Minister of Health and Labor Tanel Kiik (Center) told ERR in an interview that he does not support PM Kaja Kallas' tougher coronavirus restrictions. The minister shed light on differences of opinion between Center and Reform when it comes to solving the coronavirus crisis but did not say whether he will resign should hospitals become overwhelmed.
Has the government discussed proposals the Center Party forwarded to the press this morning?
Indeed, the cabinet had a thorough discussion on improving the COVID-19 situation, with emphasis on promoting vaccination. We have discussed these proposals in the past and did talk about these very items in the cabinet.
What is the main point of contention? Is it true that the Reform Party is rather leaning toward restricting the movements and activities of unvaccinated people, while you want to motivate people to get vaccinated instead?
We share similar views in many aspects, including compliance with existing COVID-19 rules that obligate companies to ask people to produce Covid vaccination certificates and people to wear a mask in places where certificates are not required, such as shops, malls and public transport.
We also agree that we need to provide additional motivation and allocate resources for healthcare institutions in charge of vaccination. I'm set to meet with the board of the Health Insurance Fund to discuss this very topic today – potential financial steps and measures the fund can take, as well as those that require a government decision because sums are that much bigger.
Our proposals differ to some extent when it comes to supporting the elderly who go in to get vaccinated themselves, and we're discussing new rules for containing Covid or amending existing ones.
My position and that of the Center Party's government delegation is that we need to emphasize positive measures, support and motivation to protect the population and especially people in risk groups from this virus through vaccination.
Ensuring effective testing, self-isolation in the field of education to be able to detect outbreaks early, prevent them and through it ensure quality contact study for young people and children is also of crucial importance.
These are the places where we share common ground, ideas and goals. The most important debate concerns how to reach these goals, using which measures and steps.
Center's first proposal concerns offering people 60 or older €100 for completing the initial vaccination cycle or getting their booster dose. People read it and wonder whether those who completed the cycle in spring are also eligible for the money.
Indeed, according to our proposal, people who get a booster shot after completing their vaccination cycle, either six months after vaccination in the 65+ age group or eight months for others, qualify for support. We are debating whether it could be direct support or a benefit in some other field – that would be more customary in healthcare. We are in the middle of a crisis where we need to consider all kinds of unusual measures we wouldn't even be discussing under normal circumstances.
Is Tanel Kiik in favor of unvaccinated people – as suggested by the prime minister – not being able to go to the gym or restaurant even if they have a negative test result?
I'm in favor of actively checking COVID-19 certificates. The various forms of a Covid certificate are proof of vaccination, proof of having recovered or proof of having tested negative. In other words, it is a matter of compliance with existing rules, making sure people observe them, and responsible behavior, which is what most of us are exhibiting every day.
What about the Latvian option that the PM has hinted at on several occasions where people who have not completed their vaccination cycle have no business going to the cafe, gym, theater, the movies or anywhere public?
It is my position that access to important public services and daily activities needs to be ensured for all Estonian residents with as little risk of infection as possible, for which purpose we have, as I've mentioned, different Covid certificate types.
Of course, I still recommend every Estonian resident use the possibility to get vaccinated for free. It is the most sensible and sustainable way to protect one's own health, participate in public life and keep society open.
Coming to other proposals, PM Kallas has mentioned some sort of an expert committee. Journalists have been unable to decipher what she meant, nor did we receive an answer from the Government Office. Has the social ministry or the COVID-19 advisory council made proposals to complement those by politicians? Are documents from relevant organs doing the rounds?
Debates on how to solve this crisis have been doing the rounds for the past 18 months and longer still, including looking at what other EU member states and our neighbors have done, thoughts from private sector representatives, healthcare specialists.
We could sum it up as different alternatives that have been mapped out but for which there is no official scientific council recommendation nor have they been agreed on the cabinet level. We could say there has been an open debate to discuss and debate various alternatives and possibilities in this crisis, which is what society often expects.
The prime minister had some harsh words also for you on Thursday when she suggested Tanel Kiik would have to resign if hospitals become overwhelmed with coronavirus patients. Are you prepared to do that?
I'm working toward hospitals coping. This is where we can all contribute by behaving consciously, staying in upon exhibiting whatever kind of symptoms, getting vaccinated as soon as possible and helping our relatives, friends, colleagues and employees. This crisis is our common challenge. We will only overcome it by making efforts together. Instead of hoping a single minister will solve the pandemic for Estonia, Europe and the world.
Editor: Marcus Turovski