Toomas Sildam: Point of restrictions increasingly elusive

Spa center (photo is illustrative).
Spa center (photo is illustrative). Source: Anna Aurelia Minev/ERR

I no longer understand the point of recent coronavirus measures, while coronavirus restrictions work the better or are observed the more diligently, the clearer they are, journalist Toomas Sildam writes in his weekly comment.

Coronavirus measures are necessary. Agreed. Limiting people's contacts makes sense. Agreed again.

Mario Kadastik who draws up COVID-19 prevalence models has also said that limiting contacts should be the state's main message as while masks make infection less likely, they do not offer full protection. From here, the government's decision to close all schools from December 14 seems entirely sensible.

But it isn't.

This blanket ban – closing all schools and sending every student home – sees the government abandon its promise of aiming measures at specific problems in areas where infection is extensive.

COVID-19 is running rampant in Narva, spreading quickly in Tallinn and becoming worrying in Tartu. However, the situation is calm in Paide, Saaremaa and many Southern Estonian municipalities for example. Why close schools there?

We are given no explanation.

When the first wave ended in spring, ministers promised that students in Kihnu would not have to stay home if Narva schools needed to be closed. The government has gone back on these sensible words.

It is another matter whether the government can be held to be solely responsible. The education and social affairs ministers disagreed as did scientists. Head of the government's COVID-19 scientific council, professor Irja Lutsar shared an international study on social media recently the results of which she summed up as: "Closing of schools during the COVID-19 epidemic potentially costs more years lived than keeping them open."

One cannot help but conclude that the decision concerning all schools and students was – to borrow the train of thought of communication expert Ilmar Raag – a solo act by a few ministers and influential party politicians on Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning.

Coronavirus restrictions work or rather are complied with the better, the clearer they are. Schools forced to close everywhere is not. It creates puzzlement and confusion in parents many of whom are forced to stay home or quickly reorganize work. We can add to that the fact a lot of families do not have a computer that makes remote learning difficult. Catering is another aspect as school lunches matter a great deal to some families.

And does the government really believe that all students forced to stay home from school diligently sit behind their desks reading Tammsaare or Hugo or solving mathematics and physics problems. Maybe they are instead gathering in a friend's apartment or hanging around in malls with masks pulled down off their nose?

We can already see dissatisfaction so as not to say rebellion by strong local governments. Mayor of Tallinn Mihhail Kõlvart, deputy chairman of the prime minister's party, said that elementary school students can still attend class in the capital despite the government's overnight decision. Mayor of Tartu and head of the local crisis committee Urmas Klaas also regards the government's decision to keep elementary school students out of school excessive.

MEP Urmas Paet is right when he says that measures where schools are closed on the backdrop of otherwise modest restrictions is quite unique. Schools are usually the last to go.

Coming back to the legibility of coronavirus measures. Why is swimming practice dangerous – as sports activities are banned for both minors and adults for a period of three weeks starting on Monday – while spas are not as they are allowed to keep their doors open?

Do not get me wrong – I am not looking for spa closures. One simply cannot understand the point of such restrictions anymore.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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