Social affairs minister: Not out of the coronavirus woods yet

Social affairs minister Tanel Kiik on Friday's edition of "Ringvaade". Source: ERR

From Monday, Estonia will no longer be under an emergency situation. This does not spell a return to the full status quo pre-pandemic, however, social affairs minister Tanel Kiik (Center) said Friday. Reiterating comments already made by his prime minister and party-mate, Jüri Ratas, Kiik noted that the public oughtn't to organize or visit many events which might be de rigueur in a normal summer. At the same time, exercising a more rigid discipline as the emergency situation ends could pay dividends later on in the summer, if the virus did not make a significant return as a result, Kiik said.

"First of all, the fact that we have managed to control the spread of the virus has been the result of wide-ranging cooperation between Estonian residents, companies, local governments and state agencies. This would certainly not have happened in itself," Kiik told ETV magazine show "Ringvaade" Friday.

 "It is also true that, at the end of an emergency, many concerns – including regarding the labor market and the social sphere, which also falls within my nominal area of ​​government - will continue to move in the direction of getting worse rather than better," Kiik went on.

As to what would be the rate of infection that would demonstrate the situation was not improving, Kiik said that the benchmark would be around 50 per 100,000 of the population, at least internationally. This figure could be halved for Estonia, he added.

"We ourselves have been somewhat more conservative; we have discussed it with the Health Board and also briefly at government level, noting that Estonia should probably be concerned and, if necessary, impose additional restrictions or follow other countries' air connection practices and the like when a figure of 25 is met, i.e. twice as strict as international practise would suggest."

"The Latvian figure is now somewhere between six and seven [per 100,000], while Finland has been experiencing about 25 infections per 100,000 inhabitants over the past two weeks," Kiik went on.

"We are out of the emergency situation on Monday, which means that the threat assessment has also fallen somewhat. There have been fewer than ten infected people a day, for 15 consecutive days," Kiik continued. 

"Public gatherings are also allowed, gathering in different sports according to the competition regulations, training in more spacious conditions is already allowed. Swimming pools and sports clubs will also be opened. Gradually easing during May and some things at the beginning of June.

Relaxing restrictions also comes with different guidelines on what activities are permissible and in what ways, interviewer Grete Lõbu noted, asking if this means following the regulations would involve using common sense after the emergency situation ends, and its replacement, less severe, "emergency", or "crisis situation" (hädaolukord) starts up.

"So far, the Estonian population has behaved predominantly sensibly, responsibly," Kiik responded.

"Plus we have also seen what happens if these rules are ignored, namely that this infection can rise very quickly again, and some regional foci can appear," Kiik said. 

Kiik nonetheless highlighted that the country as a whole may not always be able to get what it wants, regarding virus rate drops and concomitant further lifting of restrictions or best practices.

"I believe that the common desire for all of us is that through the summer, we can gradually move towards 'normal life', though not perhaps as in the pre-crisis period. But the worse outcome would be that at some point, we will have to start revising the relief. Both the government and, I believe, the people of Estonia would like to avoid this."

Asked if this meant that the Minister was not yet breathing a sigh of relief, Kiik replied that: "The honest answer is that not yet."

Not back to normal on Monday

The expiry of the emergency situation on May 17 does not mean that the normal situation will continue from Monday, Kiik said.

"In a medical sense, this is still an emergency, i.e. the state of affairs that preceded the declaration of an emergency situation," Kiik explained. 

"This means that we know that we have in our midst a coronavirus, a relatively dangerous infectious disease, which is still spreading in the country. We know that it has not disappeared, we know that there are countries in Europe, including our own neighbors, where it is still on the up. In that sense, the emergency is still here, it has not changed. It now hinges on how the numbers start to change through May."

As for the summer and canceled or postponed events (public events of up to 1,000 attendees are currently on the table for July and August-ed.), particularly around Jaaniöö and Jaanipäev (June 23-24), Kiik said that: "The general logic is that the fewer different events, the fewer avoidable meetings we hold, the better the forecast for May-June at the moment."

"The more events there are, unfortunately, the higher the risk of infection, and thus the greater the likelihood that the number of infections as a whole will start to rise again."

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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