Foreign minister Urmas Reinsalu says Estonia's strict border regime, introduced as part of the emergency package in the wake of the coronavirus spread, is justified in order to avoid an "Italian scenario" regarding borders and the virus' spread, noting that a maelstrom has not yet reached Estonia, but nevertheless we were all in this together. The foreign minister made his remarks in an interview on evening current affairs show "Aktuaalne kaamera" broadcast by ETV, which follows.
Just ten days ago, there was free movement of people, goods and labor across the EU. That is no longer the case. Why was the EU unable to act collectively and in a coordinated way?
"This is simply because events have taken place so fast and the first instinct of the countries is to take the strongest possible measures to prevent the scenarios we see in more critical countries, like Italy, from happening in their own countries."
The Polish Government essentially reneged on your (Reinsalu's-ed.) plan to give Estonian people a "green corridor" (for return across Poland after the latter imposed border controls-ed.). The Finnish government has adopted a line regarding Estonian employees to the effect that: those who are inside, stay inside and those outside, stay outside,". Instead of solidarity in the EU, are we not now seeing an "every man for themselves" approach?
"In critical situations, in border situations, countries need to cooperate, because together we can also jointly fight the virus and also ensure that countries continue to function. I am pleased that, finally, with the help of Estonia, we have been able to resolve the greater part of the freight transport on Polish territory issue."
"And indeed, the situation with Finland is now such that that country is introducing new, additional measures, which is why it is very important that Estonian people living in Estonia but working in Finland have the opportunity to enter Finnish territory through to Sunday at 00.00., to instate a new regime that would prevent them from entering."
"However, this does not apply to people who are Estonian citizens but have their permanent residence in Finland. They will continue to have the opportunity to return to Finland," Reinsalu said.
Is this not something of a chain reaction in which all countries end up over-restricting themselves, to show that their politicians are decisive and forceful, but with no real result?
"The question is, what is the result? The issue is that we have very different scenarios on the table for countries where this storm could turn out to be serious. The storm has not yet reached most European countries, in fact. There are actually registered cases, and without a doubt, if the pandemic were limited to these recorded cases, these counter-measures would not be proportionate at all."
"These countries, of course, implement the measures on the grounds that the virus must not spread throughout their country, for reasons of public health."
"Would more coordination between countries make more sense? 100 percent I would sign up for this. This is certainly a subject that we will also discuss tomorrow with the Finnish foreign minister, to look for different solutions, but today it must be assumed that this restriction (on Estonian workers entering and leaving Finland-ed.) has been enforced there. Yesterday evening, the Finnish crisis commission convened and made the decision, and they acted purely for public health reasons."
Returnees are subject to an absolute quarantine requirement, without exception. Nothing – the birth of a child, death or serious illness of a family member, a burglary, a burning down home – gives an Estonian working abroad the right to come over to Estonia for a couple of days. Isn't it harsh to put it in these terms – a choice between work and family?
"We've established a rule for commuters between Finland and Estonia."
But all those who return to Estonia will be quarantined for 14 days.
"In the case of 'pendulum' commuters, we have established the principle, and likewise, it is understandable with [Estonian border town] Valga-Valka and Latvian workers, that they will not be subject to this quarantine requirement. But we have to remember that of course, people have jobs, they have to work, they have to help their family. But the less contact, the less movement, the better."
We are seeing fear. Once this crisis ends, will the world have changed beyond recognition?
"As human beings, we are still who we are. It is also human to feel anxious about the unknown, but it is very important at this point to keep calm, to realize that the crisis has not yet reached Estonia as a risk of an immense public health pressure. The most important thing is to keep isolating, avoid as many contacts as possible. It is, in fact, the overall message that the peoples of Europe are trying to control, in their own countries, the exponential growth of the crisis."
Do you know if, for example, people who violate quarantine in some way will be fined in Estonia?
"I think people are sensible and fulfill this requirement because it is a responsibility to the people around us who are around us. But undoubtedly, the infectious disease control act and the Penal Code also provide for sanctions in cases of deliberately spreading viral disease, which will surely be imposed if people violate this blatantly. I think the people have realized this already, given how few people we see moving around outside today. What is important is that we all understand that we are all in this fight together."
Editor: Andrew Whyte