Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform) supports implementing additional restrictions on unvaccinated people, such as moving unvaccinated people down the queue in case scheduled treatments are limited. She also wants the police to monitor mask-wearing more effectively.
"What do I support? I would not close society. I want children to keep going to school, our economy to work, but I also want our hospitals to not collapse. And that is why I support further restrictions for unvaccinated people," Kallas said on Vikerraadio's interview show "Stuudios on peaminister" on Tuesday.
The prime minister pointed out one option of restrictions for people, who have not gotten vaccinated against the coronavirus. "One proposal is that if people go to the hospital, doctors must help them. If things get bad and we must start restricting scheduled treatments, surgeries, for example, then unvaccinated people will move down the queue. And treatments are limited at their expense," Kallas said.
She said she does not support sending children to distance learning. "We have not even discussed it, because we have stated from the beginning that schools should remain open. That is how it has been done in other countries," Kallas said.
"If we think of the spring, the scientific council said infections will decrease if all schools are closed. But nothing happened. And then the scientific council came to the government and said that does not help, either. It is hard to make decisions in the midst of this mess of recommendations," the prime minister added.
She said there are other options and these have been discussed in the government. "If more than 70 percent of the people that get seriously ill and more than 90 percent of the people that die are unvaccinated, we must focus on them. We must limit their movements so they would not get infected. We have locations that ask for COVID-19 certificates and where you can go with a test, we would lose the option of getting in with a test. You could only enter with vaccination certificates," Kallas said.
The prime minister said there are also solutions, which involve positive motivations. An example of this would be to support care homes, where the vaccination rate of workers and residents has exceeded 90 percent.
"We are also discussing if the Health Insurance Act allows for the recovery of medical expenses in certain cases. If vaccines have been made available to people, but they do not use them and fall ill, is it possible to recover the costs," Kallas said.
Show hosts Mirko Ojakivi and Arp Müller pointed out that many people do not follow the mask-wearing obligation. Kallas said things will also get stricter in that regard.
"I recently had a discussion with the director of the Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) on this topic. If we have rules and they are not followed, you get one warning, then another and then you get punished. People will not listen otherwise. /.../ The empathic approach does not work. The agreement (with PPA director Elmar Vaher) was that we will strengthen supervision. And move forward from there," the prime minister said.
The prime minister said she disagreed with comments made by veteran Social Democratic politician and academic Marju Lauristin, who recently told ERR that the government's vaccination plans had failed.
"If this were the result of government mistakes, we should see much better results than we do in Latvia, Lithuania and elsewhere in Eastern Europe," Kallas said.
"Lauristin's criticism is also opening the floodgates We have been taking a personal approach for a month, where people's fears are dealt with individually/.../ But then along come the Social Democrats; Marju Lauristin and Jevgeni Ossinovski specifically, to tell us what we are not doing now, but that we could be doing. "
Kallas added that the problem in Estonia is instead cynical political manipulators, who call on the public to not get vaccinated and to not follow restrictions.
"For example, the chairman of EKRE, Martin Helme, who declares that he will not submit to restrictions. And anti-vaxxers, who are even spreading misinformation in the Riigikogu's great hall," she went on.
Estonia differs in this respect from the Nordic countries, where opposition parties have given priority to human health during the pandemic, and have been as a result a supporting partner to the government, not an opponent, she said.
Reform under Kaja Kallas was in opposition when the coronavirus crisis began in March 2020, and was a frequent critic of the then-coalition's policies and procedures.
This article was updated to include Kaja Kallas comments on Marju Lauristin and SDE.
Editor: Kristjan Kallaste, Andrew Whyte