Government green-lights legislation giving police greater COVID-19 powers

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Stenbock House in Tallinn, seat of the Estonian government. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

The government has approved legislation which would beef-up police authority in issuing fines to violators of COVID-19 restrictions, up to €32,000 in the case of businesses and other organizations.

The same bill also extends the sick pay regime put in by the last administration through to year end. The system, which sees sick pay due from day two of a period of illness, had been set to expire at the end of April.

The bill gives greater powers to the Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) to curb violators of coronavirus restrictions, BNS reports, and in initiating proceedings, as well as granting both the national government and state agency the Health Board (Terviseamet) greater leeway in temporarily limiting schools, kindergartens and other educational establishments' activities, as well as most venues where public getherings may take place, counter to coronavirus regulations.

The legislation would also ease barriers to implementing fuller lock-down, including movement restrictions.

Up to €200 fines for individuals, up to €32,000 for 'legal persons'

While flaunting quarantine can already lead to misdemeanor proceedings, non-compliance with mask wearing, movement or events can also now be so treated, if the law passes, with fines up to €200 for private individuals and up to €32,000 for legal persons (meaning businesses, non-profits and other organization.).

At the same time, the bill the government approved would extend, if it passes at the Riigikogu, sick pay from day two of an illness. This measure had been put in place on a temporary basis, from the beginning of this year through to April 30, the rationale being that the previous system, where sick pay only kicked in from day four, was acting as a disincentive to those who may have contracted the coronavirus from staying off work – since they would have been out-of-pocket. Workplaces have been identified as one of the major focal points for coronavirus outbreaks, while coronavirus rates have soared since the sick pay regime came into force in the new year, with Estonia posting some of the highest daily coronavirus rates in Europe.

The sick leave extension would include close contacts of those who have contracted COVID-19.

The bill has been sent to the Riigikogu, where it will go through the process of three readings followed by voting. If it passes it then goes to the president for assent.

Trade unions' chief: Day after vaccine should be paid leave

The amend will cost the state €12 million, BNS reports, split 50-50 between governmental coffers and the Health Insurance Fund (Haigekassa).

Heaad of the Confederation of Estonian Trade Unions (EAKL) has appealed to employers to give staff a paid day off after receiving a coronavirus vaccination.

Peep Peterson, EAKL head, said that this would reflect the fact that different people react differently to inoculation, at a time when vaccine rates are rising, including some side effects which are putting off potential recipients who fear feeling unwell after the shot, therefore having to declare the day as off sick and lose pay.

The EAKL, the Estonian Employers' Confederation (Eesti Tööandjate Keskliit) and the prime minister are ue to meet March 17 to discuss the matter further, BNS reports. Trade unions would also like representatives who would act as go-betweens in coordinating coronavirus best practices in the workplace.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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