Journalists Indrek Lepik and Hindrek Riikoja discussed the government's COVID-19 restrictions on their Raadio 2 "Olukorrast riigis" talk show. Riikoja said that it is high time the government understood that supporting companies in a crisis is not overhead but an investment.
Indrek Lepik said that Estonia finds itself in a situation where the new government feels it must take decisive action. "Coronavirus figures are frightening of course. But we are running the risk of overreacting where it is no use. Suggestions that people's outdoor movement could be dialed back came off quite insane," Lepik said.
Hindrek Riikoja remarked that he does not hold a curfew to be a likely measure in Estonia. "I believe that the public would not accept this level of restrictions. But shutting down commerce and catering is perfectly realistic. This is deemed acceptable in society today. The need for it was clear three weeks ago, while the government lacked the courage and mental fortitude to see it through back then. We have lost a few weeks already. That is the greatest shame," Riikoja said.
Riikoja also criticized the government for failing to complement restrictions with a compensation mechanism. "Unfortunately, we are treated to cynical statements from [Prime Minister] Kaja Kallas according to which entrepreneurs need to have set aside reserves etc.," the host said.
"Suggesting that loan money cannot be used to pay for current expenses is the most painful of such messages. Finally understand that if you force commerce and catering to close and pay compensation for it, these are not current expenses – it is an investment. An investment in these businesses being able to pick up where they left off once society is opened again. To avoid a situation where everything needs to be started from scratch." Riikoja said.
Lepik said that a decision was made this week regarding salary support. "I understand that sectors aren't happy with it, that it is a short-term measure that still renders April and May unforeseeable," he said.
Lepik added that Estonian companies could use a plan to see them through until late May that would clearly list restrictions and compensation mechanisms. Riikoja agreed that clearer government communication is in order.
The hosts did not agree on whether members of the government and MPs should be vaccinated ahead of schedule.
Indrek Lepik found that immunizing state officials matters from the point of view of functional administration as one should not have to run the country from isolation.
Riikoja disagreed and said that the idea that members of the government need to meet with a lot of people and go abroad all the time is mistaken. "It is not true. The lion's share of the work of cabinet ministers is done remotely. The government and the prime minister can work from a distance very effectively," Riikoja opined.
"Even more pressing is the question whether those in charge of the country are with the people or not. We have over 300,000 pensioners only a fifth of whom have been vaccinated. These are people for whom vaccines are crucial," Riikoja said.
Lepik said the matter is not quite as cut and dry. "It is very easy to get people riled up here, while it is only a symbolic matter if we make it out to be one," he suggested.
Editor: Marcus Turovski