Schools should be closed for as short a time as possible during the coronavirus lock-down which began Thursday, Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform) says, while further, even more stringent restrictions could only come at a cost to business and society.
Speaking to ETV current affairs show "Ringvaade" via video link - the premier is in quarantine after coming into contact with a COVID-19 carrier last week - Wednesday night, Kallas said that: "Restrictions must be very targeted. On the one hand, it would be very easy for us to shut everything down, but on the other, this all comes at a price," noting that further job losses would have a knock-on effect on the public's mental health.
Restrictions have been targeted so as to minimize damage to society, and are only implemented when totally necessary, while the epidemiological situation in Estonia and internationally changes, Kallas said.
"We have been ramping up the restrictions as new information has been coming to light. Indeed, on Sunday, we learned that a new, virulent strain / ... / colloquially also known as the British strain, is propagating across Estonia more than expected," Kallas said, noting that its rate of spread is estimated at 1.5 more than that of other variants, while the strain is also more contagious, it is reported.
"This previous maxim, for example, that if you were in the space as an infected person for less than 15 minutes, the virus does not seem to spread, does not apply to this British strain," Kallas added.
Public behavior is key to halting the spread, alongside the stricter measures put in place from Thursday, which include all non-essential stores being closed and schools on distance learning for the rest of this month.
Kallas said: "If people do not behave responsibly / ... /, then the more vulnerable among us – the elderly – will be getting hospitalized, and hospitalized hard," she added.
Vaccines constitute the light at the end of the tunnel, she added, telling "Ringvaade" that the state is increasing its inoculation rate steadily, with supplies – including those from the much-panned U.K./Swedish firm AstraZeneca – to grow in volume.
Estonia does not produce its own coronavirus vaccine and is reliant on the EU-wide procurement process.
As to education, Kallas said she hoped that schoolchildren would be able to be in class again this academic year, which ends in about two-and-a-half months' time, adding the Ministry of Education was working towards a strategy to enable this, though nothing can be promised.
"Schools need to be closed as little as possible," she added.
Measures also need to be in place to compensate for damage caused by lock-down, the prime minister said.
The current and latest restrictions are here.
Editor: Andrew Whyte