Kaljulaid: People running the country should be vaccinated

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President Kersti Kaljulaid. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

President Kersti Kaljulaid said in an interview to Vikerraadio that immunizing the people leading the country is important. Kaljulaid finds that declaring an emergency situation would not be appropriate.

"It is a complicated matter. Declaring an emergency situation would send a certain signal. But what about if we think back to the spring emergency situation and how many questions it raised in terms of whether our freedoms would be restricted and whether we would get them back?" Kaljulaid said.

The president admitted that the previous emergency situation did not do long-term damage but added that politicians seem willing to consider an emergency situation simply for the sake of communication this time. "It does not seem right to me. It seems more sensible to communicate the fact that the reproduction number (R) is still above one in Estonia," Kaljulaid said.

"Furthermore, laws were amended so we wouldn't need an emergency situation to regulate such situations in the future. I believe Jüri Ratas' government was right to do that."

The president refused to compare the governments of Jüri Ratas and Kaja Kallas, saying that the virus cares naught for politics.

Salary support should remain available for as long as needed

Host Mirko Ojakivi asked Kaljulaid how to avoid the crisis falling heaviest on families with children and low-income workers.

"I believe that any government support measures should first and foremost be aimed at protecting workers. People who have lost their jobs and income," the president said.

Kaljulaid emphasized that she does not deem it right to support the ownership structures of companies. "We should not be contributing resources there today. Measures should help people who are having trouble coping now. This would also deliver a positive impact in terms of domestic consumption as people take benefits to the grocery store," the president remarked.

President Kersti Kaljulaid. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

"The important thing is for these measures to be fast and remain available for as long as necessary."

Kaljulaid added that while Estonia's loan burden has seen a sharp rise, measures need to be maintained in the crisis.

Ski trips off the table in current situation

Kaljulaid admitted that how a politician behaves sets an example in the crisis and that she would not go on a private ski trip in the current situation.

"As an Estonian, I feel today that our case rate is serious enough to discourage going abroad and manufacturing uncertainty. I would definitely not do that," Kaljulaid said.

The president took a private ski trip to Switzerland in the final days of last year despite a strong recommendation not to travel unless absolutely necessary issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Kaljulaid said that while her trip did not break any rules, it might have been a mixed signal to society. She added that people should not be angry with those who decide to travel responsibly and take all necessary precautions.

Foreign visits have their value

Kaljulaid said that some professional travel is necessary, pointing to a recent state visit to Spain. The president said that she spent a total of four hours talking to the country's leaders.

"We have no time to calmly discuss, for example, our understanding of what is wrong in Russia outside of this crisis. It is diplomatic opportunism in a way," Kaljulaid said.

The president also highlighted the importance of her visits to Latvia and Lithuania. "Latvia and Lithuania are as deserving of diplomatic attention as all other countries. Whereas that we see eye-to-eye is by no means a given," the head of state said.

"Video meetings remain a possibility and have been used extensively, while finding a way to get together is necessary from time to time."

People running the country should be vaccinated

Asked about the polarizing topic of whether leaders should be vaccinated ahead of schedule, Kaljulaid said she believes so.

"I think it is very important for the people running the country – the government, parliament and key officials – to be vaccinated as soon as possible," Kaljulaid said.

"We all want these complex situations handled in a legally sound way, while this sometimes requires laws and regulations to be amended. While we can do everything using Zoom, we cannot say that the government is not as essential as other essential workers. The government is also on the front lines. Therefore, I hope the government will be vaccinated," Kaljulaid offered.

The president said that there is no reason to doubt the safety of vaccines, while the relatively large number of anti-vaccination activists and efforts to counter immunization are worrying.

President Kersti Kaljulaid. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

She said that a situation where Estonia would have enough vaccine but a third of the population against immunization would constitute a major problem. "We will never be rid of the virus if this happens. It is not a problem of those opting out having to live with the consequences. The problem is that if allowed to continue spreading among a third of the population, the virus will continue to mutate," Kaljulaid said.

"Failure to vaccinate a considerable part of the population, believed to be as high as 75 percent, quickly enough will allow the virus to continue practicing on us to eventually find a way to infect people who have been vaccinated. That is why we need considerable immunization coverage," the president explained.

Party suspected of corruption forming government embarrassing

Talking about corruption, Kaljulaid described as embarrassing the fact that Estonia has a government one partner in which was embroiled in a corruption scandal a day before the coalition was formed.

"It is an embarrassing fact that we did not manage to put together a different coalition. But it looks like the parliament did not afford for one. It is undoubtedly highly embarrassing. It is just not done."

That said, the president praised the disposition and foreign policy course of the new government.

"Also, that Estonia is back on track in terms of its foreign policy. The track laid by Isamaa under Mart Laar, whereas I very much doubt the party shares his foreign policy thinking today," Kaljulaid offered.

"It seems our foreign policy line became clearer," she added.

Chances of becoming OECD secretary general 1 percent

Kaljulaid decided to withdraw her candidacy for OECD secretary general in late January. Estonia entered her bid in October of last year.

"It was unfortunate as one wants to win a competition one enters. So, my athletic ego has been somewhat bruised. On the other hand, just like the UN campaign (becoming a member of the UN Security Council – ed.) was a success because we participated and won, pursuing the OECD campaign had its benefits."

President Kersti Kaljulaid. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

The president said that it is likely Estonia managed to influence the incoming secretary's agenda to a notable degree. We are about to contact the elected secretary general to discuss the things that are vital for us, such as digital development and free movement of data," Kaljulaid said.

"Our chances of winning were always minute. I believe that Estonia is the only country that doesn't even have an ambassador attached to the OECD and our level of participation is so modest that the chances of winning were around 1 percent," Kaljulaid said.

She did not say whether she will run for a second term as president of Estonia. "I will consider it should the proposal be made. However, I believe that we all have more important things to do and think about in the coronavirus crisis. It is not a priority today. I have not found myself thinking about it," Kaljulaid said.

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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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