Head of the Health Board (Terviseamet) Merike Jürilo has resigned, ERR reports, after social affairs minister Tanel Kiik (Center), previously supportive of Jürilo, appeared to abandon her by expressing a lack of confidence on Wednesday.
A Health Board spokesperson confirmed Thursday that Jürilo, who headed up the authority throughout the coronavirus pandemic and its accompanying emergency situation, was leaving of her own volition.
At the same time, Jürilo noted her disappointment in Tanel Kiik's apparent change in stance toward her.
"We have been in close contact with the Minister of Social Affairs throughout the crisis. For me, he has been a key link in cooperation with the government. He has been our representative in the coalition. In that sense, this was a little sad to read about and listen to," Jürilo said Thursday.
"It seemed to me that it was quite a trusting relationship until yesterday," she added.
The Health Board falls under the Ministry of Social Affairs' remit.
Jürilo also cautioned about what would happen going forward, particularly if the COVID-19 virus made a resurgence later in the year.
"We know that our infection rates may increase in the near future. The Health Board needs more resources. And I do not want the board lose the necessary resources in the field for my sake, or it to end up being impossible for the team to perform its tasks, with the outcome that the Estonian people suffer," she said.
Kiik: Jürilo knew this was likely from June 1
Minister of Social Affairs Tanel Kiik told ERR Jürilo was aware of the probable end of co-operation as of June 1, and therefore his Wednesday comment could not come as a surprise to him.
Kiik told ERR Jürilo was aware of the likely end of the working relationship from June 1, meaning his comments, which he gave to daily Postimees Wednesday, could not have come as a major surprise.
"It is true that we had discussed this issue with Merike Jürilo several times in June. The first time we discussed the likelihood or otherwise of the continuation was on June 1. The comment given to Postimees was an honest assessment of the situation regarding cooperation between the government and the Health Board," Kiik said.
He added lots of small things had piled up and had led to a loss of confidence, rather than one major issue.
"Small issues and omissions and communication disruptions have contributed to a climate of mistrust between the government and the Health Board. So these changes were necessary for a good working routine during the next crisis."
Jürilo is to join Kiik at a press conference Thursday at 2 p.m. Estonian time, where details about her resignation will be further explained.
Jürilo had faced criticism since the pandemic began in early March, including for giving the green light to a visiting volleyball team from Northern Italy – at the time the hardest hit region globally so far as COVID-19 went – to Saaremaa. The island ended up experiencing by far the highest incidence of coronavirus at the peak of the pandemic, with its central hospital in Kuressaare under severe strain.
Tanel Kiik had publicly been among Jürilo's strongest supporters until yesterday; Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Center) had earlier hit out at the Health Board over its handling of the crisis, though he declined to answer questions about whether Merike Jürilo should step down.
Editor: Andrew Whyte