Late-night alcohol sales will be banned nationwide, including in hotels as well as bars, pubs, clubs, restaurants and cafes from midnight next Friday, in an effort to curb the spread of the coronavirus. The ban, put in place by government order rather than an act, is to be in place for a month, but will be subject to review. It replaces regional bans in Harju and Ida-Viru counties installed by the police.
From midnight, Friday September 25, until 10.00 a.m. the following morning, alcohol sales will be forbidden in all points of sale, including bars, nightclubs, restaurants, theater restaurants or buffets, and hotels. Alcohol sales in stores continue to end at 10 p.m.
"There has been a sharp increase in the spread of COVID-19 infections in Estonia, and as a result establishing a nationwide restriction is both necessary and justified," Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Center) told ETV's "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK) news show.
The restriction is in place until October 24 inclusive, and local authorities bear the responsibility of ensuring compliance with the law, which is a government order similar to those issued during the coronavirus emergency situation in March to May, rather than an act. The latter would require going through the process of debating, voting and amendment at the Riigikogu before being sent to the president for her assent.
Regional bans in Harju and Ida-Viru counties imposed by the Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) will expire at midnight next Friday, to be superseded with immediate effect by the national order.
Earlier bans in Tartu County, established after a coronavirus outbreak centered on entertainment establishments there, and Valga, Põlva and Võru counties, imposed shortly before the WRC Rally Estonia earlier this month, have already expired.
The prime minister noted that the ban was related to potential COVID-19 at parties and other social gatherings.
"As we have seen, the coronavirus spreads particularly well at parties. Unfortunately, alcohol consumption affects people's behavior in a way that can promote the spread of the virus," he told AK.
The COVID-19 rate in Estonia has risen from 4.4 per 100,000 inhabitants at the beginning of August, to nearly double that in mid-August at 8.4, tripling since then to 25.36 as of September 17, the Health Board (Terviseamet) says, adding that outbreaks in bars in Tartu and Ida-Viru counties was partly responsible.
Only four counties, Hiiu, Järva, Põlva and Valga, located in different parts of the country, have seen no new COVID-19 cases in the past 14 days, though over 30 new cases still have to have their location of origin – based on population register data on where an individual resides – established, the board says.
The government reportedly relied on its scientific council (Valitsuse teadusnõukoda), set up at the beginning of the pandemic in March, in making its alcohol ban decision.
Social affairs minister Tanel Kiik (Center) said that the government had also consulted with business and event organizers ahead of the ban, which as noted comes into effect next week, to give them time to prepare for the restriction and to help ensure that the measure was genuinely needed.
Late alcohol sales in Tallinn are already forbidden after 10 p.m. under the PPA regulation at the time of writing, meaning the development prolongs the ban, albeit on a different legal basis.
The government says it will review the measure one week before it is due to expire, i.e. around October 17.
The government order is separate from a proposed Tallinn City Government bill which would curb late night alcohol sales. The local government law would apply only in Tallinn, and had already been on the table when the COVID-19 pandemic began. It addressed primarily concerns from central Tallinn local residents over noise issues surrounding clubs and other night spots, and would forbid the sale of alcoholic drinks much later (in the small hours of the following morning) than the national government order, as well as set out more clearly the definition of a nightclub.
Editor: Andrew Whyte