Former Health Board official: Government halted COVID-19 crisis information

Former Health Board chief of emergency medicine Martin Kadai.
Former Health Board chief of emergency medicine Martin Kadai. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

By denying it information, the government effectively obstructed the Health Board's (Terviseamet) decision-making capabilities at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic and the emergency situation it declared in mid-March, former emergency medicine chief at the Health Board Martin Kadai told weekend paper LP Päevaleht.

Kadai, who stepped down after the departure of director Merike Jürilo earlier in the summer, told the paper (link in Estonian) that the government took the reins early on in the crisis.

"The conflict - the difference of opinion between the government and the health board arose quite early," Kadai said.

"Following the anniversary of the republic (on February 24 – ed.), the leadership of the health board had already slipped, or rather, it was forcibly taken away. Things got more and more confusing, even very confusing. In the end, I no longer understood what was going on in this country, who was leading what and how decisions were being made," Kadai went on.

The government set up its own coronavirus scientific council (Valistuse teadusnõukoda), which operated independently from the board's counsel, Kadai went on.

"The Health Board was pushed into a corner and blocked regarding information about all government decisions. I understood from Merike's story that she was involved briefly. We had to implement and monitor these plans. But at some point, the government decided to sideline the Health Board and create a scientific council, which does not as yet include a representative from the Health Board," he added.

Kadai: Government generated media noise as the pandemic grew

Kadai said that it had seemed strange to him to see the foreign minister talking to the media about coronavirus testing methods at a time, early on in the crisis in March, when many Estonians were trapped trying to get home as European countries closed their borders, trade was restricted and European solidarity seemed in question

Much of the developments from a governmental perspective were conducted via social media, he said, with announcements being made ahead of their approval and the outcome of a lot of cognitive dissonance.

"The government's decisions were posted on social media before they were approved. There was a huge amount of information noise. Such behavior is crippling in a crisis."

Kadai also said the declaration of the emergency situation, which ran from mid-March to mid-May, was itself questionable, and opposed by the Heatlh Board on the grounds of human rights considerations.

This meant that the situation was not declared correctly in legal terms, and too prematurely, he said.

The Health Board and the scientific council has in recent times expressed different opinions on, for instance, making masks compulsory in public places (with the board generally in favor of this and the scientific council opposed), and whether the recent outbreak centered on nightspots in Tartu constituted a second wave of the virus, which the scientific council said it did not.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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