Strict coronavirus restrictions in Harju County have forced amateur athletes, and anyone wanting to train at a gym etc., to travel over county lines to visit sports clubs elsewhere. While in Harju and Ida-Viru counties, the two regions most heavily hit by COVID-19 at present, sports clubs are only open for professional or top athletes, other counties still allow everybody to train.
For sports clubs near the border of Harju County, the 50 percent occupancy requirement is an issue, rather than low numbers of those interested. Tapa municipality sports club director Priit Hundi said that the town, about an hour's drive from Tallinn, may be a little too far, but that people from Harju County are very interested in the sports club in Jäneda (only slightly closer - ed.).
"After the restrictions were established in Harju County, interest grew - people probably started enquiring on the border of Harju Country and environs on how the situation was in Jäneda. For a couple of days, people were calling us, but now it's quietened down. Maybe there wasn't further interest or they're already using opportunities in Tapa or Tammsalu," Hundi explained.
Silja, who lives in Tallinn, drives across the county's border five times a week, she told ERR.
"This week and last week, I have drivern to Rapla County once, to Paide, in the center of Estonia, twice, and now I have found [sports facilities in] Märjamaa too," Silja said.
She said that there is plenty of room in the gyms, and following the requirements is not difficult. She added she does not fear getting infected: "Honestly, I'm not worried. I am more worried that I will get my workouts done, because I have a competition coming up."
However, some experts fear things will work the other way round, and those traveling from Harju or Ida-Viru counties may import more cases of the virus to the less affected counties.
Adviser to the Epidemic Control Department at the Health Board (Terviseamet) Irina Dontšenko said that the virus is spreading from north to south at present. Particularly in areas close to Ida-Viru County, the danger of an increased infection rate is growing, she said. While Dontšenko conceded that the risk of infection is not very high in empty gyms, she said she still doesn't think traveling to other counties for training is a good idea.
"This will definitely increase the risk of infection, especially for the other regions. If people from Harju County go outside county lines, then they are potential carriers of the virus. If they're seemingly healthy, this is not very likely, but in some cases when an individual is not aware he or she is ill - and around a tenth of coronavirus cases are symptomless - then it creates conditions where the virus can spread further," she added.
Minister of Culture Tõnis Lukas (Isamaa) counsels against sports clubs promoting their services to visitors from Harju County coming there. Lukas, whose ministry's remit includes sport, stressed that the public would be better doing their sports training outside, while admitting the risk of viral spread from such inter-county sports club tourism was not particularly high.
"There are areas where it is not possible to train outdoors, and if the people of Tallinn, Harju and Ida-Viru counties find an opportunity in other locales, this would be very welcome. Everyone who travels to other counties should take into account that people elsewhere in the country also want to live safely, and therefore all coronavirus requirements must be carefully complied with," Lukas said.
Editor: Roberta Vaino, Andrew Whyte