Foreign minister: 50 per 100,000 case rate threshold would be reasonable

Minister of Foreign Affairs Urmas Reinsalu (Isamaa).
Minister of Foreign Affairs Urmas Reinsalu (Isamaa). Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

Estonia is interested in establishing a Europe-wide common infection rate level regarding travel which would rather be 50 cases per 100,000 inhabitants of a country instead of 150 as proposed by the European Commission, Minister of Foreign Affairs Urmas Reinsalu (Isamaa) told ERR.

How long will the current case rate threshold of 25 that Estonia established for travel on the Latvia, Lithuania and Finland routes only affect those countries - for other countries the level is 16 per 100,000 inhabitants. When will it increase to 25 for others?

Government will begin to discuss it. There were thoughts in government of it being reasonable to assess the European Commission's proposal to establish a Europe-wide common restriction. By Thursday, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will have presented a proposal which would be a model of the Commission's proposal.

Secondly, which supplemental trust measures could be established nationally which would alleviate the spread of the virus across borders. We have some known trust measures for Latvia, Lithuania and Finland. I handle the number established on the Finland-Baltics region as an excemption which could be temporary.

Does the foreign ministry agree with the European Commission's proposed infection rate ceiling of 50?

Truthfully, the foreign ministry is currently coordinating the stance of health institutions, what their latest opinions are. Those have not even reached my table yet. We certainly agree with establishing a common model. In addition to the recommendations made by health institutions, it is also important what the countries in our region think. I certainly think it reasonable - at least in the Baltics, also with Finland - to apply for a similar approach. It is also collateral for us to be able to reestablish freedom of movement and maintain it.

What is your personal opinion on 50?

I think a reasonable number is one that would avoid unnecessary spread of the virus across borders. It is a little misleading to say the European Commission has proposed 50. Their proposal also mentions 150 per 100,000 inhabitants. So if testing is conducted in certain capacities, of which a certain number of tests are negative, then in that case 150 should be implemented. 150 as a limit, offered by the European Commission, is too high for me.

Could the system be that the Health Board (Terviseamet) would decide on these things, not the government?

In essence, a quarantine is an supplemental movement threshold. It is so in all countries that decisions are made by government and governments are also able to reach agreements. I think government can not avoid this responsibility in any way. We see these - thresholds that have been approved as reasonable - changing in some form or fashion.

If we were to increase the ceiling from 16 to 25 for all countries, we could travel to Germany, Poland, Norway, Iceland and many others.

The thing is we develop this idea that travel thresholds are established autonomously for the coronavirus, in that logic all restrictions are pointless. The point is still to avoid unnecessary international movement. The question is not about how to tease the people. Estonia has established a testing system which allows people to avoid quarantine. Therefore, people are able to travel to whichever part of the world. A question on it's own is if that is reasonable. I think it is not reasonable to allow unnecessary travel be done.

We are certainly interested in finding a similar model in Europe. It is good that the European Commission has taken the Estonian model i.e. testing instead of quarantine into its recommendation. Secondly, it is important to avoid the total closure of borders. For third, it is important to me that freedom of movement in our region would be preserved.

One more question: It has been a month since elections in Belarus but the European Union has not decided on any sanctions yet. Why can't the EU decide on these things?

Because an agreement has not yet been reached. Last Wednesday (September 9) at a meeting of Estonian European Union ambassadors an urgent demand was expressed considering the increase in violence: Lukashenko's script is turning more aggressive, opposition leaders are detained and activists are isolated, arrests have also expanded. The lost time right now is certainly not good.

We have called on the implementation of immediate sanctions. I have also turned to other countries not in the EU to establish international sanctions, like Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have done. Currently, consensus has not been found in the question regarding lists and implementation.


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Editor: Kristjan Kallaste

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