restrictions being complied with. That said, it is likely the virus will continue spreading in Estonia and the world, possibly for months to come. I find that we must be honest with the people of Estonia in terms of this possible future scenario and make preparations.

We need a consensus on a point of balance between the coronavirus and society functioning. We need to realize the simple fact that all manner of restrictions put enormous strain on our economy, social system and daily lives. Estonia cannot be closed and locked away for months on end. Our healthcare, economy, social system and society is not ready for it.

Therefore, we should prepare for a situation where we need to return to everyday life knowing that the spread of the virus has not been contained for good. I believe we can only do that in the form of a conscious choice and shared conviction in society.

We need to have done everything in our power to avoid people belonging to risk groups being infected first. We can use the coming weeks to create capacity for isolating risk groups and ensuring their daily coping.

The coronavirus crisis has only lasted a few days in Estonia and will continue for weeks or months. That is why we need a broad social contract on how to move forward with solving this crisis in the long run. Next to restrictions, we need a plan for returning to everyday life.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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