Indrek Kiisler: I would finally like to know how decisions are made

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Indrek Kiisler. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

The government's COVID-19 crisis decision-making process is too opaque, Indrek Kiisler finds in Vikerraadio's daily comment, adding that had people a clear idea of forecasts by scientists and hospitals, they would be more likely to take warnings seriously.

The government decided on Thursday not to introduce fundamentally new restrictions and new measures to take effect on Saturday are largely cosmetic, except in Ida-Viru County. It was undoubtedly a bold decision and an act of swimming upstream to the rest of Europe.

The risks are considerable as people have their freedom to act and in some cases their lives to gain or lose. However, I am not looking to judge whether the decisions were right or wrong. For one very simple reason: I do not know what they were based on. What was said by analyses and who recommended what.

It is rumored that the spring decision to close malls followed a minister showing their colleagues a video of people crowding in a shopping center during a government meeting. An amateur video allegedly served as the cartridge from which the overnight decision to close malls was shot out of. Things are bad indeed if decisions are made in such a manner and based on such argumentation.

That is why it is vital for the public to be shown analyses and proposals based on which the government acted on Thursday, for example, and based on which it will act in the future.

Health Board experts and members of the COVID-19 scientific council spent several hours in a meeting last Monday after which they wrote down their proposals. The government was briefed on new proposed restrictions on Tuesday members of which later reluctantly admitted that they concerned closing of entertainment establishments, movie theaters and gyms. As well as ceasing hobby activities. The general recommendation was allegedly that people's movements need to be dialed back.

Whether the proposals were exactly like that we do not know. Whether completely closing malls was considered next to additional restrictions? And most importantly, what were the considerations at hand? Minister of Culture Tõnis Lukas was the only one who spoke plainly when he said turning off the lights in cinemas and theaters would not make sense as there are no confirmed cases of the virus having spread in such environments. A clear and logical position! However, we know nothing about where the scientists stood in this matter.

Evaluating the broader effect of restrictions is another matter. Who advises ministers on the economic, emotional or even moral effects of restrictions? They must include more than medical experts. For example, closing sports centers and children's hobby schools might deliver less of an economic setback than closing bars or shopping centers. But what kind of a signal would that send?

We can speculate that the government's decisions are base on so-called common sense and who can be more forceful in the defense of their administrative area. In some ways, it is good the government is made up of very different forces who can balance each other out – from lockdowners to nigh on coronavirus deniers. We will not learn who has supported which options. We do not even know where PM Jüri Ratas stands as his position is carefully hidden behind high-sounding rhetoric as per usual.

A similar veil of secrecy lies on the preparedness of hospitals and reorganization of the medical system in a situation where the infection rate keeps growing. As the evening rolls around, TV screens are taken over by chief doctors who say that the situation is inches away from becoming critical. But what does that mean? A radio news story by journalist Brente Pere showed that hospitals usually have around 1,800 active treatment beds between them.

However, what will happen should we get 1,000 or 2,000 people who need treatment? When do we need to involve medical students, volunteers and erect field hospitals? When will it be clear that a full lockdown and emergency situation cannot be avoided? We have not been given such a step-by-step scenario. People would take restrictions more seriously were something like that before their eyes. We could even get such a booklet in the mail, not to intimidate us but to send a clear signal of where we're headed.

My claims are not the fruits of unasked questions as the head of a major local government told me in a private conversation that they have been putting the same questions to the heads of the Health Board for weeks to no avail. The replies include descriptions of the current situation and charts of how statistics has changed in the past month. However, there is nothing on what comes next. The local government leader told me they are sitting in the dark unable to plan life in their city as we lack a long-term plan.

Perhaps we will be able to defeat the virus by solving problems as they crop up, while I do not even want to imagine the chaos that will break out the day doses of a COVID-19 vaccine will be unloaded at Tallinn Airport. Everyone will suddenly discover they are a front line worker and in need of a shot right away. We could at the very least have an ironclad vaccination plan in place.

However, I suspect that the plane carrying the vaccine will once again be met by a government minister with their pants around their ankles this time, waiting to be administered the first shot, followed by a senseless stampede and attempts to storm the vaccine.

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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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