Social minister: Number of hospitalized patients could exceed 200 this week

Minister of Social Affairs Tanel Kiik (Center).
Minister of Social Affairs Tanel Kiik (Center). Source: ERR

Minister of Social Affairs Tanel Kiik (Center) told ERR that the number of patients receiving treatment in hospital is certainly set to exceed 200 at some point in the near future and if it were to exceed 300, the situation in hospitals would turn critical.

Kiik said that forecasts for the necessity of hospitalization reach far but their accuracy depends on which measures are put in use and how they are followed.

"The number of hospitalized people will certainly increase over 200 COVID-19 patients, likely this week, next week at the latest. The question is if it will stabilize between 200 and 300, which gives us the option of still continuing scheduled treatments and if at some point it will drop. But if it were to increase from there, then it is a truly critical situation where scheduled treatments and everyday medical services have to be restricted for people, also potentially bringing large-scale effects to public health," Kiik said.

"We would like to avoid that and that is why we are suspending activities in other areas of life, whether it be entertainment, public events, any kinds of gatherings. Right now is the time where we should spend time with family, in small work collectives, working from distance if possible and not party, and not go travel, certainly keeping distance and wearing a mask in crowded areas and public transportation," the social minister added.

Kiik said the most important of the government's messages is that people would wear masks or cover their noses and mouths in other ways, while also keeping distance with others.

Those, who refuse to wear a mask without having justification for it, could end up with fines, although Kiik noted that is not the government's goal.

"I think we are not in the place to show indifference to the state and others. Right now is the time where we all must put forth an effort to stop the spread of the virus to avoid complete lockdown, as we have seen in many parts of Europe and in the Baltics," he said.

The minister expects public transportation service providers and store managers to notify their clients of changes in regulations.

Masks for poor people will be handed out by local government

Those with a contraindication to wearing masks do not have to carry justification with them. The government will also hand out masks to financially disadvantaged people, Kiik said masks will be distributed to local municipality governments from the government's mask reserves.

"Primarily, we are speaking of subsistence benefit receivers, local governments can also think on how to extend the circle to those unemployed, single parents and receivers of certain benefits. Certainly, local governments have already begun distributing masks to some groups of society. There are different options to do so," the social minister said, adding that employers could gift employees masks for Christmas, instead of holding parties.

Minister of Public Administration Jaak Aab (Center) will establish how many masks will be distributed by the state. Distribution plans are being discussed and will be presented to the government on Tuesday.

Legal complications of establishing requirements

Kiik confirmed that that an analysis conducted by the Ministry of Justice states the government has the right to establish new restrictions.

"The Chancellor of Justice has indeed drawn attention to it having to be medically justified, it has to be a reasonable decision. Which it is. We are not establishing a mask-wearing obligation outdoors and in homes, but rather in public spaces and public transportation. These are the locations where risk of infection is highest and where people can carry out the obligation by covering their nose and mouth," Kiik said, adding that he recommends people use reusable masks.

ETV's daily affairs show "Aktuaalne kaamera" asked Kiik on Monday if too much is put on the Health Board's (Terviseamet) plate when it comes to restrictions. The social minister said all is in accordance with insitutions.

"The Health Board's workload depends on how many infected people there are and how many close contacts there are, meaning, if people wear masks, keep distance and follow the rules, the Health Board does not have to deal with consequences," Kiik said.

"Of course, we are cooperating with the Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) - I just talked to PPA Director General Elmar Vaher earlier today (Monday - ed.). The logic that we go by - perhaps a comparison with wearing a reflector is best - that this can be made legally required, required by government decision but noone will be chased on the street. But it must turn into a norm, it must be acknowledged to people through different media channels, also by PPA notifications and free masks must be distributed to some groups of society," Kiik added.

All high school classes to remote learning starting next Monday

As of the government's decision, all high school classes in Harju and Ida-Viru counties must go to remote learning by next Monday. Kiik said an exemption could be made for exam consultations, but no wider.

"The question is that we have to ensure sufficient distancing in society as a whole. This also means public transportation, public spaces and certainly in schools, where the virus has unfortunately begun spreading. We have indeed discussed with the economic affairs minister (Taavi Aas - ed.), who is currently deputy education minister (After Mailis Reps resigned - ed.), also with the Ministry of Education and Research, the Health Board, for students to be able to prepare for exams by contact consultations. We are primarily talking about Estonian as a second language, which often take place during winter. But it is more complicated to make a wider exemption," Kiik said on Monday evening.


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Editor: Kristjan Kallaste

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