Interior minister: National late-night alcohol sales ban not yet needed

A bottle of hand sanitizer in Valli Baar in Tallinn.
A bottle of hand sanitizer in Valli Baar in Tallinn. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

Interior minister Mart Helme (EKRE) has rejected imposing a nationwide late-night alcohol sales ban to go along with bans already in place in Tartu, Harju and Ida-Viru counties and, from Monday, the southeastern counties of Põlva, Valga and Võru, in response to localized coronavirus outbreaks. Social affairs minister Tanel Kiik (Center) has called for a national ban.

As of Saturday, alcohol sales in Harju County bars, restaurants and nightclubs are barred from 11 p.m. until 6 a.m. the following morning. Harju County is Estonia's most populous region and includes Tallinn, ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" reported Saturday night.

Harju County has joined Tartu County, the first to get a late-night alcohol sales ban after a coronavirus outbreak in Estonia's second city was traced to several entertainment spots there from mid-July, and Ida-Viru County, where a spate of over 50 cases, so far, followed two miners employed at a local oil shale mine visiting a bar in Jõhvi.

Harju County's ban is set to be reviewed on a weekly basis and is expected to be "short term", the PPA says. The Tartu and Ida-Viru county bans are still in force, Tartu's recently having been extended beyond the start of the new school year on September 1.

The Põlva, Valga and Võru county bans start on Monday, and have been prompted more by safety considerations over next weekend's inaugural WRC Rally Estonia, than by current COVID-19 rates. 

Mart Helme, who as interior minister oversees the Police and Border Guard Board (PPA), who both install and check up on the bans, says that a blanket restriction across Estonia is not needed at present. 

"No, I don't think it's very likely; both the PPA and the Health Board have submitted their analyses, andwe also discussed the issue with the cabinet on Thursday, and the government's position then was that a nationwide restriction is not necessary at the moment," Helme told AK Saturday.

Social affairs minister Tanel Kiik thinks a national ban is still sensible, however, saying that local restrictions may not be enough. 

"If we can see that the county restrictions which have been imposed will not help bring the figure down and, consequently, get it under control, then I think the need for nationwide restrictions must definitely be brought back on the table ,before we wait for our infection rate exceed 25 [per 100,000 inhabitants], which could mean greater restrictions," Kiik said, on Saturday's installment of AK.

Estonia's lates 14-day COVID-19 infection rate is 13.5 out of every 100,000 inhabitants. Direct flights from countries with a reported rate exceeding 25 per 100,000 inhabitants cannot go ahead, under the current regulations. 

Former health minister and Social Democratic Party (SDE) leader Jevgeni Ossinovski says that treating various regions of the country differently may seem like an odd approach, though could be justified by the fact that the COVID-19 figures are nothing like what they were in spring and taking into account side effects of national bans.

"We have all the foci localized and, as a result, we have been able to avoid national restrictions in all areas of life. As long as this can be avoided - of course it must be avoided I fact, because these restrictions have both a social cost and a clear economic price," Ossinovski said. 

By far the worst-hit region at the peak of the pandemic in spring was Saaremaa, but its coronavirus growth rate has been zero for months. 

Estonia has 15 counties, meaning nine have no alcohol sales restriction in place at present. Nationally, alcohol in stores cannot be sold after 10 p.m. (or before 10 a.m.) in any case. 

Ultimately the PPA under Mart Helme and his ministry's aegis is responsible for both imposing bans and enforcing them; ERR reports that PPA personnel have been checking restrictions in Harjumaa on Saturday night.  


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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