Businesses and organizations hope the coronavirus passport, set to be implemented in Estonia by the end of the week, can be used domestically to ease restrictions on establishments that only allow vaccinated and recovered people entry.
By the end of this week, the state will release a so-called coronavirus passport that proves a person's vaccination. Until now, the passports have been talked about as a means to simplify travel in the coronavirus pandemic.
Estonian Employers' Confederation chair Arto Aas is among those calling for the solution to be put to use domestically. "If we would only allow vaccinated or recovered people to spas, restaurants, theaters and cinemas; we would save a lot of jobs, would save a lot of entrepreneurial sectors and would help the sectors that have been hit hardest over the last year come out of death valley," Aas said.
Estonian Hotel and Restaurant Association chair Ain Käpp is of the same mind: "It is easy to say that we cannot use this domestically. Still, if we have this capable tool, we find solutions on how to use it to help activate the economy faster."
Ain Käpp pointed to restaurants that will likely initially allow 25-50 percent capacity. "If there are people with this passport, there could be as many more people allowed in. Perhaps there can even be evets, where 100 percent of the people allowed entry have this passport, which means there would be no more restrictions," Käpp noted.
Arto Aas believes the passport question will not only last throughout the spring, but should also be in consideration for any possible future coronavirus waves. He noted that many decisions during the crisis have been made at the last moment and analyses have come late in many cases.
"It is a question where we should think forward some," Aas said. "We do not know what will come in the fall, we do not know if there will be another wave. We continue to have the problem of many people not wanting to get vaccinated, which means the virus might stay here for a while."
Estonian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chair Mait Palts echoes Aas in hoping the passport can help open and maintain the Estonian economy. He added that while vital services cannot be set behind vaccination limits, but entertainment could be.
"The efficiency of the vaccination passport solution can certainly be that the state ensures that data received through this passport is trustworthy and secure, that there is no chance of forgery," Palts said.
Lawyer: It would not be discrimination
At the same time, differentiating people based on the vaccine passport could leave some legal questions. Arto Aas said there has been much injustice during the coronavirus crisis and restrictions have infringed upon the rights of many companies and people who have lost their jobs alike.
"If we manage to help them even a little bit for them to survive and proceed with their jobs and activities in a safe manner, so that nobody's health is in danger, I believe this small sense of injustice is survivable," Aas noted.
Ants Nõmper, a lawyer specializing in IT and medical law, told ERR that any restrictions the state imposes must be justified and as minimal as possible. "So we can only lock down society as much as we really need to," he noted, adding that alternatives must be found for a complete shutdown.
"And we have seen different alternatives here: capacity limits or a mask-wearing obligation or the 2+2 rule," Nõmper continued. "One solution that would help with a partial lockdown and not a complete one is vaccinating and proof of it for private businesses."
The lawyer noted that the definition of discrimination is when people are treated differently without any justification. Currently, the coronavirus has given sufficient reasoning for it.
He considers the question of vaccine availability most important, however. "We have to admit that they are not [available]. This is why making exemptions or giving advantages is not justified at this time," Nõmper explained.
"But if vaccines are available for everyone and some people decide, based on their personal worldview, that they will not get vaccinated, then treating these people differently is completely allowed and not discrimination," Nõmper said.
He added that the type of service is also important when considering exemptions - education and public transport must be treated differently to cinemas and restaurants, for example. "And it must be considered that we also cannot discriminate the people who cannot get vaccinated due to their health. And we must think of children separately because vaccines are not indicated for children at all," Nõmper explained.
Domestic use of the coronavirus passport has not yet been analyzed at the Ministry of Justice or the Government Office (Riigikantselei). Nõmper said the Chancellor of Justice deals with these questions, however.
"I think that once these vaccine passes are ready, it would be wise to implement them to open society and not leave them aside and only limit them to travel," Nõmper said.
Arto Aas added one more argument: "It would perhaps help us increase the popularity of vaccinations as well. It would make vaccinations more attractive and we could perhaps achieve herd immunity by the end of the summer or the end of the year. Because let's be honest, everyone does not want to get vaccinated today."
Minister of Public Administration Jaak Aab (Center) said that the government has discussed the domestic use of coronavirus passports on multiple occasions. "And actually, there is a rather unanimous opinion that if we have had the opportunity to offer vaccines to the entire population, it maybe considered," Aab said.
Editor: Kristjan Kallaste