Prime minister: School closures price for hospital treatments continuing

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Stenbock House, seat of the Estonian government, in Tallinn. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

Prime minister Jüri Ratas (Center) has shed more light on the government's decision to close all schools from next Monday, saying the trade-off is the continuation of scheduled treatments in hospitals, as the coronavirus can still spread within schools while they are working, and among all age groups.

Answering a question from ERR's Tiina Jaakson at Thursday's press conference., Ratas said that closing primary classes as well as secondary ones was necessary as a preventive measure.

Ratas said: "We have to take into account that the infection is widespread all over Estonia and also at all levels of schools.

"I think this step is the most concrete at the moment," he added, saying that parents will be able to decide for themselves how to work through the restrictions, including either leaving a child at home for a few hours, or one parent staying at home with them.

That planned treatments can continue to a certain extent even as COVID-19 rates continue to rise was another motivation, Ratas said.

"I had conversations this morning with the managers of various Estonian hospitals. The bed occupancy for coronavirus patients in northern Estonia stands at about 75 percent," he said.

As reported by ERR News, Ratas said that the restrictions had only been put in place after thorough and lengthy consultation with the government's own scientific council. Ratas added that the Health Board (Terviseamet) had also been consulted.

Tiina Jaakson also asked finance minister Martin Helme (EKRE), who had promised state support for businesses hit by the restrictions, particularly in Ida-Viru County, which faces tougher regulations, what form this would take.

Helme said:  "We are not talking here about compensation for the loss of income with a 'one-size-fits-all' model, but we understand that some kind of support measure is needed for those companies that we have closed with our decision."

A working party will come up with a formula on which to base the aid soon, Helme said.

Education minister: Schools to go back on January 11, as things stand

Education minister Jaak Aab (Center), also appearing at the press conference, said that he hope a return date of January 11 for the new semester would still go ahead.

Aab said: In the long run, the Ministry of Education is working to map things out, and to study the various scenarios which would allow learning to continue in the new year."

Social affairs minister Tanel Kiik (Center) added that the choices facing the government were between bad ones and worse ones, while finance minister Martin Helme (EKRE) added that while in the first wave of the pandemic, in spring, society had grasped the fact that inter-personal contact should be cut down, and had mobilized, this time round things had been a bit more sluggish.

He also said the range of options was pretty complex – such as those concerning special needs children - and did not need enunciating to the public as a whole.

Helme said: "We don't have to explain all this to the entire Estonian populace, this is not necessary. For the Estonian public, the idea in a nutshell is contacts must be reduced, and these measures will work to achieve that."

Not only schools but also universities and higher education institutions close on Monday as well; Jaak Aab said it is up to individual schools whether they provide remote learning instead, at least until what would have been the end of term (a week-and-a-half to two weeks later), though recommended it for older grades. Kindergartens and similar continue working, as they did during the spring pandemic.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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