New restrictions moving all education to distance learning and closing non-essential stores and restaurants will come into effect on Thursday, March 11 and initially last for a month. The country will effectively be in lockdown, similar to the emergency situation last spring.
Based on recent hikes in coronavirus infection rates and the continued spread of the British variant of COVID-19, Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform) on Monday afternoon called for additional restrictions to be established.
"The COVID-19 situation in northern Estonian hospitals is extraordinarily critical. The number of beds for people with COVID-19 has increased, but there will eventually be a limit," the prime minister posted on social media on Monday.
Kallas added the government is working on finding additional staff for hospitals, but she said that everyone carries responsibility and must contribute to limit the spread. "Please, let's sharply decrease contacts to cut off infection chains! Otherwise, the virus will break our healthcare, doing more and more damage to our close ones and the weak in society," the Reform chairwoman wrote.
Kallas said the British strain of COVID-19 is spreading more extensively than previously thought. The strain's more aggressive nature is behind Estonia's recent hike in daily new case numbers, according to the prime minister, who is currently self-isolating after coming into contact with a person who tested positive for coronavirus.
"If the information we checked is true, it means we must lock down our country for the near future. Send every child and young person possible to distance learning and close all places where there is direct contact," Kallas penned.
She added that Estonians have not yet learned to live with the virus in a way to safely continue with normal life, which is why extensive closures are needed.
Kallas also pointed out that she hopes vaccinations can be focused on during the time society is locked down. She also recommends people implement the 2+2 rule when moving around outdoors.
The prime minister's proposed restrictions:
- Educational institutions, including primary education, will go to distance learning. Children with special educational needs and institutions managing them can remain open in a limited and safe capacity.
- Guides for kindergartens to reorganize work and an urgent recommendation for parents not to take children to kindergarten, unless necessary.
- All trade, except for pharmacies, grocery stores, pet stores, eyewear stores and other essential services must be closed and can only be open if delivery of goods or drive-in sales are an option.
- Eating establishments would be closed, only takeaway sales are allowed.
- Sports and hobby education will only be allowed individually.
- The 2+2 rule will apply outside.
New restrictions in full:
The restrictions will initially be in place from March 11 until April 11.
However, the government said restrictions will be eased when the spread of the coronavirus in Estonia has been reduced to a level that does not endanger the medical system's ability to function.
The 2+2 rule will have to be followed outside as well
In order to stop the spread of the coronavirus, the 2+2 movement restriction will be enacted to moving around in public outdoor spaces, which means that up to two people may move around together, keeping a distance of 2 metres from others. The restriction does not apply to families and in situations where it cannot be observed.
The Government is very strongly recommending that children are not taken to kindergarten or child care unless it is urgently necessary. The Ministry of Education and Research is issuing guidelines on how to organise work in a pre-school child care facility as safely as possible.
Starting from March 11, students in grades 1 to 4 are not allowed to be in the school buildings anymore either, and those preparing for the basic school final exams and state exams will not be allowed to have contact learning. It is still foreseen that in emergency cases, primary school students may continue to spend time in school buildings and participate in activities organised there.
Taking into account the restrictions enacted to stop the spread of the coronavirus, spending time in school buildings is allowed to a student who needs educational support services, consultations in order to achieve learning results, participating in practical learning, or taking exams or tests.
Sports, training, youth work, hobby activities, informal education and refresher training
Starting from March 11, all indoor activities in the listed sectors are prohibited. The restriction does not extend to people with special needs and rehabilitation activities.
All outdoor hobby and informal education activities, refresher training, youth work, sports and training are only allowed if the 2+2 movement restriction is adhered to. This means that no more than 2 people can move around and do sports together (including an instructor), keeping a distance of at least 2 metres from others. The restrictions do not apply to the activities of people with special needs, including the provision of social and occupational rehabilitation services.
The restrictions on doing sports indoors and outdoors also do not extend to professional athletes, members of the national team, candidates of the national team. Neither do these restrictions extend to the activities related to the military defence and internal security of the state.
Sports competitions, sports and exercise events are prohibited
Sports competitions continue to be allowed only for professionals but the sports competitions of the second national league will be prohibited. No more than 50 people may participate in sports competitions and sports and exercise events indoors, and no more than 100 people outdoors.
As it was previously, the restriction on exercise events continues to not apply to the activities of people with special needs and rehabilitation activities. Similarly to the current order, the restriction on sports competitions does not extend to professional athletes, members of the national team, candidates of the national team and the highest national leagues. The restrictions do not extent the activities related to the military defence and internal security of the state.
Public events, culture, entertainment, spas, pools and saunas
Starting from March 11 it is also prohibited to carry out outdoor public events, and to be in places where entertainment services are provided, whether the venues have permanent or temporary seating. Spas, pools, saunas and swimming facilities must also be closed.
Only outdoor public meetings and public worship services can be held, the participants are limited to groups of up to 10 people. It is allowed to be at outdoor exhibition spaces of museums while following the 2+2 rule and it must be calculated that the occupancy of an area with an enclosed space is no more than 25 percent.
Catering establishments will only be allowed to sell food for takeaway.
Stores and shopping centers
Starting from March 11, the stores must be closed. The restriction does not apply to grocery stores, pharmacies, stores that sell aid equipment and medical devices, the sales points of telecommunications enterprises, optical stores, pet stores and filling stations. It is not allowed to eat and drink on site at a filling station cafe.
The stores that will remain open have to take into account the requirement that the occupancy of their space cannot exceed 25 percent, and the 2+2 movement restriction.
In other cases, the only allowed forms of selling are the so-called selling from a window, where the goods will be issued to the customer without the customer entering an indoor sales space; drive-in type of selling and selling in outdoor spaces. The store keeper must ensure that the customers do not come into contact with each other.
Enterprises providing services may continue their activities but the occupancy requirement will become more stringent – the previous 50 percent maximum occupancy will be reduced to 25 percent. All rules intended to stop the spread of the coronavirus must be followed: the 2+2 rule, mask wearing, adhering to the disinfection requirements in accordance with the guidelines of the Health Board.
In addition to the restrictions, the Government strongly recommends avoiding contacts with other people, and if a meeting is urgently necessary, not holding it with more than six people at once.
Editor's note: This article was updated to add the government's order.
Editor: Kristjan Kallaste, Helen Wright