Mayor of Tartu Urmas Klaas (Reform), who is also head of the regional crisis management committee, says shopping malls nationwide should be closed in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, Baltic News Service reports. The head of the service and trade workers union, Elle Pütsepp, also says store opening hours should be shortened.
Klaas told regional daily Tartu Postimees that this was the committee's overall view.
"Grocery stores and pharmacies should remain open, but shopping malls are problematic in that young people congregate there. There have also been violations of public order. Our urgent recommendation is for the government is to close shopping centers," Klaas said, according to BNS.
"Certainly all pet food and equipment stores will also remain open. What matters is that there would be no groups of people gathering in shopping malls. This decision has to be made in a thought-out fashion," Klaas added.
Klass also noted that food assistance for schoolchildren who previously received free school meals was further being looked at, and called for volunteers in the sector. A round-the-clock kindergarten is also operating in Tartu, the Maarjamõisa kindergarten, whose use should be restricted to the children of vital service workers, Klaas said.
Union chief: shortening store working hours justified
Head of the Estonian Service and Trade Workers Union (Eesti Teenindus- ja Kaubandustöötajate Ametiühing) Elle Pütsepp meanwhile said that in the current situation, shortening store opening hours is fully justified and should be carried out nationwide.
"The current situation, where some stores have decided to shorten their opening hours and some have not, causes confusion for shoppers," Pütsepp said in a press release, adding that, as soon as the virus outbreak accelerates, all stores except grocery stores and pharmacies should be closed.
According to Pütsepp, shortening the opening hours at shopping centers and stores will help minimize the spread of the virus as it would allow for more thorough cleaning and disinfection of sales areas.
"This would also provide an opportunity to fill the shelves, while avoiding contact with customers, and would better protect the health of both store staff and customers," Pütsepp said, recommending that customers opt for the use of bank cards and contactless payment when making purchases, to minimize direct contact.
In addition, trade unions are calling on their employers to treat their employees considerately and not to terminate employment contracts lightly.
"There is a great deal of uncertainty and concern about the future among workers, and one of the biggest fears is the use of §37 of the Employment Contracts Act, which allows the employee to be placed on minimum wage," Pütsepp said.
Several supermarket chains across Estonia have already reduced their opening hours to help stop the spread of coronavirus, and have introduced measures to limit the exposure of their staff.
Editor: Andrew Whyte