Prime Minister Jüri Ratas told the "Aktuaalne kaamera" news program on Friday evening that easing of coronavirus crisis restrictions must follow the principle of measure twice, cut once and that additional measuring is required before restrictions can be alleviated.
Why do we need to extend the emergency situation?
The outbreak of the novel coronavirus in Estonia is in a phase where we need to retain the emergency situation until May 17. The second reason is that clear and a concise management and structure is required on the level of the government as this crisis transcends different fields and concerns medicine, finance and international communication all at once.
You need to take special measures that require the emergency situation to continue?
Yes, possibly. We are all working toward it and I very much hope we will be able to relax restrictions. This could happen if the dynamics of the outbreak allow it and people continue to observe rules.
What could these be? Among the first to open would be museums, especially open-air museums but also certain sporting and hobby activities that take place outdoors.
You can see what's going on in the streets – school holiday, parents commuting to work again, transport is moving, urban public transport is packed, people are walking the streets. You will need superhuman psychological powers to tell people to stay home. Why should we stay home if the weather is beautiful and the virus is on its way out?
People have been observing the rules diligently and I would like to extend my sincere thanks to everyone – that is one thing. Now, why should it continue? Because the virus, if allowed to return, usually returns much faster and more aggressively. We are seeing it in more than one country today. The principle we're following is simple – measure twice, cut once. And we need a lot more measuring today before we can comprehensively ease measures.
If we do that, if we observe all of these precautions, I believe we will be able to relax restrictions, return to normal life and a normal economy very soon. But it will still take time and certain restrictions will be retained longer.
You have praised scientists working with the government, while you have also been criticized for largely leaving the opposition in the dark and failing to explain the government's motives and decisions. Do you feel cooperation with the opposition, efforts at explanation have been sufficient? Are they with you?
I cannot say whether the opposition is with me, while I can say that various parties have made efforts during this viral outbreak and carried themselves constructively. I had a video meeting with the Riigikogu faction of the [opposition] Social Democratic Party this evening. I met with the Riigikogu Council of Elders this morning. I send an overview of the situation to all 101 MPs every morning.
So, I believe contacts and cooperation are quite frequent. I have already agreed to attend a sitting of the Riigikogu Constitutional Committee next week when the Riigikogu does not convene for sessions.
Entrepreneurs want to know when they can open stores. While you are reluctant to commit to specific dates, businesses need to order goods, bring back workers. How many days in advance will you tell malls they will be allowed to open smaller shops, that companies can open their doors and people go to the restaurant again?
We need to keep in mind that not everything has been ordered closed in Estonia. Restaurants have remained open and so have grocery stores. It is true that malls have been closed. But mall restaurants that have a separate entrance have not been ordered to close doors, while takeaway and delivery have remained available.
The small restaurants that have closed out of fear – even though there has been no such obligation – could they reopen? Do you urge them to return to business?
Talking about restaurants that are not located in shopping centers or Muhu and Saaremaa, no restrictions have been ordered. It is true that because the virus has had a hold on Estonia, many have simply taken individual responsibility and closed doors.
In terms of opening malls – I very much hope we will have good news at the start of May and can give companies as much advance notice as possible.
What about masks? Perhaps we could avoid having to wear masks if we can refrain from yelling at each other? Why does [Minister of State Administration] Jaak Aab want people to wear masks? You have also said that wearing a mask could be the social norm if memory serves, which leads us to different opinions – virologists say it is not much use, that there is no common sense in obligating people to wear a mask. What are we going to do about these masks?
I believe we have a plethora of specialists saying that the mask could be a social norm today. I have definitely said it could be a norm in Estonia during this outbreak. Looking at the European Union, countries are broadly divided into two groups – ten member states have made it obligatory and ten have made it voluntary. It is not an obligation in Estonia today.
And it will not be made mandatory?
We cannot promise that we will not consider it in the process of dialing back restrictions, talking about closed public spaces. Talking about malls being reopened, the people who work there will have to wear a mask and have access to personal protective gear.
Editor: Marcus Turovski