Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) personnel on the islands of Saaremaa and Muhu have upped their number of patrols to ten following stricter regulations in place from Sunday, including most shops and service establishments needing to be closed, as part of the coronavirus emergency measures. Saaremaa is the worst-hit region of Estonia so far as per capita coronavirus cases go.
On Saturday, Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Center) signed an amendment which will see most of the stores and close contact service providers close their doors from Sunday (March 29) in the municipalities of Saaremaa and Muhu. Selling items online is still allowed.
Stricter restrictions on movement will go into force on Monday (March 30). Ratas wants everyone who can work from home to do so.
People must carry ID when they leave the house and the police will be carrying out spot checks. Fines of up to €2,000 can now be issued.
The government will evaluate in two weeks whether the restrictions need to be extended
Saaremaa, with a population around 33,000, had a confirmed 241 coronavirus cases as of Sunday, in comparison with 230 in Harju County, which includes Tallinn and has a total population of over 580,000.
On Friday, Saaremaa's confirmed infection cases number was 51.3 COVID-19 infected patients per 10,000 residents, Kuressaare Hospital said, highlighting as a comparison that the indicator in other highly affected areas: 34.6 in Lombardy, northern Italy and 11.5 in Hubei, China, whence the virus arose.
The PPA is to begin monitoring compliance with the restrictions, and the president, Kersti Kaljulaid, has also agreed to consent to the use of up to 40 volunteer Defense League (Kaitseliit) members to assist the police.
Üllar Kütt, the head of the PPA's Western operations center, said the PPA was increasing the number of patrols in Saaremaa to ten, augmented both by the Defense League members and human resources drawn from the mainland.
"We will be launching a combined patrol on Saaremaa, where both PPA and Defense League personnel will be in one car together. We will also be sending personnel from the mainland to the islands," Kütt said.
Young people in particular in focus
Kütt said it was crucial that people themselves abide by the restrictions and explain their importance to young people and children.
"Young people and children do not understand and have not taken seriously the graveness of this situation. This is certainly one place where parents need to make a serious commitment," he added.
In an interview with news portal Delfi (link in Estonian), Kiik said that he had already approached the regular Estonian Defense Forces (EDF) to make ready a field hospital to anticipate any shortages of hospital beds in the island's sole hospital at Kuressaare.
As to the question of whether the stricter measures on Saaremaa need to be rolled out nationwide, Kiik noted the spread of the virus depends on the application of severe restrictions, but also said that locking down Tallinn would ideally be avoided, though this entirely depended on public behavior.
"The behavior of all of us, our actions today, has already yielded results, and if we can maintain that level and comply with the rules both in Saaremaa and more broadly across Estonia, then we may not need to apply any additional measures. That said, only time will tell," Kiik said.
Editor: Andrew Whyte