The government has decided to impose stricter regulations already implemented in Ida-Viru County on the capital and its surrounding county, in the face of rising coronavirus rates. The new restrictions, which include the closure of bars, will be in force after Christmas day itself.
The decision was made early on Wednesday morning, and will take effect next Monday, December 28, and is set to run to January 17 as things stand. It will include closure of entertainment establishments, including bars, as well as theaters, cinemas and concert halls. Restaurants will be on take-out only mode. Outdoor public events cannot involve more than 10 people.
One exception with the new lock-down regulations as compared with those in Ida-Viru County is that hotels will be allowed to remain open in Tallinn and Harju County.
Again, churches are exempt from full closure provided they follow a 50 percent rule.
Prime minister Jüri Ratas (Center) said of the move that: "Considering the accelerated spread of coronavirus in Tallinn and Harju County, the increasing occupancy of local hospitals, and the spread of coronavirus among hospital staff, we have to make difficult decisions to protect our medical system from overload and ensure access to medical care."
"In order to stop the spread of the virus, Estonians need to spend Christmas within a narrow family circle," he added. The regulations will however apply to non-Estonian residents of the country as well.
The breakdown of the new regulations to be in place from December 28 runs as follows:
- Entertainment outlets including bars and pubs, as well as casinos, bowling alleys and snooker/pool halls, nightclubs etc. must close. These outlets will not be working in any capacity.
- Hotels and other accommodation businesses may provide accommodation services, but not entertainment features as above.
- Restaurants and other caterers will close to the public, except for take-out services and sales via food courier.
- Indoor sports facilities including saunas, spa centers and swimming pools will close, with an exemption for professional athletes and teams, and those with special needs.
- Indoor youth work, hobby activities and education, along with in-service training and education, will be barred.
- Outdoor sports training can go ahead, with a maximum of 10 participants including coach, trainer etc.
- Theaters, cinemas and concert halls will close for performances.
- Public indoor gatherings and events, including conferences, are banned.
- Outdoor public events are capped at 10 attendees.
- Church services can still go ahead, provided they follow the 50 percent maximum capacity rule, all attendees including clergy and laity, don face-masks, and disinfectants are made available.
- Museums and exhibitions will close.
- Kindergartens and other childcare facilities will remain open, and must follow Health Board and local authority guidelines.
Schools were sent home nationwide early for Christmas, from Monday, December 14, so pupils will be off in any case when the latest restrictions come into effect; the planned national back-to-school date of January 10 is unaffected by the new rules, so far, though will be subject to further cabinet discussions in terms of restrictions. Those schools who go back earlier than January will only be able to teach grades 1 to 4 in-house, the remainder must be on remote learning.
Culture minister Tõnis Lukas (Isamaa) said of the restrictions in his sphere that: "There is a three-week break from public cultural activities, concert activities, theaters and cinemas."
Lukas added that he had met with the heads of cultural institutions early on Wednesday, and that they have five days to prepare for the impending three-week closure.
"Then, I hope that then it will be possible to reduce the infection rate … so from January 17, cultural life can be reopened."
Harju County has seen continued rising rates; on Tuesday, of the 567 new COVID-19 cases, 362 came in that county (277 of these in Tallinn itself). The county is however by far the most populous region of the country, home to around a third of the overall population.
The government has agreed to provide a total of €23 million in compensation to businesses hit hardest by the new rules. The restrictions and the related support measures will be promulgated via separate government orders.
Editor: Andrew Whyte