Road closures put in place by local municipalities to stop crowds gathering at popular nature spots close to Tallinn are not legal, the Ministry of Justice said on Friday.
On April 8, Jõelähtme parish installed signs banning entry at the intersection of Koogi road and Jägala-Joa road to stop people visiting Jägala waterfall and to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19). Popular tourist destination Käsmu village, in Lääne-Viru County, also set similar restrictions.
Minister of Justice Raivo Aegi (Isamaa) said the threat of a virus and the emergency situation do not justify the new traffic restrictions. The ministry believes the municipalities have violated the law.
"The special situation alone does not justify the imposition of a traffic restriction," said Aeg. "It is not possible, and should not be possible, for local authorities to put forward a no entry sign on the road just because of an emergency situation and the spread of the virus."
The current rules state the establishment of a quarantine area for the prevention of infectious diseases by the local government can only take place on the proposal of the Health Board.
A traffic restriction with a significant effect, such as the closure of a whole village, must be announced at least 14 days before it enters into force on as many channels as possible, such as newspapers, television, radio, website. Information on other traffic restrictions must be published at least one working day before the traffic restriction takes effect.
The reasons for the movement restriction established by the local government must be in writing and known to everyone, the ministry noted.
"Before imposing a restriction, local authorities must carefully consider whether there is an emergency situation and a risk in the specific village, beach or another place that requires road closures or restrictions on movement. It must also be assessed whether the requirement already in place to move in pairs and keep a distance of at least two meters with others is not sufficient, " the ministry said.
The ministry said local governments may install a traffic restriction sign if permitted by law. This may be a desire to protect the environment and the health of local people. However, this can only be done in the event of real danger, for example to ensure road safety, reduce noise, dust or other emissions, vibration, or road repairs.
Last week, the mayor of Jõelähtme, Andrus Umboja, said regarding the legal basis for closing roads, that traffic is regulated on the basis of traffic rules, and the emergency situation necessitates different understandings and solutions.
The 2 + 2 rule also applies in nature
The Ministry of Justice urges people who go to scenic places, to stick to the 2+2 requirement, to prefer places where there are not many people and to respect the peace of the local population. Then there is no need to think or plan to close villages, beaches or roads.
"During the school holidays starting next week, people will definitely want to move around more than usual, and just as people understand the desire to go to nature and go use public roads, it is understandable that people living in scenic places want to guarantee the safety of their residents," Aeg said.
"In order not to overload small places, we call on people to think about each other, and when you see in nature that there are already several cars parked somewhere, to drive a little further and find a place where there are no or fewer other people, " said Aeg.
Editor: Helen Wright