Island municipality mayors have different views on dropping restrictions

A ferry on the Virtsu-Kuivastu route.
A ferry on the Virtsu-Kuivastu route. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

Local municipality mayors on Estonia's islands have different opinions when it comes to dropping coronavirus restrictions. Some prefer to remain cautious, while others want restrictions in areas with high vaccination rates to be dropped as soon as possible.

Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform) proposed on Monday that coronavirus restrictions could be dropped in Estonia's highest vaccinated county - the island of Hiiu.

Center Party chairman Jüri Ratas does not support the idea of loosening restrictions regionally but noted the mandatory mask-wearing obligation could be considered.

"When speaking of releasing all these restrictions, I fear it may bring what prior experience has shown: that this corona-free county becomes an outbreak or a coronavirus island and we do not want that. This would mean checkpoints at Triigi and Rohuküla ports and Tallinn Airport. So I think we should proceed with the goal of having all of Estonia completely free. This means 85 percent of the elderly and risk groups must be protected [vaccinated] and 70 percent of the entire population must be vaccinated," Ratas said.

"But masks in Hiiu County should be dropped today," the former prime minister said.

ETV's current affairs show "Aktuaalne kaamera" asked how municipality mayors felt about the plans on Tuesday.

Hiiumaa acting municipality mayor Hergo Tasula said there are many who support dropping restrictions on the island, but there are also those who are more careful. He noted that setting up testing points for island visitors would come at a cost to the islands themselves.

"I would like to believe this kind of regulation would not follow, because it would not work well for us. The plan is not good in that case, if the other side of releasing restrictions would be that we impose restrictions on visiting the island," Tasuja said.

Saaremaa municipality mayor Mikk Tuisk said restrictions should be kept in place on his island. "I am not in a rush [to drop restrictions]. The people of Hiiu have been good at vaccinating their community. Their rates are impressive, but ours, unfortunately, do not reach theirs just yet," Tuisk said.

Last year, the island became the epicenter of Estonia's coronavirus, resulting in the island being shut off from the mainland and a military field hospital being erected outside Saaremaa's hospital.

"And looking at how painful of an experience we had with the coronavirus last year, these decisions must be well thought through here. Can we ease restrictions in that manner or not?"

He added that there are quite a lot of tourists on Saaremaa, as well. "Having lived through the spring and start of summer last year, I would not lose restrictions here so fast. They are not harassive to society at this point. We are all tired, I understand that. But our community has unfortunately not been as good in getting vaccinated to allow for us to take these restrictions off," the Saaremaa municipality mayor said.

The field hospital outside Kuressaare Hospital last April. Source: Margus Muld/ERR

Muhu supports Saaremaa

Muhu municipality mayor Raido Liitmäe echoed Tuisk's thoughts: "We must look at it in the context of the entire county - people from Muhu move around in Saaremaa and people from Saaremaa drive through Muhu and visit stores and companies in Muhu."

"Hiiumaa is one island, but our county is made up of several islands and the people get mixed up here. Meaning, we have to look at this from a more complex county perspective," Liitmäe noted.

"It is a difficult topic, the government's advisers must make their arguments. But each exemption causes questions in the others. But it would be premature to rush and drop restrictions in Muhu," the municipality mayor added.

Vormsi sees arguments for and against

Vormsi municipality mayor Ene Sarapuu noted that there would be both positive and negative sides to cancelling coronavirus restrictions.

"On the hand, yes, but on the other, no. There are many visitors to the islands, we have no data on this," she said.

"It would be great for the community to not have any restrictions and I think the vaccination rate of our island is rather high today. But we do not know when our guests come and go, which is why this is a double-edged sword," Sarapuu noted.

"We also cannot say that only island residents can come here and nobody else can. All of us here - Hiiumaa and Vormsi - depend on the mainland's actions and doings," she said, adding that it is up to discussion with the local doctors' center.

"I am not saying we will not go to the government with this, but I also cannot claim that we will go now," the Vormsi mayor said. "We are open to all options that are positive to our population!"

No difference for Ruhnu and Kihnu

The municipality mayors of Ruhnu and Kihnu both admitted the restrictions do not affect life on the islands too much, since both communities tend to communicate with each other.

"Perhaps it affects things in Kihnu and Vormsi, but we have 50-60 people living here year round so I do not see much of a problem," Ruhnu mayor Andre Nõu told AK.

"We have on big community and we communicate with each other, restrictions do not make it here. But if we go elsewhere, everyone does what they have to do," he added.

The mayor said there are not many restrictions that can be imposed on such a small island as the stores are small and there are no major events. He added that the nine students in Ruhnu School also have no issues. Although there are a few unvaccinated teachers, they have very few weekly classes.

According to the Ruhnu mayor, people visiting the island are not tested, but there will likely only be some hundred people visiting in the next eight months. "I don't know if there is any point to checking them?" Nõu asked.

Kihnu municipality mayor Ingvar Saare said their situation is similar to Ruhnu's. "The effects [of restrictions] here are not great, I do not know if anything would change if they are eased," he said.

"I understand that Hiiumaa is much larger compared to Kihnu and there are locations, where restrictions can establish obstacles. In our case today - with the summer season over - I do not think it would have any effect since schools can operate and hobby groups can go on," Saare noted.

"But we support losing restrictions since the tourism season is over and restrictions do not have much effect in everyday life, since we only communicate with each other. Would it have much effect, but if the decision is made, it could certainly be done in Kihnu," the municipality mayor note.

He said the municipality government has not discussed the possibility of not having restrictions.

Passenger ferry Kihnu Virve. Source: Kairit Leibold/ERR


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Editor: Kristjan Kallaste

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