Municipality mayor of Saaremaa Madis Kallas resigned on Monday saying he took political responsibility for the outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19) in the region. He will leave office in May to bring peace to the municipality government.
Kallas said due to the spread of COVID-19, the last six weeks have been a very difficult time for Saaremaa, Estonia and the world. At the same time, there has also been a search for possible culprits and who to blame.
Kallas said: "I am not looking for culprits and I do not wish to blame anyone. All the decisions made by different people were made on the basis of the latest knowledge at the time. Based on the information we received, the rural municipality government also formed its position."
At the start of March, the mayor allowed a volleyball match to take place on the county's largest island, Saaremaa, between the local team and a team from Milan, despite the Italian region already having an outbreak of coronavirus. Within two weeks, the first COVID-19 cases were diagnosed in Saaremaa.
Looking back to that time, Kallas said the information had not been correct.
"As the head of the municipality government, I was not able to critically assess the situation or refute the information received at that time. That is why it is right that I am leaving the office of municipality mayor. The Saare County municipality government will regain the peace it needs to work, which would be difficult to ensure if I continued," he said.
Kallas added the situation in Saare County had been resolved significantly better than initially expected and the worst-case forecasts did not become a reality. Now, the plan is to exit from the crisis caused by the virus. "However, we must continue to be vigilant to prevent a new virus outbreak," he stressed.
He expressed hope the municipality's new government coalition will be in place for May but said it was too early to name the mayoral candidates. Kallas will stay in the role until a new mayor is found and he said he hoped to return to the council in future.
Saaremaa municipality posted the comment on it's Facebook page on Monday.
As of Monday morning, Saare County, which is made up of Saaremaa, Muhu and several smaller islands, has reported 520 positive cases of coronavirus. For several weeks the island of Saaremaa was the epicenter of Estonia's COVID-19 outbreak despite only have a population of 33,000.
On Monday, Harju County, Estonia's most populated which includes Tallinn. overtook Saare County in having the most coronavirus cases. Saare County overtook Harju on March 27.
You can read a timeline of events in Saare County here.
Editor: Helen Wright