AK reports: Authorities stress coronavirus personal responsibility

A social distancing sign at Tallinn Airport.
A social distancing sign at Tallinn Airport. Source: Helen Wright/ ERR

Authorities have highlighted individual responsibility in self-quarantining when arriving in Estonia from countries above the threshold requiring people to do so. Similarly, nightclub owners have said that it is up to people to be responsible themselves if they have been in contact with known coronavirus carriers, or have exhibited symptoms or are awaiting test results.

Both the Health Board (Terviseamet) and the government's scientific council say there is no need at present to close nightclubs and other entertainment establishments, in the wake of a coronavirus outbreak in Tartu which followed an infected individual ignoring guidelines and visiting a nightclub and several other public places.

At the same time, people should take the responsibility to self-quarantine, authorities say.

Those visiting from coronavirus risk countries should also exercise prudence, as the list of countries whence travelers arriving in Estonia should self-quarantine has been growing.

The current ceiling is a reported 16 coronavirus cases per 100,000 inhabitants over the past 14 days; arrivals from countries with a higher rate than that must self-quarantine – meaning they can only leave their place of stay to get food and other essentials, or for medical reasons or in an emergency – for two weeks.

Airport arrivals have to fill out coronavirus questionnaire, clubbers should just be careful

Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) personnel have been quizzing arrivals about their travel origins and destinations at Tallinn Airport, according to a report on ETV current affairs show "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK) Monday night, though whether people answer these questions honestly is a matter for their own consciences, the authorities say.

AK also reported on nightclubs, which have been working again for a month, with clubs currently allowed to let in up to 50 percent of their maximum capacity.

Nightclubs have been taking precautions, however. One club in Tallinn, Venus, now has thermal body temperature cameras and disinfectants on hand.

Staff also attempt to disperse club-goers once inside, though this proves more difficult, they say.

"I would like to emphasize that individual responsibility is a key word here, whereby a person should understand that if they have symptoms they will not go out," said Kardo Kõiv, board member at Venus Club, adding that the club exercises face control for this reason as well as those of security or aesthetics.

Directors at Club Hollywood, also in Tallinn, joined Venus in pointing out that nightclubs need not be scapegoated over coronavirus spread, noting that plenty of bars also attract large numbers of people.

Meanwhile back at Tallinn Airport, things picked up as two flights, from Crete and Riga, arrived simultaneously. Since Greece (4.3 cases per 100,000 according to latest figures) is not an at-risk country, arrivals were processed rapidly, but the Riga flight included passengers who had transited there after flying from Spain (53.6 cases per 100,000) and Bulgaria (46.8), both countries with high rates.

"When someone arrives from an at-risk country, they are kindly asked to fill-in a self-quarantine form," said Taivo Kurisman, senior border guard at Tallinn Airport.

"This way the individual will be aware of the exact conditions that apply to them, having arrived in Estonia – i.e. 14 days' self-quarantine."

Arrivals sign the form, taken as an indication they understand that breaking quarantine can result in fines of up to €9,600.

Arriving Estonia by sea or land does not entail such high levels of checks, however, though the PPA can and does conduct spot checks at border checkpoints or in port, mainly to ascertain if they have filled out a form or not.

Actual surveillance of self-isolation compliance is not carried out.

Virologist: If people act responsibly we won't need stricter regulations

Responsibility is key for virology professor and scientific council head Irja Lutsar, too; with it, there is no reason to impose harsher restrictions or close the borders again, she told AK.

The likelihood that COVID-19 will be around for a long time ahead is a factor here, she added.

"The point now is that banning something is easy, but we also have to think about the fact that we're not dealing with something that is going to last in terms of weeks, but, rather, it's gong to be with us in terms of years."

Professor Lutsar added that she is not a clubber herself, but that she would like to inspect such venues to see how they and the public were dealing with the realities.

"I would definitely like to go [to a club] now and see what's going on there, how big of a group we can be host while still maintaining social distancing."

Lutsar added that considerations of how much alcohol should be available in clubs and similar was also a consideration for her.

A recent crisis meeting in Tartu, whose Vabank nightclub was the source of close to 30 known infections after a carrier visited it on July 18, suggested returning to the maximum 100-people-per-nightclub rule, but this has not been firmed up.

Foreign ministry regularly updates list

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs updates its list of countries, together with their reported COVID-19 rates, every Friday; while the trend earlier in summer was for a fall in the number of countries whose arrivals must self-quarantine, it has since started to rise.

The current number stands at 15, after four countries, Switzerland, Austria, Malta and France, were added to the list last Friday. No countries were removed in the last update.

Going in the opposite direction, the foreign ministry also recommends foreign travel only when absolutely necessary and then only to countries with lower infection rates, meaning well below the 16 per 100,000 benchmark, keeping in mind that reported rates can quickly change and that other countries have their own coronavirus restrictions and regulations in place too.

The original AK reports (in Estonian) are here and here.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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