Estonia is now in an emergency situation in all but name, Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform) said Thursday, following two rounds of coronavirus restrictions announced in the past week, a week which has also see Estonia post one of the highest per capita coronavirus rates in Europe.
"We effectively have an emergency situation," Kallas said at Thursday's government press conference.
"The spread of the virus is explosive-like, meaning we all must restrict ourselves," she added. "The month of March will be very difficult."
Kallas said that her government has imposed very tough restrictions, stronger than those put in place almost a year ago, when an emergency situation – which has a legal and constitutional definition – was declared.
Kallas added that laws have been amended to allow the government to impose restrictions without having to again declare an emergency situation and that the newest regulations are there to contain the spread of the virus, while more stringent regulations still, including full lock-down and restrictions on movement, can be put in place if needed.
The state has stepped up checks on compliance, including the obligation to wear a mask, she said. Plans are for the checks to be intensified further.
Kallas added that businesses that do not adhere to the restrictions will be closed, without any compensation.
The prime minister added that last spring, when people perceived the danger as bigger, they followed the rules better.
Citing an opinion expressed by Andero Uusberg, member of the scientific advisory board, Kallas said that when restrictions are tough, people understand the seriousness of the situation and will better abide by valid rules.
"There's an old Estonian saying that a lock is for animals," Kallas said.
The head of government said that while it is possible for the government to impose a full restriction on movement, she hopes that people will understand the seriousness of the situation and start behaving responsibly, and there will be no need to toughen restrictions.
Health Minister: Pace of vaccination accelerating for 7th week in a row
Minister of Health and Labor Tanel Kiik (Center) said at the press conference the pace of coronavirus vaccination has accelerating for the seventh consecutive week.
The minister said the pace of vaccination has been gradually rising for seven weeks now. He added that also this week a new record is to be set in vaccinations, which will be beaten again next week.
However, Kiik said, the stock of vaccines that Estonia has continues to be insufficient. He described March as the last month when the country is set to experience an acute shortage of vaccines, as April and May are set to be better.
"Last year, we waited for the summer to come. Now we can wait for two things: the summer and the arrival of vaccines," Kiik said.
He added that next week, a bigger consignment of the AstraZeneca vaccine than the previous deliveries is about to arrive in Estonia. Last week the company canceled its delivery.
Editor's note: This article has been updated to add quotes from Kaja Kallas and Tanel Kiik and a graph displaying the vaccination rate by week.
Editor: Andrew Whyte, Helen Wright