Kallas on additional restrictions: There is little left we can do

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Prime Minister Kaja Kallas addressing the Riigikogu. Source: Erik Peinar/riigikogu kantselei

Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform) told ERR that there are no additional restrictions left to establish in Estonia and her admonishing social media post on Tuesday was directed at those who do not follow the restrictions in force currently.

Kallas wrote on Facebook on Tuesday that data from the scientific council advising the government and the Health Board shows, the restrictions have begun to have a stabilizing effect on current exponential growth of the spread of the coronavirus; however, it is too early to predict the final impact of the restrictions and a small yet firm uptick remains in the infection rate.

"Unless the spread of the virus stops, Estonia will remain under lockdown for the entire summer - just like our southerly neighbor Latvia has been under lockdown since November. Everything is on hold - the economy, social interaction," she added.

ERR's Estonian portal caught up with the prime minister on Tuesday evening while she was recovering from COVID-19 at home herself.

How do you feel?

This disease is very unpredictable. Old wisdom says not to count your chickens before they hatch, because it may feel that everything is fine and then a setback occurs with a high fever. Let's hope I am on the road to recovery now.

You did not lead [Tuesday's] government cabinet sitting yet?

I did not lead, but I was present.

Why did you make a post on Facebook where you announced that Estonia could remain in lockdown for the summer?

A point of concern is that these numbers still do not show much improvement. Compared to last week, infections have still grown 7 percent and infections have grown 10 percent in the 55-85 age group. That is the exact group who tends to be hospitalized as the illness becomes serious. And there is no county where the infection rate (R rate - ed) is below one.

This is all because people are still in contact, having meetings and gatherings. Unfortunately, this disease moves from person to person. We have to get ourselves together and get these numbers down.

Some people have expressed resentment on social media, saying that they have been at home properly, have reduced contacts, but the prime minister is still calling for more. Your party colleague Meelis Atonen, for example.

It is very painful for those people who have stayed at home and followed all restrictions. It is a call for those who do not follow these restrictions. Everyone suffers through restrictions and if we do not get these numbers down, then I cannot ease these restrictions.

The situation in hospitals is inching toward the edge, the number of hospitalized patients has been around 700 for some time now. What is the variant if hospitals' burden were to grow even more? What restrictions can be established, if any?

Today, the scientific council told the government cabinet that there are no more restrictions possible. If we look at the burden on hospitals, it is different. We know the emphasis is on northern hospitals, the stress is not as great in the south. Truly, some 75-80 are hospitalized daily on average and if we look at the period they are in hospital, the periods are quite long. There is little left we can do.

Isn't one of the choices to lessen the burden on hospitals perhaps directing vaccinations more at the elderly, meaning letting frontline workers wait for their turn?

Actually, It has been our focus all this time. Why we stopped vaccinating frontline workers was because we received less vaccines. There was an agreement in government from the start that one third of the vaccines would go to frontline workers, two thirds to vaccinate risk groups to bring hospitals to the surface and for the more serious cases, which is important among older people.

Now, when we are set to receive 40,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine next week and we know this vaccine is recommended for use for those aged 65 and up, we can direct more vaccines there. But I am of the mind that our main focus is to vaccinate risk groups.

The positive thing is that we are third in Europe for vaccination rate. Malta is first, then Hungary and we are third. We have increased our vaccination tempo quite a bit.

I will also ask about one more thing - there is a large EU meeting coming with a main question being what to do with Great Britain, where the EU has exported more than 10 million vaccines and has not received anything back. What is your position? Should the European Commission and the EU be much more resolute in establishing export restrictions?

Yes, these things will come under discussion. Great Britain does state that they are not establishing export restrictions, but numbers say another thing. Do we use the same weapons for this behavior or can these things be solved diplomatically so there would not be a vaccine war stemming from shipments.

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Editor: Kristjan Kallaste

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