Minister: Harsher COVID-19 restrictions would provoke backlash

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Minister of Social Affairs Tanel Kiik. Source: Margarita Mironova/ERR

Social affairs minister Tanel Kiik (Center) says there are no plans to impose additional coronavirus restrictions in Estonia in the near future, as these could meet with a negative backlash, preferring instead to chart a middling course between the strictest and most liberal restriction regimes.

Kiik was talking Wednesday in the context of more stringent regulations in neighboring Latvia, which has imposed a curfew over the New Year period, and also in Lithuania.

Speaking at a press conference Wednesday, Kiik said: "Criticism and suggestions can run in both directions simultaneously. Some would like to see tougher restrictions, others would like to see more lenient ones. I will always maintain the position of balance, and my view is that if society is dissatisfied with both those who crave the most severe restrictions and those from the most liberal schools of thought, then we are on the right track."

"We have to react according to the situation and according to the forecasts. The current government has just introduced additional restrictions which started this Monday. We do not know their effect yet. We can see the infection numbers for individual days, we know where such an outbreak might take place or where there would be a need to look very vigorously at the existing restrictions. This need may arise, but it must be based on real data and forecasts, not on the actions of neighboring countries," Kiik added.

From Monday, entertainment, hospitality, sports and cultural outlets, including bars, restaurants, pubs, nightclubs, gyms, spa centers, theaters and cinemas are closed, though only in Tallinn and Harju County, along with Ida-Viru County where such restrictions had already been in place since earlier in the month.

Kiik: Estonia does not need to follow other two Baltic States' examples

Kiik acknowledged that the other two Baltic States had taken the path of stricter restrictions, but in Estonia this may not be justified at the moment and the harsher measures might well fit with the situations in Latvia and Lithuania – the latter experiencing one of the highest per capita coronavirus rates in the world at present.

On the other hand, a tougher regime would lead to protest and a lack of compliance, Kiik said, as well as obscuring impact assessments of current and recent measures, including via waste water surveys as well as daily infection figures and monitoring studies at the University of Tarty.

Restrictions had with them an in-fixed temporary nature in any case, Kiik said, and were aimed first and foremost to avoid meltdown of the health care system.

From Wednesday until January 4, and then on January 8-9 (Russian Orthodox Christmas – ed.) in Latvia, members of the public are not permitted to leave their place of residence from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. the next morning, other than traveling to and from work and in emergency cases.

Meanwhile in Lithuania, mask-wearing is mandatory in all public locations, including outdoors and on the streets, road checks have been imposed over the holiday period, and regional boundaries have been closed.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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