Interior Minister: Emergency situation to continue into May

Minister of the Interior Mart Helme (EKRE). Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

Interior Minister Martin Helme (EKRE) says that the current emergency situation imposed by the government in the wake of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic will be extended into May. Helme also said that in hindsight, he did not take the arrival of the virus in Estonia in its early stages as seriously as he might have.

Appearing on ETV politics discussion show "Esimene stuudio" Monday night, Helme said that the emergency situation declared on March 12 in response to the coronavirus pandemic will be extended beyond the end of April, its original deadline.

However, Helme said that lifting of some restrictions given public opinion and reflecting earlier words of Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Center) need not be mutually exclusive with prolonging the emergency situation.

Helme also noted that restrictions being relaxed in some other countries had often been stricter than Estonia's in the first place, adding it was better to be clear that the trend is for the virus' spread is subsiding and then gradually easing restrictions, rather than quickly lifting them in May only for the situation to worsen again and having to reinstate them.

"It would be preferable for us to suffer for a few weeks or a month, so that there will be no such setback," he said, citing Singapore, South Korea and Lithuania, where setbacks have reportedly occurred, as examples.

Helme: I didn't take the virus as seriously initially, as I do now

The interior minister also told presenter Andres Kuus that he wasn't making light of global reaction to the coronavirus' spread in the early stages. Helme had said in late February that when he was a child, the remedy for a cold was goose fat and woolen socks.

At the same time he conceded that he had not taken the outbreak as seriously then as he subsequently has.

"I don't think I was mocking it, but I do admit that I didn't take it so seriously at first. I also took it at first that it's on of those mutated forms of the flu. Insofar as it goes, I've survived those types of flu for a lifetime."

"Wisdom in hindsight is an exact science," Helme added.

Saaremaa mayor did right thing in stepping down

Speaking on "Esimene stuudio", Helme also praised Saaremaa municipality mayor Madis Kallas for opting to step down on Monday. Saaremaa is by far the worst hit area of Estonia in the pandemic so far.

"This is his internal matter. If we look at the fact that half of the people who died in Estonia have been connected with Saaremaa, he probably has somewhat of a bitter mood and he would like to show that doesn't have a fisheye-lens overview of it all," Helme said.

Helme also did not rule out the possibility that the international volleyball competition held on Saaremaa in early March, after the coronavirus had started to spread, with one of the teams visiting from northern Italy, one of the most affected regions in the world, had been organized through Reform MP Hanno Pevkur.

Pevkur is a candidate for the next resident of the European Volleyball League (CEV). He will leave politics if elected to the post, he says, and is also a former interior minister. Kallas' decision has the effect of clearing the air, Helme added.

Karu: A recommendation which did not work out

Helme also addressed the issue of former IT and foreign trade minister Kaimar Karu, a Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) appointee to the post but not a party member, who was quickly replaced late last week by Raul Siem.

Helme said that it became clear that Karu was a liberal who did not approve of a bill initiated by the interior ministry in January which would amend the Aliens Act and toughen immigration regulations in Estonia.

"This was a cold shower for me and I concluded that it is probably not possible for us to work together as like-minded people here," Helme said.

Helme added that Karu had been recommended by an EKRE member before his appointment, but that this had not worked ou.

"As we've seen, recommendations from friends can often fall through," Helme said.

Raul Siem is an EKRE member.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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