Health Board chief: For us, emergency continues at least to June

Merike Jürilo.
Merike Jürilo. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

While the emergency situation (eriolukord) expired Sunday night in Estonia, for the Health Board (Terviseamet) this in practise makes little difference to operations, which predated the start of the situation in mid-March the board's head Merike Jürilo says.

Crisis readiness is likely to continue through May, though is dependent on if and to what extent the rate of new COVID-19 infections continues to decline. Jürilo noted that the Health Board's current regime had its origins in February, well before the emergency situation was declared (March 12).

A raft of controversial legislation passed at the last minute late last week has set out the legal landscape post-emergency situation, with the Health Board seeing an enhanced role as a result.

This will include the right to impose quarantine, forbid events going ahead or close educational or childcare institutions, if the coronavirus risk deems it necessary. The board can also obtain the identities of close contacts of a coronavirus carrier, and advise companies and institutions accordingly, it is reported. Critics have said this grants the board excessive powers, to the detriment of the Riigikogu and even the government itself.

Those newly diagnosed with COVID-19 going forward will also be contacted by the Health Board and advised on how to meet home quarantining conditions sufficiently to minimize the risk of infecting others.

Should those in imposed quarantine require aid, for instance in obtaining food and other necessities, the board will contact the local authority, ERR's online news in Estonian reports.

Merike Jürilo noted that the situation was still something of a moving target, with decisions by the government potentially including imposing wide-ranging restrictions on public events. At present, with th 2+2 rule, these are in effect still banned, but from July public events of up to 1,000 are at the time of writing to go ahead, and children's camps of up to 300 are also currently planned.

The Health Board itself has received criticism from the government in recent weeks, with Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Center) saying in late April that it could have handled the situation better.

In making its decisions, the Health Board involves professors of virology from the University of Tartu, notably Professor Irja Lutsar, as well as representatives of the society of infectious diseases, and others.

The Health Board's crisis team is to continue its work, headed by Dr. Arkadi Popov, till at least June 1.

Jürilo also reiterated calls for the public made by the prime minister, social affairs minsiter Tanel Kiik and others, to continue to exercise responsibility and to stay home if sick.

"Ideally, we wouldn't have to tell someone to stay home. If a person feels sick, they should simply stay home so that they don't infect others with other viral diseases" Jürilo said.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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