Government limits indoor gatherings without COVID-19 checks to 50 people

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A live music event featuring "Ewert and the Two Dragons" in progress. Source: Sven Tupits

The government has slashed the number of attendees allowed at indoor public gatherings which do not conduct coronavirus checks – proof of coronavirus vaccination, a negative test result or recovery from the virus – to 50, starting from Monday, August 9.

The corresponding figure for outdoor gatherings with no coronavirus checks from August 9 is 100, down from the figure of 1,500 proposed early on in the week commencing July 26.

Proof of vaccination is required, for all those aged 18 and over at both indoor and outdoor events, with "event" having quite a broad definition (see below).

The restrictions, coming into effect Monday, cover, for instance, an entire theater building rather than a single auditorium, meaning no more than 50 attendees would be permitted inside an entire theater building at any one time, if coronavirus checks are not conducted.

As reported by ERR News, the face-mask wearing requirement on public transport also returned, on Monday, August 2.

The cabinet made its most recent decision on restrictions Friday, July 30, following a remote meeting, and has already issued the government order putting the measures in place.

The restrictions do not apply to hotels and other accommodation establishments.

The restrictions also apply to restaurants, museums and exhibitions. While they originally applied to religious services also, this aspect has been modified.*

The government based its order on a Health Board (Terviseamet) assessment.

Daily figures of new coronavirus cases have been steadily rising recently, from double-digit figures through June and most of July, to triple-digit numbers towards the end of July, while the country's "R" rate is estimated at above 1.0, and Estonia's risk level was raised from a medium (yellow) to a high (orange) level on Thursday.

The Health Board says it wants to reverse this trend for a rise in numbers, and head off the resulting burden on hospitals.

How the checks at public events will be conducted has also been the subject of discussion at cabinet level; Tanel Kiik said Friday that coronavirus vaccine certificates could be checked visually by event staff, on the grounds, he said, that most people who live in Estonia are honest.

Restrictions in brief

From Monday, August 2

  • Requirement to cover the nose and mouth with a face-mask on public transport reintroduced. Exemptions apply to the under-12s and those with health or other serious issues which preclude them from wearing a mask.

From Monday, August 9

  • Larger public events (what constitutes an "event" is set out below) and activities must conduct coronavirus vaccine checks on attendees.
  • Fifty or more people constitutes a large indoor event, while 100 is the equivalent for an outdoor event. In other words an indoor event with fewer than 50 people present, or an outdoor one with fewer than 100 people, can go ahead without checks.
  • Attendance for fully coronavirus-checked events is capped at 6,000 (indoors) and 12,000 (outdoors).
  • The attendance limit is in this case 6,000 in indoor areas and 12,000 outdoors.
  • Attendees must present proof of vaccination, recent negative test result or recovery from coronavirus before entry.
  • Organizers are responsible for conducting the checks and for checking the authenticity of the certification provided.
  • Performers and staff members at an event must be checked, as well as spectators.
  • Those who do not present the required documentation will be turned away.
  • The indoor attendance restriction applies to the entire building or territory of indoor environments, so, for instance, an entire theater's premises and not just one indoor auditorium etc.

What is an 'event'?

  • Public events as defined by the government as gatherings at: Casinos, cinema screenings, concerts, conferences, exhibitions, museums, nightclubs, pool and snooker halls and theater performances.
  • The government states that eateries are included on the list, meaning restaurants and other places serving food to the public.
  • Sports and leisure activities are also classified as events, meaning: Coaching, extra-curricular hobby education, leisure and recreation, saunas, spas, swimming pools training and water parks and youth work.*
  • An outdoor eatery appended to an indoor facility – for instance a restaurant or cafe which is part of a swimming pool or water park complex – is treated as an indoor facility.
  • These restrictions do not apply to  take-out food.
  • The restrictions do not apply to stores and other services, including hotels and accommodation – where the current regulations concerning dispersion and disinfection remain in place.

What are the requirements to attend a large event?

  • As noted, attendees must provide proof of vaccination, or of recovery from COVID-19.
  • Individuals can also present proof of returning negative on a PCR test within the preceding 72 hours, or an antigen test within the preceding 48 hours, conducted by a health-care professional.
  • While an event can provide testing facilities, it is not obliged to and if no such facilities are provided, it is up to the attendee to arrange their own testing beforehand.
  • Organizers may not conduct on-the-spot antigen testing under the new regulations, as they had done before.
  • Minors below the age of 18 are not required to provide proof of vaccination, negative test results or recovery from the coronavirus, while those with special needs will not be required to present proof of testing if conducting a test on that individual is not deemed reasonable.

*Exemptions

While the above restrictions originally considered all sports and hobby activities, as well as religious services, as an event, since then the government has amended its planned regulations.

As things now stand, the under-18s can engage in sports training with unlimited numbers and without proof of vaccination, as well as take part in extracurricular hobby education and other youth work along the same lines, provided social distancing is practiced, and proper ventilation is provided.

Worship services can also go ahead without vaccination checks, provided occupancy does not exceed 50 percent, with mask-wearing, social dispersal and disinfectant requirements remaining in place. Fifty-percent occupancy in larger churches would constitute more than 50 people.

Concerts held inside churches would not qualify as worship services.

At the time of writing, 665,497 people in Estonia have been vaccinated, 87 percent of these having completed the course, i.e. received two doses with most manufacturers' product.

This article was updated to include exceptions applied to youth sports and hobby activities, and to religious worship services.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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