Interior minister Kristian Jaani (Center) has called claims that a proposed legislation change would grant the police powers to forcibly remove the sick from their homes nothing more than malicious, fake news.
Appearing on ETV politics show "Esimene stuudio" Tuesday night, Jaani said that: "No one is going to be taken away from their homes, and no such rights are to be granted to police anywhere."
The law would, however, grant the right to return to their home any individual who had contracted the coronavirus or who was violating quarantine regulations.
"This type of information is propagated a lot on social media. All that is needed are a few leaders, plus some momentum, and they (i.e. sections of the public – ed.) go along with them. There is no truth behind this news. The police will not get very many new powers."
Jaani, a former police chief, was speaking in the aftermath of several days of protests against amendments to the Communicable Diseases Prevention and Control Act (known by its Estonian acronym, NETS), which would widen the scope for personnel from the Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) in issuing precepts, fines and other responses to non-compliance with COVID-19 restrictions.
The protests became a self-fulfilling prophecy in that a media blackout on the topic lasted close to two weeks while protestors, numbering around 100, made their way up to and around Toompea, seat of the Riigikogu – prompting charges of a crackdown on free speech – while efforts to disperse the crowds led both to the installation of barriers in front of the Riigikogu, and the redirection of the protestors down the hill to Vabaduse väljak.
Sunday saw several people detained by the PPA, with the Health Board (Terviseamet) – one of the bodies the PPA would be able to work more closely with under the provisions of the bill – issuing precepts as well.
Jaani told "Esimene stuudio" that images of protestors being detained and placed inside a PPA vehicle were merely the last stage in a much longer process of repeated warnings and negotiations but that the photos give the impression the PPA had been over-zealous.
Taking advantage of the situation and sowing fear in a situation where people are fatigued with restrictions was being used for political purposes, he added.
Leaders of the protests are known to the PPA, Jaani said, and the authority will maintain dialogue with them. However, he said some do not fully grasp their responsibilities.
Jaani, who had previously rejected claims of a drift towards a police state in Estonia, also told "Esimene stuudio" that if the PPA used excessive force or abused its powers in other ways, public trust in the body would be destroyed.
He had also earlier said that a lack of clear leadership from the crowds on Sunday prompted fears of further escalation or unpredictable behavior, while another self-fulfilling prophecy took place in that, as numbers swelled, so did the required PPA personnel count.
Currently, the Health Board sets a ceiling of 10 people gathering in public places without any social distancing; Sunday saw larger knots of individuals than that engaging in "group hugs", not normally a very Estonian pursuit, and other non-socially distanced activities.
Some detainees ended up in that situation as the result of insulting the PPA, mainly via painted slogans on placards, it is reported.
During the original coronavirus wave in spring 2020, the then Center/EKRE/Isamaa coalition issued an emergency situation – a constitutionally defined term – which ran for two months and during which government orders, rather than legislation, dealt with most restrictions.
While government orders are still used in restrictions, legislative changes have already meant this can now be done without declaring a further emergency situation.
Editor: Andrew Whyte