Minister: Stricter restrictions in Harju and Ida-Viru counties unjustified

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Minister of Health and Labour Tanel Kiik on ETV's "Aktuaalne kaamera". Source: ERR

Minister of Health and Labour Tanel Kiik (Center) said in an interview to ETV's daily affairs show "Aktuaalne kaamera" that the government took note of the scientific council's recommendation to harmonize restrictions across Estonia as stricter restrictions for Harju and Ida-Viru counties are no longer justifiable.

Owners of restaurants in Harju and Ida-Viru counties are given some breathing room now by moving their closing time to 9 p.m., but entrepreneurs across Estonia are now irritated. How did the government reach this decision?

Actually there are more restrictions eased in Harju and Ida-Viru counties, they also affect theaters, cinemas and entertainment. But true, we went with the scientific council's recommendation to harmonize restrictions across Estonia as the spread of COVID-19 is equally high in all counties and strict restrictions are no longer justified for Harju County and Ida-Viru County.

Performance establishment managers are confused - do concerts and performances have to end at 9 p.m.?

No, there is no such directive. There will be a government directive [on Friday] that will explain what one or another restrictions will mean for a specific sector. It is always possible to ask the Health Board for specifications. It is understandable that it might need to be done in the first days.

Performance establishments were allowed to sell tickets to up to 400 people, now there will be a 50 percent capacity restriction? Are there scientific justifications for stricter restrictions?

It is true that Estonia's infection rate number (the R rate - ed) is around 0.95 and we know that starting Monday, all education establishments across Estonia will be open, in Harju County and Ida-Viru County as well. The number of contacts will go up any way, this also means danger for an increase to the infection rate. For all these easings and looking at the spread of the virus within counties, we must decrease contacts even if we are not 100 percent sure, because any kind of movement, whether it be in catering establishments, entertainment establishments, outside your home and in the normal work environment, raises the risk of infection.

Very shortly - should you wear a mask when going to a spa and sitting in the sauna or by the pool? I read that if you are not actually touching the water, the mask should be in front of your nose.

The principle is still that if there are leisure rooms, which are often in spas and hotels in addition to the swimming facilities, then a mask needs to be worn. Certainly nobody will assume that as soon as you come out of the pool, you put a mask on and then take it off when going back in.

You understand that the cases such as a Russian diplomat getting vaccinated in Narva infringe on the sense of justice of many, as there are not enough vaccines for those who might lose their life? Were hospitals given too much freedom when handling vaccines?

Of course these cases infringe on justice, they also infringe my sense of justice, what can we do. If we look at the actions of hospitals, actions of healthcare establishments, I can say that 99 percent of vaccines have gone to healthcare workers, care home residents and workers. That one percent we are talking of, there are some exceptions that have indeed come up, whether it be injecting a sixth dose or at times, completely incomprehensible choices, which hospital managers have not been able to justify.

When it comes to what happened in Ida-Viru Central Hospital, the hospital manager was not aware of it. I spoke to him today (Thursday - ed), he said he found out about it [on Thursday] and in cooperation with the Ministry of Social Affairs, they are working on finding out the truth. I sincerely hope they get a full picture, on what grounds and circumstances was this preference made.

How is it possible that a hospital spokesperson or board member is a frontline worker, but the health minister for example is not?

The question is that there are patients, staff - both healthcare workers and supporting staff - who all are in risk of being in contact with patients, infecting them, getting infected themselves and we had to get to them. But it also makes sense that we must first focus on those who are in direct contact with COVID-19 patients, their lives are at a greater risk, they are care home residents, care home employees, healthcare workers, COVID-19 departments, intensive care, emergency care etc.

Do we actually know who has been vaccinated in Estonia, it is a low number?

We know in general, of course. There is no specific 100 percent list where 30,000 injections are written down on the health minister's table, if that is what you are asking, it also would not be correct, as health data is very delicate. But of course, healthcare facilities give us an overview of who they are ordering vaccines for, what are the vaccinated departments, what are the percentages. I know that some 80 percent of doctors are vaccinated, it is a bit lower for nurses-caretakers, but interest has also been lower. But any way, they are moving according to the vaccination plan. There are always exceptions and exceptions prove the rule.

Germany decided that the AstraZeneca vaccine should not be given to those aged 65 and up. What is Estonia's position?

We are basing ours on the position of the European Agency of Medicines. We are awaiting the sales permit. There has been talk of it before, that there are no specific studies on that scale, no clinical data available. Now the European Agency of Medicines must assess what their position is. The producer has confirmed that the vaccine is meant for everyone, starting from age 18.

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Editor: Kristjan Kallaste

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