President: Freedoms must be preserved during coronavirus crisis conditions

President Kersti Kaljulaid.
President Kersti Kaljulaid. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

President Kersti Kaljulaid has warned against losing too many societal freedoms, both under the guise of coronavirus precautions, and in general.

Speaking on commercial radio station Kuku's "Jukuraadio" broadcast, the president said that in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and crisis, Estonian society should not allow itself to be deprived of its liberties too vigorously.

The president said that compared with the 1990s, world freedoms have somewhat decreased.

"This is also shown by the freedom indices - in general, people's freedoms are declining somewhat in the world," she said.

"This year, it is perhaps inevitable that a great many people have been deprived of their freedom, and there are also many questions about whether this burden of reducing freedoms is still fairly distributed in society. Young people got to go to nightclubs, but a ban on visiting was introduced in care homes," the president went on, referring to a recent reintroduction of restrictions on visiting care homes following an outbreak in Tartu centered on the city's nightspots, and therefore a very different demographic.

The president also said that the finger should not be unfairly pointed at those from other countries who are residing in or visiting Estonia or elsewhere.

"Whether this is an even burden-sharing is an issue that everyone needs to address now. If there are some rules that everyone has to follow, then if they get broken, the reaction should be the same, be it for citizens, non-citizens or third-country nationals. The penalties ought to be similar,"she went on.

Even when examining compliance with the rules, sampling may involve unequal treatment, the president went on, saying by way of example that while approximately 6,000 people from other countries have visited Estonia in the last month, no one had heard of sample-based raids up to that point.

"And then a flight came from Ukraine and a sweep check was made there," Kaljulaid added. "We see how the measures are implemented in a way that not everyone is treated equally."

A special flight was laid on in late July to bring in workers from Ukraine, which Estonia's agricultural sector relies heavily on. However, following a police swoop, many of these recent arrivals were required to leave the country, with authorities citing non-compliance with the (then) 14-day quarantine rule.

In these difficult times, every official and politician has a huge responsibility to behave in such a way that individual freedoms being given away because of the virus must be avoided as much as possible.

The president also said she liked Sweden's attitude in the early stages of the pandemic, in not entering lock-down. "They trust their citizens enough that they did not start restricting. They hoped that the citizens would carry out the necessary calculation themselves, which they more or less did - that if I am used to going out in the city for four nights a week, I will perhaps now go out just one night per week. That this way, there will be less of us in town at once and we will remain healthier," she said, qualifying her words by saying she thought that Sweden had not performed so well regarding the COVID-19 effect on care homes and the elderly.

The government approved earlier in the week using rapid testing on the spot for arrivals in Estonia, as an alternative to the 14-day quarantining rule for travelers coming from countries with more than 16 reported COVID-19 cases in the preceding two weeks. Results of such tests would likely be ready within a matter of hours, the government said, and a negative result would mean individuals would be free to leave home as they wished.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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