Government to discuss nationwide travel and alcohol restrictions this week

Tallinn Bay.
Tallinn Bay. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

The government will discuss nationwide restrictions this week, including whether to establish a nationwide ban on nighttime alcohol sales and a strict air travel limit on countries with an infection rate exceeding 25 people infected with COVID-19, per 100,000 residents.

Since August has seen the novel coronavirus again spreading in Estonia, the government is to begin discussing further restrictions for Estonia.

Minister of Social Affairs Tanel Kiik (Center) told ERR that the main points of concern for the virus spreading are nightclubs and entertainment venues. For that reason, Tartu County and Ida-Viru County have already established bans on nighttime alcohol sales, but that restriction could be established on a nationwide basis.

Kiik said: "Alcohol sales limits, which automatically means limiting opening hours of 'establishments of nocturnal nature', is a very effective measure, which does not obstruct the operation of society, economy, labor, education and health. In a way, it can even benefit us if we talk about interior security and health but it also helps lessen close contacts and decrease the number of situations where people might not even remember who they have been in contact with overnight. Meaning, who they have possibly gotten the infection from and who they have given it to."

He did however note that while he is conservative regarding alcohol and in support of stricter restrictions, many factors play a role in government, starting with more liberal coalition partners and ending with the restriction's possible effect on economy.

Kiik said both sides of the coin must be considered: "What are the support measures in place for entrepreneurship, because a significant number of entrepreneurs and workers are in that sector. It is important to assess that a situation would not arise in result of government restrictions where companies will go bankrupt, lay people off or reduce wages."

The social minister acknowledged that the current epidemiological situation is not critical enough yet where nationwide restrictions are needed but the situation is one where the infection rate is again increasing which could lead to travel restrictions and obstacles with traveling to Finland, where restrictions are much stricter than in the rest of Europe.

Estonia has a present reported incidence of 8.9 coronavirus cases per 100,000 residents over the past 14 days. Finland has set travel restrictions at 8 cases per 100,000 residents, but is allowing travelers from Estonia as long as the figure does not exceed 10.

Kiik said: "Labor migration between Estonia and Finland must remain. Movement restrictions would affect tourism before all."

Finland has set a goal of keeping infection rates low, which is why the country has established strict restrictions and limits. But both labor migration and tourism are important for Finland as well.

Kiik said Finland is preparing a so-called traffic light system which marks the limits on infections and when tourism is banned and at which point is labor migration also banned.

That will also become the basis of establishing a new limit for Estonia. Currently, Estonia has set a direct flight restriction on countries where the infection rate exceeds 25 cases per 100,000 residents. That policy could differ greatly from Finland however, which could lead to Estonia's infection rate exceeding the limit set by the Northern neighbor.

Finland discussing replacing quarantine requirement with testing

ERR's Estonian portal contacted the Finnish Ministry of Social Affairs and Health to find out why Finland has set its limit at 8 cases per 100,000 residents for quarantine-free travel, when most European countries, including Estonia, have set it at twice this, i.e. 16.

Ministry department head Tuija Kumpulainen said: "Finland made the particular decision at the start of summer, the main reason being Finland's low level of infection and a desire to keep infections at border crossings under control. The limit was decided upon at governmental level."

Finland has, however, developed a so-called floating limit in the range of 8-10 cases per 100,000 people, which Estonia currently sits right in the middle of. Border controls will begin when that number exceeds 10, but Kumpulainen admitted the government could move the limit if it is found reasonable.

Finland has also established a strict 14-day quarantine requirement. Kumpulainen justified it by calling it necessary to alleviate the spread of the coronavirus. Replacing the quarantine requirement with testing is currently being discussed but no concrete decision has been made yet.


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Editor: Kristjan Kallaste

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