Health minister: Maintaining closing time restrictions not justified

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A bar. Source: Anna Aurelia Minev/ERR

The government will discuss next week the midnight closing time restrictions on bars and other entertainment establishments, Minister of Health and Labour Tanel Kiik (Center) told ERR on Tuesday.

Should the midnight closing time restriction imposed on restaurants and bars set to be valid from June 14 be looked at? Either impose it earlier or even lose it?

The COVID-19 situation in Estonia has improved for 10 consecutive weeks. And we can say that the downward trend has been so fast since last week that the number of infections fell about 40 percent. If these positive developments continue and the vaccination coverage continues to grow, we are indeed able to take another look at spectator capacities for both indoor and outdoor activities and closing time restrictions.

Currently, a 10 p.m. closing time is valid. We have earlier communicated a midnight limit set to start from June 14. But in actuality, if this viral situation continues to improve, it is not justified to maintain these restrictions through summer, it is reasonable to lose the time limit completely or change it significantly.

I am optimistic in the sense that if we look at the clear increase in vaccinations and the drop in infections, summer will certainly be quite conventional for event organizers and participants. There will be certain distancing requirements, some trust measures, but there will not be these complete time limits during the summer.

So a scenario where this midnight restriction does not even become valid is possible?

It is one alternative we cannot rule out. Another option is that this midnight restriction will be eased later and gradually. Meaning, it will be midnight for some time, a later time at another time or it will even be eased. If this trend in infections continues in the pace it has been on the previous weeks, we can be more liberal than we initially hoped.

[On Tuesday] the government made a quick decision to end the mask-wearing requirement. Will the decision on closing time restrictions come as quickly?

Our goal is not to hold sectors closed longer than it is necessary to alleviate infections. If we reach a decision [next] Tuesday, these decisions will be imposed as soon as possible.

Some decisions will come?

I consider it likely that we will ease restrictions on the number of participants at events and time restrictions. The eased restrictions currently have not brought forth a rise in infection rates. We can see the coronavirus lessening thanks to vaccinations, but also seasonal effects. I think we have even more news on June 8 about restrictions.

There has been talk about distancing and occupancy limits indoors. Restaurants for example, where a 50 percent capacity limit is valid. What is the government's approach here?

The most important factor in easing restrictions is the vaccine coverage in society. The more people use the option of getting vaccinated against COVID-19, the more we can allow people together. This significantly lowers the risk of infection and danger on human lives and health.

Currently, we have not made any decisions on easing restrictions. Distancing will be required throughout summer, but if we see vaccinations progress, we can take another look at these restrictions during summer. I am not sure it will happen next week. These restrictions must be taken step-by-step, since the COVID-19 pandemic has not ended - not in Estonia or the world.

Do you see a risk of people losing interest for vaccination due to eased restrictions and the improved vaccine coverage overall?

I sincerely hope there is no such risk. Estonian people are health conscious and reasonable. Many of them have seen the negative effects of this crisis on themselves and their close ones. It is certainly reasonable and correct to use the free opportunity to protect your life and that of your close ones, also contributing to keeping society open.

I hope and believe that a majority of adults will use that option. Because otherwise, different strains of the virus, the fall-winter period, can bring us back to restrictions, different outbreaks and more negative things that we do not wish to see. We have the power to prevent that.

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Editor: Kristjan Kallaste

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