Tartu bars preparing to reopen after alcohol restrictions lifted

People by the Emajõgi river in Tartu.
People by the Emajõgi river in Tartu. Source: Marek Metslaid.

A month-long restriction on selling alcohol at night to limit the spread of coronavirus was lifted in Tartu County on Monday, now bars and clubs are planning to introduce masks and thermal imaging cameras to keep customers safe.

The ban, stopping the sale of alcohol between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m., was introduced on August 7 after several coronavirus outbreaks started and spread from clubs and bars in Tartu in late July. Last week the Health Board and researchers said the outbreak had ended.

On Wednesday, ETV's evening news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK) spoke to several bar owners about their plans to reopen.

Naiiv bar manager Martin Maatee said the bar will open its dance floor on Friday. He told AK the restrictions could have been lifted a week ago when the new school year started on September 1.

"The fact that this week was extended for new students, I think, was rather negative, because parties did not take place. Instead, they took place in places where ventilation is intended for a few people. The bars and clubs still have ventilation for 50, 100, 200 people," said Maatee.

Naiiv culture bar. Source: Henry-Laur Allik/ERR

Customers at Naiiv are asked to wear a mask on the dance floor and they can be bought from the bar if necessary.

On Wednesday night, nightclub Shooters held its first party after reopening. Free masks were handed out and temperatures were checked at the entrance with a thermal imaging camera.

Nightclub Vabank, where one of the biggest outbreaks in Tartu started, will reopen on Friday.

Vabank's manager Berta Märk said she thinks the nightclub's reputation has been ruined. "We will see what actually happened this Friday. People will or will not come," Märk said.

She said they cannot be certain more cases of coronavirus will not be spread at the club after it reopens, but the previous outbreak was started by a person already displaying symptoms.

Vabank is not distributing masks to customers but will measure customers' temperatures at the door. Märk said table reservations have already been made for this weekend, but the level of interest is not as high as in previous years.

What happened in Tartu?

Tartu County's recent cluster of coronavirus infections started at the end of July after a person with coronavirus symptoms visited shops, the cinema and Vabank nightclub in Tartu.

The virus spread quickly and soon outbreaks were discovered in other bars and restaurants in both staff and customers.

On August 11, eight bars voluntarily closed for a week to try and contain the spread of the virus. The Police and Border Guard Board also imposed nighttime selling restrictions on bars and restaurants across the county on August 7.

Restrictions were extended several times and then across three other counties in south Estonia for the WRC Rally which took place last weekend. They were finally lifted on September 7.

The majority of new cases from the outbreak were diagnosed in the first two weeks of August. In total, 37 infections were traced back to Vabank, 20 to Shooters and 21 to Naiiv. 

What is the situation like now?

Both the Health Board and researchers at the University of Tartu have said the outbreak has finished and few cases of coronavirus are being recorded in Tartu County at present. However, in recent days several cases of coronavirus have been diagnosed in university students and a spectator at the rally.

Today no new cases were recorded. Yesterday one new COVID-19 case was diagnosed in the county, and one the day before.

In total, since February, Tartu County has recorded 192 cases of COVID-19, making it the county with the fourth highest number of infections after Harju (1,010), Saare (557) and Ida-Viru (303).

ERR News' graph below shows how the number of cases spiked in August and have now levelled off.

How can the spread of coronavirus be stopped?

  • Stay home when sick even if your symptoms are mild.
  • Keep your distance.
  • In crowded places and especially indoors where it is not possible to keep your distance from other people, it is advisable to wear a mask.
  • Closed, crowded spaces should be avoided if possible.
  • Hands must be washed frequently with soap and warm water.
  • When you sneeze or cough, cover your mouth and nose with disposable tissue.
  • People who develop any symptoms should contact their family physician.
  • Download Estonia's free coronavirus exposure notification app "HOIA".


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Editor: Helen Wright

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