If the new tougher measures to restrict people's movements to stop the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) are not followed then the next step is a full quarantine, members of the government said at a press conference on Thursday.
Currently, in Estonia, only people who have been diagnosed with coronavirus or who have returned to the country from abroad are required to undergo a 14 day quarantine. While the government's advice to the general population so far has been to stay inside as much as possible, limit movements to essential journeys only and work from home if you can. Culture and leisure activities, including playgrounds, are closed and public gatherings banned.
Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Center), emphasized that Friday's (tomorrow) tightening of movement restrictions must be followed by society as a whole. From tomorrow all-non essential stores in shopping centers will be close and bars and restaurants will shut at 10 p.m. People are already not allowed to walk around in groups of more than two and must leave a two meter gap between themselves and others.
Ratas stressed: "If we don't follow them [these restrictions] now, we can all be expected to be in quarantine next. We all need to feel responsible for ourselves and our loved ones' behavior. These are the rules so that none of us get sick, none of us die."
The Prime Minister explained the closure of shopping centers is necessary to combat the spread of the virus and save lives.
He acknowledged that a full quarantine would have a negative impact on the economy, but if nothing else works, it must be done. Decisions are being discussed with specialists in the field and with a mind to making sure the economy keeps afloat.
Interior Minister Mart Helme (EKRE) said the government was deliberately taking it's time to find the right balance for every decision and not to destroy the economy.
The Crisis Committee holds two to three meetings each day to discuss the impact of possible additional measures and to discuss the "price tag" or economic impact of each decision.
Discussing the current restrictions Helme said: "All things have their price tags and we need to consider them. No matter what path we take, we see that we have to go slowly: border control, enforcing movement restrictions. It requires resources which cannot be planned for only one or two weeks ahead, but maybe for months. We are not sure how long this pandemic will last because we do not know when we will be able to return to normal life. We cannot run out of breath in the first 100 meters, we might have a long run [ahead of us]."
Helme said the Russian-speaking population, some of which receives its information from another information space and does not understand the seriousness of the threat, has to be worked with separately.
"The country needs to take very vigorous steps very quickly to clarify the seriousness of the situation in this information space and that the decisions of the Crisis Committee are enforceable, not just [seen as] a joke. That task is up to the police," Helme said.
In Tallinn and Ida-Viru County, police have been struggling with juvenile gangs which are not breaking the law, but simply violate current restrictions on movement. As a result, police are now collecting video footage from security cameras in cities to understand how serious the problem is and how well the police are able to intervene.
"We want to know where the gathering places are, we will react as needed," Helme said. He added that young people will be verbally cautioned first, but if they do not follow the rules after they can be fined. "The state has the power to impose fines. If necessary, we will do so."
In addition, the Ministry of the Interior has obtained GPS data from smart devices from telecom companies. Where appropriate, people's locations will be looked at to make sure restrictions are being followed.
"There are many ways forward and we will not hesitate to use coercive measures when needed," Helme said.
He added that a ban on public transport was also under discussion. Especially in smaller cities, he said, there could be a shift from public transport to bicycle rental, for example, which would also be good for health and would provide the two-meter distance needed to fight the virus.
However, if a full quarantine is introduced, it will in be extend to public transport.
The Minister of the Interior acknowledged the situation is unprecedented for everyone, so the full extent of the crisis is still being understood.
"We're inevitably a bit blind in this, learning how to get to understand the situation. We are trying to make the most optimal and fast decisions possible, but we also need to learn to live and adapt to this virus," Helme said.
The emergency situation currently in place is scheduled to last until May 1, but could be extended. As of Thursday morning, 538 have been diagnosed with coronavirus in Estonia and one person has died after contracting the disease.
Editor: Helen Wright