Hiiumaa rural municipality has supported calls from the islands entrepreneurs to lift travel restrictions to the island as the summer tourist season approaches, adding that many islanders make the journey in the opposite direction to the mainland, on a regular basis. Both the business spokespersons and the island's council point to the low rate of recent new cases of coronavirus on the island, as well as the area of the mainland closest to it – itself not subject to the same restrictions.
Tourism, trade and service entrepreneurs appeal to national government
Representatives of tourist, service and trade entrepreneurs have petitioned the island's rural municipality crisis committee for a fast relaxation of movement restrictions to the island, which are the same as for neighboring Saaremaa, far more hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic.
The text of their petition appeared on ERR's online news in Estonian Monday afternoon.
"Remaining in an emergency for the seventh week, Hiiumaa's small businesses are worried. COVID-19 is a new reality, and it is not expected that the virus will subside fully within weeks or months in our society. What is certain, however, is that by continuing existing conditions over the long-term will mean we are soon faced with serious economic problems," the communique read, also pointing out that just one person on the island has tested positive for COVID-19 over the past three weeks, with the same rate detected on the mainland town of Haapsalu, which is not closed to entry.
"In a situation where restrictions on the mainland are being eased, we feel that such conditions of competition are not correct or fair to our companies. The indicators of Hiiumaa do not differ from the rest of Estonia (except Saaremaa)."
Hiiumaa municipality concurred with the request, noting that the last COVID-19 positive case on Hiiumaa emerged on April 2.
As reported on ERR News, emergency restrictions are to be eased in respect of Saaremaa and Muhu, with a set number of permits to be issued for travel to those islands, the worst hit region of Estonia in the pandemic so far and subject to stricter measures than the rest of the country.
The same travel restrictions apply to Hiiumaa and Estonia's other islands; Saaremaa saw protests on Sunday against the continued regulations.
Hiiumaa rural municipality supports businesses' calls
In turn, Hiiumaa rural municipality plans to submit a proposal to the national government to allow residents and those with summer homes on the mainland to start moving freely between the island and the mainland from the beginning of May.
"This morning, the Hiiumaa crisis committee is to meet to make a proposal to the government and its crisis committee, to the effect that the current movement restrictions might be lifted at the beginning of May," said Aivar Viidik, Hiiumaa Rural Municipality chair said on Tuesday morning's edition of ETV magazine show "Terevisioon".
Viidik said Hiiumaa would not be opened to tourists immediately, but local people and those who have summer homes would under the proposals have the opportunity to move more often between the mainland and Hiiumaa.
The Hiiumaa entrepreneurs said that, in their opinion, safe tourism to the island, Estonia's second-largest, could also be viable from May 10.
"I hope that we can reach an agreement and be able to lift the restrictions on movement in their current form, that the government and the special committee will accept it," Viidik went on.
Entrepreneurs: We must not underestimate importance of summer season for whole island
The Hiiumaa entrepreneurs stated in their letter that they do not dismiss the importance of the virus threat and fully understand the additional security measures that everyone must follow to keep themselves
and others safe. At the same time, according to entrepreneurs, the importance of summer for the whole island should not be overlooked, adding ongoing restrictions would lead to bankruptcies.
"Compensation will soon not be able to cover the shortfall in costs . Expressed very simply, the decision to postpone the opening of the island in the long haul will lead to the bankruptcy of a large part of Hiiumaa's hosts, service providers and other small businesses already in the autumn," the entrepreneurs wrote.
About 50 percent of the island's population also need to travel to mainland regularly
Aivar Viidik noted that the proportion of those who have to go to the mainland for work or study is almost 50 percent of the island's total population.
A limited number of movement permits along the lines of the Saaremaa model was not sufficient, Viidik added.
Businesses refer to justice chancellor comments that restrictions no longer constitutional
The Hiiumaa entrepreneurs also referred to the assessment of the Chancellor of Justice Ülle Madise, who said that extending restrictions on the rights guaranteed by the constitution are not justified in any way .
The entrepreneurs also noted how carefully islanders had stuck to restrictions so far.
"For three weeks, Eesti Maaturism MTÜ has been promoting contactless, domestic tourism which complies with the applicable restrictions. There are no cases where this would have caused infection," the entrepreneurs pointed out.
On Monday, the head of the emergency situation (i.e. Prime Minister Jüri Ratas-ed.) opted to issue special permits for travel to the islands, divided up as follows: 25 special permits for Saaremaa, five for the adjacent Muhu Island and the small island of Manilaid, 20 for Hiiumaa, and ten special permits for Kihnu, Ruhnu and Vormsi each.
The special permits are valid for one round trip.
The signatories of the appeal were: Hiiumaa Tourism Association (Hiiumaa Turismiliit MTÜ), Hiiumaa Entrepreneurs 'Association (Hiiumaa Ettevõtjate Liit), Hiiumaa Consumer Association (Hiiumaa Tarbijate Ühistu), Hiiumaa Köök ja Pagar, Hiiumaine Toit MTÜ, Hiiumaa Creative Artists' Association "Hiku", Mainegrupp OÜ, Stonefish OÜ, Orjaku Mõisakoha OÜ, Simot Teenused OÜ, OÜ Ideeklaas and Ristnaotsaas Hiiu Gourmet OÜ.
Saaremaa mayor: 30 permits good for now
Saaremaa rural municipality mayor Madis Kallas told ERR Tuesday morning that his island's rural municipality government will start discussing the issuance of permits on Tuesday, adding that the 30 permit granted to Saaremaa by the government are a good option to be starting with.
"Certainly there are always a lot more people who want to use it (the permission-ed.). I think it's definitely good now that we've opened a window which gives us essentially 200 people a week (also the number of applications the municipality has received-ed.) permission to move, who want to go to work or who need to move in connection with entrepreneurship," Kallas said.
"We will take it step by step, and if a small window is opened again next week, then I think that this 30 is also very positive for us," Kallas, who himself contracted coronavirus and who announced his resignation early last week, taking political responsibility for the outbreak of the virus on Saaremaa, said.
Editor: Andrew Whyte