Raimond Kaljulaid: White book a good initiative from the Kallas government

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Raimond Kaljulaid. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

Every plan that is still in the debate phase can be criticized and scoured for discrepancies, while it seems the Government Office has generally done a good job on the so-called white book, Raimond Kaljulaid writes.

The Government Office's so-called white book or "Plan for organizing social life in the conditions of the spread of the coronavirus" was sent to MPs at the same time PM Kaja Kallas made a political statement in the Riigikogu in which she introduced the initiative and urged a corresponding debate.

This did not stop some of my esteemed colleagues from criticizing the contents of the white book which spirit has been maintained in recent days – criticism that I find to be largely baseless. A longer perspective is needed and requires effort.

Every plan or strategy, especially one only recently unveiled and still being discussed, includes mistakes and controversies. But all in all, the Government Office has done a good job and the rest of us will have to take it from here and contribute to the framework of how to make decisions in society moving forward in terms of clarity and logic – make it an effective tool for society.

Criticism a la "the whole thing is nonsense and should be thrown out" or "a traffic light is childish" accomplices nothing.

Those hoping to find specific dates or a plan of how and when "this thing will finally end" stand to be disappointed.

Of course, it would be much nicer and more hopeful to be able to read a roadmap detailing our exit from the crisis. We would not need a traffic light in that case. If the symbol must be one of traffic and road signs and lights, we would be much better served by traffic sign 521 "One-way road." Critics are free to offer alternatives.

It is also possible to criticize the fact that the PM did not appear in front of the Riigikogu with a message for how we will live but rather to spark a debate. Personally, I am more fond of the latter option.

The fact that we will not be rid of the virus for good does not mean life cannot continue. "The goal is the rapid restoration of life in Estonia," the white book reads. The number of people who have been vaccinated or have recovered from the virus is growing that will reduce the number of people requiring hospitalization and "could in the future help reduce the spread of the coronavirus in the future." But no one is promising the disappearance of the virus.

The white book does not try to answer the question of how to make sure Estonia and the world would not have a single coronavirus patient. Prime Minister Kaja Kallas admits as much right in the foreword: "The coronavirus will not disappear."

The white book offers principles for how to "organize social life in the conditions of the spread of the coronavirus." It is based on handling a situation where we will have Covid-positive people tomorrow and the day after some of whom will be hospitalized and some will die.

The situation is unpredictable and the phrasing of the white book cautious but the goals are there and number six: vaccination, keeping schools open as long as possible, support for the economy, support for culture, mental health support and minimal travel restrictions.

Four threat levels will be designated alongside general guidelines for conduct in them – for people, organizations and the state. The higher the risk (the more prohibitive the light), the more restrictions will be laid down.

Of course, one hopes that the current red light will soon be replaced by a yellow and then a green one, with the latter hopefully remaining. Should this scenario fail to manifest, a system has now been introduced for informing society should the threat level be raised again.

Again, if someone considers this childish, they are free to offer a better visual symbol that would be as universally understandable.

One can and must be critical of the white book. The decisions therein are of major significance. I would also find aspects to criticize. In places, it seems that the plan includes activities that have no direct connection to overcoming the crisis but that one would like to discuss.

For example, one item of the plan covers "changing the financing model of general welfare" to ensure "a smaller cost-sharing component for the person." An important topic no doubt, while including it in the chapter on protecting the people of Estonia from the coronavirus remains questionable.

Another example: The impact of the pandemic on economy and employment will be reduced, among other things, by "taking into conformity the basic IT infrastructure" of local governments. I am not fully convinced that can help people who have lost their job in accommodation or customer service find new employment.

However, these are mere details.

The most important question is whether we should be dealing with the white book or a so-called coping strategy at all. It seems to me that it is something we should be doing once virus statistics have become more encouraging and the worse of the crisis in terms of vaccination is over.

A little effort and concentration would help us hit these targets in the near future and give us reason to seriously discuss what comes next. But the time is not yet right and leaders should really be prioritizing vaccination today.

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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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