Prime minister: Prepare for more restrictions if no improvement with virus

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Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform) on Thursday's' 'Esimene stuudio'. Source: ERR

Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform) says the public should be prepared for all eventualities in restrictions, if the coronavirus pandemic situation does not improve. Appearing on ETV politics show "Esimene stuudio" Thursday night, Kallas said that change is down to the responsibility of the public and their behavior.

At the same time, Kallas said that the battle with the virus was far from over, and national unity in following restrictions will make ending the pandemic perfectly possible.

The prime minister also cited member of the government's coronavirus advisory council, Andero Uusberg, who has said public perception of the threat is directly influenced by the imposition of government restrictions. Uusberg is a behavioral expert

This could also do with being simplified, for instance via a clear communication of what each level of danger requires (e.g. mask-wearing etc.) rather than general threats from the state about fines for non-compliance.

Prime minister: Fresh restrictions likely

New restrictions are most likely inevitable in any case, Kallas told interviewer Mirko Ojakivi, adding to the two rounds installed in the past week.

She said: "If the situation does not improve, we must be prepared for to take all the measures that are possible."

Kallas also contradicted Tallinn mayor Mihhail Kõlvart's (Center) calls for a new emergency situation and full lock-down, similar to that put in place nearly a year ago, since restrictions could be put in place now without installing an emergency situation – a constitutionally defined term – whereas that had not been the case a year ago.

Kallas: No emergency situation needed

Kallas said: "It is not necessary to impose an emergency simply due to an emergency. An emergency situation was needed in the spring [2020] to enforce the restrictions, because the government did not have such a tool. Since then, the law has been changed to enable all such orders to be issued by the government without an emergency situation, so there is no need to declare it."

What the mayor's motivations were for urging an emergency situation Kallas did not say, though she exhorted him to get the message across to the Russian-speaking population in the capital – a major component of his constituency – and the country as a whole, and to monitor and enforce required measures such as mask-wearing on public transport, social distancing, home working and taking up any offers of a vaccination.

Of concrete measures at the national government level, Kallas said that mask-wearing will be specifically that, and not any other type of face covering, such as a scarf, which had been acceptable in the past. Mask-wearing in public, indoor spaces is mandatory now in any case, Kallas added.

Scheduled treatments to be reduced again

Kallas also told "Esimene stuudio" that hospitals need to move to the next level of preparedness by March 14.

"This means that the number of available bed spaces will be increased, and that scheduled treatment will have to be cut at its expense," she said, adding that outpatient treatment would not be affected at this stage.

Most scheduled treatments and even dental treatment were halted during last spring's emergency situation, which ran mid-March to mid-May.

Seventy percent of current bed spaces are occupied, Kallas said, though there is regional variation and this will translate to differing restrictions on schedule treatments.

The key area is the populous northeastern region, which not only has the highest coronavirus rates and largest number of people requiring treatment, but also offers types of treatment not available in the rest of the country.

This and the fact that there are in existence at-risk groups such as the elderly was justification for mask-wearing going forward, she added.

Kallas was also keen to point the finger at the previous Center/EKRE/Isamaa administration, which was in office when the pandemic arrived

This coalition – whose largest party, Center, Kallas' party, Reform is still in office with in any case – was too prolific in using up state reserves, she said.

"We talked all the time during the good times about the need to stockpile, since we need these stocks when the bad times arrive. Now we can see that the reserves have been used up in the good times, and we now have to endure those consequences. It is a very difficult situation," she said.

She also criticized the previous administration's approach to borrowing, saying that this could not be done indefinitely.

Going back to the prime ministership of Andrus Ansip (2005-2014), which coincided with the last economic crisis from 2007 onwards, Reform has been closely identified with austerity measures and balanced budgets.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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