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Passengers' own responsibility to comply with quarantine requirement

Finnish tourists return to Port of Tallinn.
Finnish tourists return to Port of Tallinn. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

There are more than a 1,000 people in Estonia who have arrived from abroad and must spend 14 days in isolation, but following the rules depends on people's own conscience as the state no longer organizes active control on and outside the borders.

Currently, passengers coming to Estonia from countries with a high coronavirus (COVID-19) infection rate such as EU members Portugal, Sweden, Bulgaria, Romania, and the United Kingdom must isolate for 14 days. The rules apply to people who come from outside the European Union (EU).

However, the government has made a specified rule for 14 countries (see the list of countries here) where the infection rate is low and from Monday, the self isolation rule will not apply to them anymore. 

Martin Kadai, head of Emergency Medicine Department of the Health Board (Terviseamet), told ERR the movement restriction also applies to passengers who have stopped at an airport in a high-risk country when they have come to Estonia. 

Chief Law Enforcement Officer of the Police and Border Guard Board (PPA), Tago Trei said: "When a person enters Estonia, who does not belong under the specified rule, they have to fill and complete a form on the border. With that form, the person approves to follow the rules and confirms they will stay in self-isolation for two weeks." 

The confirmation form is added to the state database when the person arrives from Sweden by ferry. The border guards at the Port of Tallinn will not check where the person had stopped before arriving in Finland. It is the passenger's own responsibility to remember, be honest and write it down on the form.

However, the situation is more complicated when the person comes from Portugal but passes the southern border of Estonia with a car. 

"The form should be handed over somewhere at the Ikla border. The framework of random checks can happen, but spot checks are not that common," said Trei. 

Those who do not fill in the form still have to follow the law and people coming from a risk country are asked to remember this.  

There are still over 1,000 people in Estonia who need to be in isolation. Unlike during the emergency situation, the police will not make any calls or unexpected visits to check up on people. 

"The check is done during our normal work routine. In other words, if we stop a traffic offender, we check the person during the call that we were given. If it comes out that the person is meant to self-isolating and has not stayed at home when we catch them, then the person should explain why they are not following the self-isolation rules. The situation is a bit different if they do not have the right of non-compliance. The police will correct the situation and gives over the information to the Health Board," added Trei. 

Whoever is violating the rules faces paying a penalty fine of €9,600. Kadai said that there have been conversations with a few rule violators, but they never had to pay the penalty. Based on Kadai's words, it is never the state's purpose to scare off people with the penalty. The most important thing is that the person takes responsibility for their own actions.  

"We try to balance this kind of situation on risk behavior and regulation. The key part is the rational behavior of a person who is capable of taking responsibility for their own actions. The PPA and Health Board cannot constantly control the person's movements and actions. Estonia is not a police state – its society is free and open," said Kadai. 

Based on the Health Board's evaluation, there is no need to control all the passengers who enter the country and have to stay in isolation. 

"Risk behavior is something we cannot control infinitely. We don't only talk about infected people; we also discuss people who have arrived from countries where the infection rate is higher than in Estonia." 

Kadai said that checking people's travel routes are not practical. These kinds of checks would be set up a difficult system that needs to be build up and the truth could never be fully verified.  


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Editor: Katriin Eikin Sein

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