Schools will go on remote learning for one week from Monday, March 1, Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform) says. The development comes as part of a new raft of restrictions expected to be announced Thursday amid rising coronavirus rates, and will also see occupancy limits set on the hospitality sector, while spa centers will be closed. Group sports training will also be barred under the new regulations.
Kallas said that coronavirus is spreading everywhere in Estonia and the intensity of infection is high.
"To put a stop to the spread of the infection, we decided to apply, instead of blanket restrictions, temporary measures in places where the danger of getting infected is biggest. The purpose of the restrictions imposed by the government is to ensure that our healthcare system can withstand the pressure," she said.
Kallas stressed that the behavior of each and every one of us has the biggest impact on the spread of the virus. She advised everyone to reduce their contacts with other people, stay more at home, wash their hands and wear a mask to reduce the risk of the virus spreading.
"I also call on employers to allow their employees to work remotely if possible, as workplaces are one of the main places where large infection outbreaks occur," Kallas said.
"In order to avoid stricter restrictions, it's essential to adhere to the current restrictions. Dispersion, masks, and reduction of contacts are the only way to keep society and the economy open," she added.
Next week, the week commencing February 22, is the half-term break in Estonia, hence the switch the distance learning, which applies from fifth grade upwards, begins the following Monday when the schools return. It will run for one week as things stand.
Children in first through fourth grade, and special needs children, will be able to have in-class lessons, while extra-curricular hobby groups will be permitted only for those groups who meet in school and involve pupils from the same regular classes.
Restaurants and other eateries can remain open but are subject to a maximum 50 percent occupancy limit. Social distancing must be ensured, with a cap on groups eating in restaurants set at six, while a minimum two meters' distance must be maintained between different dining parties. Monitoring of compliance with the requirements will be stepped up, it is reported.
Speaking at the regular government press conference, Kaja Kallas said Thursday that: "I stress to catering establishments that it is in their own interest to comply with these restrictions, otherwise we will be forced to impose stricter measures."
Indoor public events are capped at 200 attendees, with a maximum 50 percent occupancy limit. Concerts, cinema screenings and other performances can go ahead, but masks are mandatory, and seating must be arranged to ensure social distancing.
This particularly affects independence day, February 24, which the government is urging be marked with small family gatherings. The traditional independence day parade and presidential evening reception were already canceled some weeks ago.
Sports training for both adults and children can only take place individually, with no groups permitted. This restriction is set to run for two weeks.
Swimming pools, spas and water parks
Spa centers and water parks are closed for two weeks, from next week, meaning children on their break will not be able to engage in this pastime. The rationale presented is that water and sewage surveys after the last school holidays showed spa centers had been a vector for viral spread.
Swimming pools may only be used for sports training rather than leisure, though the restriction does not apply to professional sports activities taking place in the competitive system overseen by sports governing bodies, and it also does not apply to the disabled.
The government has called for refraining from travel not only abroad, but also inside Estonia.
Employers and employees
The prime minister urged all employers whose staff can feasibly work remotely from home to do so or continue doing so.
Checks on public transport to ensure compliance with mask-wearing requirements should be stepped up, Kallas said.
Restrictions set to run for two weeks
The restrictions are set to run for two weeks – as noted the school distance learning restrictions enter into effect from March 1 – though this will be subject to review, the prime minister said, with primary indicators for any lifting of the measures being a falling rate of infection, and fewer than 500 people hospitalized due to coronavirus.
Estonia's current R rate exceeds the 1.1 mark, it is reported, meaning infection rates are rising, while the number of people hospitalized as of Thursday morning stood at 502.
PM: Those affected by new restrictions cannot assume to be compensated in full
Speaking at the press conference after Thursday's sitting of the Estonian government at which new coronavirus related restrictions were approved, Kallas said that while the government is about to discuss mechanisms to compensate businesses for the new restrictions, it cannot be assumed that the government will come up with a compensation offsetting the impacts to the full extent.
She said that in a crisis situation, everyone has their obligations and costs to bear.
"It cannot be assumed that the state will compensate everything to the full extent," she said.
"Of course we understand that this is about labor, and we will discuss these compensation mechanisms, but in a crisis, yes, everybody has to bear their share," Kallas said.
Editor's note: This article was updated to add quotes from Kaja Kallas.
Editor: Andrew Whyte