Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Center) said on Wednesday he believes there will be a second coronavirus wave and that Estonia must be prepared for it. He also said he thinks local unemployed people will take vacant jobs in agriculture and that salary compensation should be extended.
The prime minister said during question time in the Riigikogu he has discussed readiness for a second wave of the virus in a video conference with the director general of the World Health Organization (WHO). "I agree that a second wave is coming - whether in late summer or fall, it is difficult to predict," Ratas said, adding that it is also difficult to estimate the scale of the second wave.
The prime minister said Estonia is better prepared for a new virus outbreak than in was March both in terms of personal protective equipment (PPE) and the readiness of hospitals, research has also been launched and the focus must be on medicinal product and food security.
Ratas added in the event of a new wave, serious consideration should be given to whether it makes sense to discontinue scheduled treatment on such a large scale as was done for the first outbreak of the virus. "Completely shutting down scheduled treatment is not reasonable," the prime minister said.
When asked whether the plan is to once again completely shut down schools in the event of a new outbreak of the virus, Ratas said it is difficult to forecast that at the moment.
Minister of Education and Research Mailis Reps (Center) added Estonia has learned a lot from this crisis.
"We are definitely not planning to go back to distance learning right from the beginning of the new academic year," Reps said. "It is inherent in our culture to always worry, but we have done very, very well. Cooperation between students, teachers and parents has gone very well in this difficult situation. There has been a lot of ingenuity in coping with learning," the minister added.
Ratas optimistic local unemployed will go to work in agriculture
Ratas also said at the press conference he is optimism that domestic unemployed will soon find their way to agriculture and thus the departure of migrant labor will not paralyze the sector.
Ratas noted the situation in the labor market is complicated and there is no point in building illusions that the growth of unemployment will stop when the emergency situation ends.
He highlighted that, as of May 10, there were 49,741 registered unemployed, making up 7.7 percent of the working-age population, an increase of 11 percent in the number of unemployed over a month.
Ratas said it is clear Estonian people will lose their jobs and the state must protect them in the labor market. At the same time, the prime minister expressed his conviction that many unemployed people in Estonia will soon find a way to strawberry fields as well.
Ratas also reminded that with the government's decision, foreign workers can contribute with their work in agriculture until July 31 and this will definitely be of great help to farmers.
Ratas supports extending salary compensation measure
Ratas said he is in favor of extending the Unemployment Insurance Fund's salary compensation measure.
He said criteria, such as the requirement of a 30 percent reduction in revenue, may change to some extent if the Unemployment Insurance Fund measure is extended.
As of Sunday, decisions concerning the payment of compensation have been made regarding 104,931 employees of 12,978 establishments. The total cost of wage compensation at present is €114.2 million. Altogether €250 million has been earmarked for this measure.
At present, employers can apply for wage compensation from the Unemployment Insurance Fund for a period of two months during a period of their choice from March 1 to May 31, and payments are made until June 30.
To qualify for the salary compensation measure, an employer must meet two out of three conditions. The company's turnover or revenue must have decreased at least 30 percent compared with the same period last year, the company is in a situation where it does not have work to give in the agreed amount to at least 30 percent of employees, and the wages of the workers have been lowered at least 30 percent or to the minimum wage.
The Unemployment Insurance Fund will compensate to the employee 70 percent of their previous average wage, but no more than €1,000 a month gross, and no less than the minimum wage.
The employer is obliged to pay the employees receiving the compensation a gross pay of at least €150 a month, which must be paid out before the application is filed.
Editor: Helen Wright