Warm weather brings weekend crowds to nature spots despite restrictions ({{contentCtrl.commentsTotal}})

Jägala falls, a popular destination for walkers.
Jägala falls, a popular destination for walkers. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

Warmer weather over the weekend, particularly on Sunday, brought large numbers of people to areas of natural beauty and other outdoor locations, despite the restrictions on gathering installed by the government as part of its coronavirus emergency measures. The Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) spoke to ETV current affairs show "Aktuaalne kaamera", and urged the public to stick to the restrictions.

Roger Kumm, head of the East Harju County department of the Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) said that regardless of the weather, the 2 + 2 rule (a maximum public gathering of two people, and maintaining a minimum distance of two meters from other members of the public) must still be observed, and lower-traffic areas should be picked when going for a walk.

One example where this was not possible, Kumm said, were Jägala waterfalls, west of Tallinn, and Keila waterfalls to the east, where people swarmed en masse, making it almost impossible to follow the 2+2 rule.

"There are too many people in the area to maintain this 2+2 rule, which has been made clear to date, and it is our duty to enforce it," said Kumm, adding that getting out of parked cars was a particular issue.

"Maybe this is an often used comparison, but the crowd there formed a procession similar to that at the song festival," he added.

Warnings issued

Kaupo Läänerand, head of crisis staff at the PPA, told ERR that at peak times, there were be up to 100 cars in the parking lot at Jägala waterfall, and 50 at Viru bog, 50 kilometers east of Tallinn.

Hiking trails and bogs were more highly visited areas than areas in eastern and southern Estonian, Läänerand added, though he also said that both in town and on hiking trails, people were generally keeping to the 2+2 rule.

Some warnings still needed to be issued, however.

"There have still been many verbal warnings today, but in general, people have still understood why they should not congregate," Läänerand said.

"Our procedure is that we ask people to understand why it is important to follow the established restrictions on gathering and movement. If they do not understand this, we can issue a written precept and impose a penalty for non-compliance," Läänerand went on.

Different interpretations of the concept of family

One aspect of the regulations which has caused some confusion is the definition of family. The 2+2 rule does not apply to families of more than two, but Roger Kumm said that this should be understood as the immediate family, i.e. one household, and not the extended family with grandparents etc.

"We should still acknowledge now, very clearly, the danger that comes with such mass gatherings," Kumm said, saying that the PPA has the required resources to keep on top of the situation, with volunteers also helping out.

Kaupo Läänerand noted that there are always cases where people do not seem to desire to understand why they are not permitted to congregate, adding that in that case measures could be taken.

The public should also head somewhere else if they arrive at an outdoor area and see crowds.

"This is obviously too much. When people get there in their cars and see this type of a situation, they should actually change their plans, and drive on and find another spot," Kumm said.

"The natural sights we have are not going anywhere, and people can always visit them [later]," Kumm added.

Restrictions include parties

Of concrete examples of warnings, Läänerand related party going on at a holiday house by Lake Võrtsjärv, near Viljandi in South Estonia, on Friday night, where there were 12 young people together. 

"They violated a number of requirements: they were there in a large group, and in addition, there were signs of drug use. In this case, proceedings have been initiated for both infringing the gatherings restrictions, and the use of drugs," he said.

The PPA stresses that even though the weather is set to get warmer as spring arrives, it is not worth flouting the rules.

"Next week will be even more beautiful weather. It is not a good idea to hold barbecues and other larger gatherings in the backyard. These must be avoided, as they will endanger yourself and other people," Kaupo Läänerand said.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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