Islanders protest emergency situation restrictions in Saaremaa

Margus Muld and the silent protest in Kuressaare.
Margus Muld and the silent protest in Kuressaare. Source: ERR

A protest took place in Saaremaa on Sunday against the restrictions in place on the island to mitigate the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19). Islanders do not think it is fair to loosen restrictions on the mainland but not on the islands.

As public gatherings are banned during the emergency situation people are sitting on their own in public or outside their houses to join in with the protest.

ERR's Saaremaa correspondent Margus Muld spoke to "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK) from Kuressaare's town square (link in Estonian) where several people were sitting on chairs, but following the 2+2 rules. At 12 noon there were fewer than ten "silent protesters" in the square.

He said the islanders think the situation in Saaremaa is no longer so bad the mainland should be cut off from the island.

Currently, mobility restrictions are in place which does not allow people from the mainland to enter Saaremaa or Muhu and leave again before the end of the emergency situation, or vice-versa. The emergency situation is scheduled to end on May 17.

Muld said the islanders believe the most important thing is to allow movement for people who have a property in Saaremaa. However, tourists should not be allowed on the island yet.

Later in the afternoon, local newspaper Saarte Hääl published a gallery and video of photographs showing dozens of protesters sitting on the sidewalk on chairs and benches.

The paper reported Andres Tinno, a member of the council, put out a call on Facebook for anyone who disagrees with the movement restrictions to protest on Sunday by sitting in a chair or on a stool for 30 minutes.

The newspaper wrote there were more people in the town on Sunday afternoon than usual but protests also took place across the island. Among the protestors were three doctors from Kuressaare Hospital including the chief of medicine Dr. Edward Laane, who believes the restrictions could have been relaxed from May 1. The paper also reported the protest received a lot of attention and there were also protesters on the mainland.


The Archbishop of the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church Urmas Viilma also posted a picture of himself sitting with his dog on Instagram and said he was not protesting but showing solidarity.

In an interview with AK, virology professor at the University of Tartu Irja Lutsar said it was time to start making restrictions for the whole country and not just the islands or the mainland.

Lutsar said she had also raised the issue of Saaremaa in the Scientific Council, which she heads, and to the government.

"I have asked who are we protecting from whom. Rather, we are protecting the islanders from the re-introduced of the virus from the mainland. But certainly, some relaxation [of restrictions], not only in Saaremaa, but in Estonia as a whole, has already been recommended by the Scientific Council," Lutsar said.

Saaremaa has been the epicenter of the outbreak of COVID-19 in Estonia and, until this week, had more cases of the disease than Harju County, which includes Tallinn. As of Sunday, Saare County, which includes Saaremaa and Muhu islands, has 541 positive cases compared to Harju County's 577.

Per capita, the island still has a much higher infection rate than Harju county - 163.5 per 10,000 residents to Harju's 9.65. Saare County has a population of approximately 33,000.

On March 14, two days after the emergency situation was declared by the government, harsher restrictions were imposed on the western islands to contain the disease.

Earlier today, ERR News reported the crisis committee of the municipality of Saaremaa had written to the government to request the measures be relaxed.

The crisis committee wants the right to grant special permits to entrepreneurs for moving between the islands and mainland Estonia, to allow residents of Saaremaa and Muhu islands to commute to the mainland for work and to permit access to the islands for people who own property in the region.

Visit Saaremaa, a non-profit organization, has also turned to the government on behalf of tourism enterprises and restaurants on Saaremaa, pointing out that if stringent isolation measures are extended on the island until mid-May, additional aid will be needed for the local tourism industry.


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Editor: Helen Wright

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