Öpik: State should have at least a month's plan for combating coronavirus

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Ester Öpik. Source: Siim Lõvi/ERR

Taking the fight to the coronavirus requires a set plan that Estonia seems to lack, Ester Öpik, former head of Health Board North, said on the "Vikerhommik" morning show.

Öpik, who currently works as a coordinator of preventive COVID-19 measures at the Tallinn city government, said that she did not always have a clear picture of the government's plan for containing the spread of COVID-19 when she was still working for the Health Board.

"I did not have clarity even when I was working at the Health Board – perhaps I had missed something – in terms of a longer-term and general plan. It is important and needed by partners and people," Öpik said, giving the example of confusion regarding closing schools.

"Let us take if only the decision to close schools – it concerns a lot of students, families, working people. Things could be planned better and those plans shared with people, provided we are not dealing with very sudden events," Öpik said.

She said that leaders could make much further-reaching plans using the data at their disposal than have been done so far.

"Of course, a crisis would not be a crisis if we knew what was coming, but that is precisely why one needs a general plan with multiple scenarios. How to react in different situations. I support the view that we cannot make plans based on historical data or information we receive every morning. It is at least a few days old as the samples were taken several days ago. We need to be able to look at least a fortnight, better yet a month ahead on the management level," Öpik said on the program.

"It is important to anticipate things on the leadership level, and I have previously agreed with calls for a plan. Many have crisis plans before a crisis even begins, while we need an idea of what might be coming while we're already in one," she added.

The expert said that government communication also leaves something to be desired. "Personally and as an official, I feel that clarity of messages and how different people and institutions understand what is happening is most important in a crisis situation. We need to understand the situation and how to move forward," Öpik found.

Spring plan should be in place for schools

Öpik said better planning capacity would be a great help also in terms of deciding what will happen in education when the Christmas break ends on January 10.

"In Tallinn, discussions with heads of schools provided clarity in terms of next week but not next year. And we should think beyond January 10, to the entire spring period."

Öpik said that the state cannot afford the pandemic leaving gaps in education.

"Ensuring education is a matter of strategic importance in the long run. We cannot allow major setbacks year-round. We do not know what the coming years will bring. That means we need to find ways of hitting targets in spite of nature's tricks. How to operate wisely enough to achieve our goals. I dare not say that moving around breaks or periods of study could be a magic wand, but why not. We should consider using periods when the virus recedes to achieve things than cannot be achieved without contact study," Öpik said.

"Of course, every plan is there to be reevaluated and changed, but at least we would have a plan and be able to explain it to people to make sure students are aware of the dangers and parents can plan their life better," she added.

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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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