Close contacts directed to self-isolation can stay on quarantine leave ({{contentCtrl.commentsTotal}})

A sign saying
A sign saying "Wear a mask!" in Tallinn. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

A person who is not sick themselves, but has been declared a close contact by the Health Board (Terviseamet) after being consorting with an infected person, is now permitted to be on the so-called quarantine leave.

This option was in fact available from mid-May, but many people, employees and employers alike, had not been aware of that, it is reported.

During the peak of the first COVID-19 wave in spring, both employers and employees found themselves in a bind, where close contacts of infected people had to stay in self-isolation, but their family doctor couldn't issue a sick note.

From May 18, it was possible to issue, as a sick leave sub-category, quarantine leave. However, this was managed to slip beneath the radar so far as the wider public went.

The quarantine note can be issued by family doctors only as the Health Board (Terviseamet) or the government itself have confirmed this possibility via government order, which is precisely what has made it valid. First, family doctors were permitted to write out a quarantine leave note for close contacts from May 18 to July 1, followed by a two-week gap until July 16, when the government issued a new order to reinstate the practice.

The same rules are valid for quarantine leave as for sick leave, meaning at present, the first three days are not compensated. From the fourth day, the employer will compensate the days away and from the ninth day, the Health Insurance Fund (Haigekassa) takes over. This is planned for an overhaul in the coming months, with only the first day not being compensated, however, to account for another paradox where people were being told to self-quarantine if they had potential symptoms but, since they would be out-of-pocket for three days, in practise would come in to work, potentially spreading the virus further if they indeed had it.

This change would require a legislative bill to pass at the Riigikogu, however, rather than a far more rapidly issued government order.

The burden to employers would also be lifted, as state sick pay would kick in on day six, though employers' groups have still resisted the move to an extent, fearing abuse of the system (i.e. "chucking a sickie" - the very reason the three-day compensation-less rule was in place to begin with).

From May to November, family doctors have issued 3,658 quarantine leave notes.

"Currently, this has only been done for COVID-19. It does not apply to other infectious diseases," said Pille Banhard, member of the Health Insurance Fund's board. "For other communicable diseases, it is still viable for a doctor to issue a standard sick leave note. This was being done even before the government regulation orders came into force. For each communicable disease, the period during which a person is still at risk of infection may be different."

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Editor: Roberta Vaino, Andrew Whyte

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