Current soaring coronavirus rates are the result of cross-border travel, particularly in late summer, foreign minister Urmas Reinsalu (Isamaa) says, likening the situation to a thermometer which had exploded.
Appearing on Thursday morning's edition of ETV chat show "Terevisioon", Reinsalu noted that the virus is now in a growth phase Europe-wide, and the second half of September had been a watershed point, after which the growth was explosive.
"I assume that behind this was the August holidays when people crossed borders and the virus went with them. Estonia has, however, one of the strictest set of regulations on entry from outside in Europe, where people from virtually all countries must quarantine or take two tests. It would not be wise to change this, but rather, we must encourage other European countries to take similar steps, in order to avoid total border closures."
"Right now the virus is in a very serious growth phase. Whereas in September there was a so-called thermometer, where some regions of Europe were in the red zone and some not, then today it is clear that the thermometer has exploded," he went on.
"We were talking about 150 people per 100,000 in early September; right now in Belgium the figure is already 1,500. It's like a thermometer, which is usually at 42C, but if you take someone's temperature now, it has already risen to 400C," he said.
Reinsalu said that Estonia's growing rate included entrants from outside the EU and across Estonia's eastern border.
Of 183 cases of COVID-19 brought into Estonia from outside in October, more than half had their origin in the Russian Federation (66 cases) and Ukraine (32).
While citizens of the Russian Federation are barred entry into Estonia under current travel regulations, Reinsalu said, save for a few specific exemptions, and Russia itself also operates a regime on leaving the country, some of these exceptions had been behind the 66 figure of COVID-19 cases emanating from Estonia's eastern neighbor.
"If we take a look at the 66 figure, we can see 22 of these were members of the Slovenian football team. Of the remainder, these are people returning from Russia who are permanent citizens of Estonia," he said.
A recent women's football match between Estonia and Slovenia had to be cancelled after 22 of the Slovenian squad – virtually its full complement – tested COVID-19-positive on arrival in Estonia earlier in the week. The party had flown from their home country to Moscow and entered Estonia via the land border.
Many of those regularly crossing the Estonian-Russian border are so-called gray passport-holders, meaning permanent residents of Estonia who are neither citizens of that country or of Russia. They are issued a gray-colored passport for travel purposes.
Reinsalu rejected a further tightening of the regime on the eastern border, largely to allow such people to cross the border for work and family reasons.
"That group we admit are Estonian citizens and permanent residents here, meaning Estonia is their home. And they are not allowed to enter the country, it is not already allowed by the constitution and it would not be human."
Nonetheless, people should adhere to the regulations when entering the country, Reinsalu said.
"If they are coming from Russia or any third country where there is no quarantine exemption [for Estonia] then they have to take two tests and avoid contact with others for seven days, or remain in quarantine for two weeks – or 10 days, if the government so decides."
Minister of Social Affairs Tanel Kiik (Center) said on Tuesday the coronavirus self-isolation period will be shortened from 14 days to 10 for close contacts and foreign arrivals, allowing people to return to work faster. The new rule was likely to enter into effect next Monday, Kiik said.
Editor: Andrew Whyte