President Kersti Kaljulaid has given her consent to allow up to 40 members of the Defense League volunteers (Kaitseliit) to ensure security on Saaremaa and Muhu islands and in enforcing the tightened movement restrictions which take effect from Monday.
In accordance with a proposal from the interior minister, the Police and Border Guard Board will involve Kaitseliit volunteers who will be authorized to apply direct coercion to enforce movement restrictions on the western islands until the end of the emergency situation. Most of the volunteers will be locals.
The Emergency Act states the defense forces and Kaitseliit can only be involved in the regulation of traffic and ensuring of safety by an order of the government with the consent of the president.
Movement restrictions will be tightened in Saaremaa and Muhu from Monday in order to more efficiently curb community transmission. The islanders have to stay at home. Leaving home is permitted on certain conditions only and people must have an ID document with them when moving around outside.
On Sunday, the number of positive cases in Saaremaa rose to 241, the highest positive case rate of any Estonian county. The county now has more cases than Tallinn and Harju County which is the most populated area in Estonia.
Kaljulaid said: "In Saaremaa, the number of infections is growing the fastest in Estonia, and the restrictions imposed on staying home and movement there are definitely necessary and appropriate in the present situation. The introduction of movement restrictions also prompts the need for a larger number of police patrols. Involving defense force volunteers, who are familiar with the local people and situation, in these patrols is a very reasonable and smart solution in my opinion."
The head of state underscored that movement restrictions and recommendations to avoid non-essential movement and contacts apply to all of Estonia.
"Let us be reasonable and fulfill these orders because, in order to curb the crisis, it is essential that everyone should contribute," Kaljulaid said.
Defense force volunteers have already been involved with raising awareness about the coronavirus at Tallinn Airport and bus stations in Tartu and Tallinn. Members are also manning the phones of the 1247 helpline set up to take calls about the emergency situation.
Ratas: Defence League will stay until end of emergency situation
Prime Minister Jüri Ratas, who is in charge of the emergency situation, said: "Today we learned that COVID-19 has resulted in two more deaths in Estonia, one in Saaremaa. My deepest condolences to all the mourners. It is up to the behaviour of each of us whether we can prevent the severe spread of COVID-19. The Defence League is coming to help Saaremaa and Muhu to preserve the lives and health of our people."
Ratas said as new movement will come into force on Saaremaa and Muhu from Monday, March 30 and as the emergency situation has already led to more work for the Police and Border Guard, more people need to be involved to carry out additional tasks.
This limit of 40 defense league volunteers indicates that no more members of the Defence League may serve at a time. Given the amount of rest and shifts of people, the number of Defence League members involved may be higher. The membership of the Defence League is voluntary.
With the involvement of the Defence League, police and Defence League patrol crews will be formed in Saaremaa.
In addition to more extensive patrols, potential gathering points will be jointly inspected, including random checks of home quarantine and the implementation of the 2 + 2 rule. People can move outdoors alone or in pairs and should keep 2 meters distance to others. This restriction does not apply to family members.
The active members of the Defence League shall, while carrying out their task, wear uniforms of the Defence Forces with a safety vest bearing the clear marking "KORRAKAITSE" (public security). The Defence League vehicle used to carry out its tasks must be labelled "KORRAKAITSE" (public security).
The order shall enter into force on March 30, 2020. It shall remain in force until the expiration of the need to involve the Defence League, but no longer than until the end of the emergency situation.
* This article was updated to add Prime Minister Jüri Ratas' quote.
Editor: Helen Wright