Saaremaa municipality wants easing of second homeowners' entry bar

Approach to Kuivaastu harbor on Muhu, the main arrival and departure point for it and Saaremaa, nowadays virtually deserted due to travel restrictions to the islands.
Approach to Kuivaastu harbor on Muhu, the main arrival and departure point for it and Saaremaa, nowadays virtually deserted due to travel restrictions to the islands. Source: Margus Muld/ERR

The local government on the island of Saaremaa, by far the region in Estonia worst hit by the coronavirus, has called for permitting those with second homes there to enter the island and the adjacent island of Muhu.

Saaremaa and Muhu have been closed to non-residents for several weeks as coronavirus rates soared there, currently seeing an infection rate of 157.06 per 10,000 people, compared with a rate of 8.69 per 10,000 in Harju County, the most populous region of the country and the second most affected area in absolute terms.

Until last week, those with second homes on the island, a popular tourist destination were, according to BNS, permitted to travel to the island. This was reportedly due to ambiguity on what constituted an island resident, i.e. were those with multiple homes only resident on the island for part of the year, to be classed as residents or not – those who had a place of residence on the mainland, plus are in employment on the mainland, but who were resident of Saaremaa or Muhu according to the population register, had previously been admitted, but now they are not.

The regulations were tightened by order of the prime minister, Jüri Ratas (Center), in his dual role as, to use the wording of English versions of government orders, the person in charge of the emergency situation.

A committee tackling the COVID-19 pandemic in Saaremaa's municipality wants the previous state of affairs, where those with second homes on the island could enter, to be reinstated; this would require prior permission from the Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) and would only be for those exhibiting no coronavirus symptoms.

At present, those on the island who are not registered as full-time residents could remain there, but if they were to leave and return to the mainland, return would not be possible until the emergency restrictions are lifted.

Last week, the PPA unit issuing special permits in the light of the movement restrictions, be they on Saaremaa and Muhu or elsewhere, changed, according to BNS, and is now acting based on the premise that even if an individual has a place of residence in the territory subject to restriction of movement, they will not get a special permit if they also have a place of residence outside the territory subject to the restriction on movement. 

Travel to Saaremaa by sea requires arriving at Muhu in any case, where the ferries dock, and traveling onward, for instance by road; the two islands are connected by a bridge.

Most stores and close contact service providers on Saaremaa and Muhu are required to close their doors, and notably stricter restrictions on movement than elsewhere in Estonia, including the neighboring island of Hiiumaa, were applied to the two islands, from late March.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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