Proof of a negative coronavirus test result will no longer be sufficient to gain access to indoor public events from Monday, the prime minister announced Tuesday afternoon. The rule is part of new coronavirus restrictions being introduced amid soaring rates and hospitalizations.
The face-mask requirement will be made stricter, while access to entertainment, cultural events and at catering businesses will be confined, so far as adults go, to vaccinated people, from Monday (October 25).
Hospitals are also to start receiving state support in dealing with crisis, while support will also be provided to family medical centers and local governments to reinvigorate and speed up the vaccination drive.
Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform) said: "From Monday, in all those places that had previously been accessible on the basis of a coronavirus certificate, until at least January 10 , you will no longer be able to do so with a negative test result, but only via a certificate of vaccination or of recovery from the virus."
The Health Board (Terviseamet) is to have the authority to close down those establishments which fail to follow the restrictions, BNS reports.
"We have a problem with our hospitals network," Kallas added.
"More and more people are ending up in hospital," she continued, adding that most of those who require hospital treatment had not been vaccinated.
To speed up vaccination rates, the state will pay those administering vaccinations more, and will also instigate measures aimed at motivating both family doctors and local governments to improve vaccination coverage.
This "motivation package" will cost the state around €5 million, BNS reports.
The new measures are in effect from Monday, October 25, and as things stand will run beyond the new year, to January 10, 2022.
Additionally, those places where coronavirus certification checks are a requirement, the public is strongly advised to wear a face-mask, by which the government means medical face-masks, BNS reports.
The organization of testing is also to change in schools and at extra-curricular hobby education providers, education minister Liina Kersna (Reform) said earlier on Tuesday.
All pupils and students who have come into close contact with a coronavirus carrier must stay at home until they have undergone PCR testing and the result is negative.
The main association representing merchants also announced Monday that stores will begin to demand mask-wearing from customers from Monday, while common features at malls such salespersons or food and drink sampling will be suspended.
Over 400 people are currently hospitalized in Estonia due to COVID-19, while 1,102 new cases were identified in the past 24 hours, and six deaths relating to the virus were reported.
"The epidemiological situation in Estonia is deeply critical and all Estonian hospitals have now had to reduce their planned treatment to save lives," Kallas added on Tuesday afternoon.
Sports, education, cinemas, theaters, public meetings and events all covered by new restriction
The restriction on coronavirus certification relates to: Sports, training, youth work, recreational activities, hobby education, refresher training and continuing education as well as sports competitions, sports and exercise events, public saunas, spas, pools, water centers, public meetings and events, conferences, theaters, concerts, cinemas, museums, exhibition venues, provision of entertainment and catering establishments.
Support measures to cost government around €11.5 million
The government supports a proposal to increase the additional charge paid to hospitals per one COVID-19 patient's bed place for one day by 75 percent. The measure will be in force from October until the end of December.
The support to hospitals will cost the state €11.79 million and it is planned to come out of the Health Insurance Fund's reserve capital, which needs to be restored next year.
The government will allocate five million euros to the special-purpose reserve for the payment of bonuses to family medical centers for achieving a higher vaccination coverage among the 60+ age group. The Ministry of Social Affairs will develop more detailed criteria for the support in cooperation with the Health Insurance Fund and the Family Physicians Association.
The government also supports a proposal to pay a supplementary bonus to family medicine centers at a rate of €5.30 per vaccination in one roster for up to 120 vaccinations per week with the bonus doubling per each shot to €10.60 starting from the 121st injection. An analogous supplementary bonus is to be paid also to school nurses. The measure will be valid until November 30, 2021. The estimated cost of the support is €415,000 and it is planned to be covered from the budget of the Health Insurance Fund.
Local governments that increase the vaccination coverage among their local residents by 10 percent or more compared with October 1 will be supported to the amount of €5 per vaccinated person. With the second level of support, local governments will be paid five more euros per each vaccinated resident when full vaccination has been reached among at least 80 percent of the local adult population.
The measure will run until the end of the year and the planned cost is estimated at €11.5 million.
The government is planning to approve the relevant, updated COVID-19 regulation shortly, BNS reports.
Estonia's southern neighbor, Latvia, will be on lockdown from Thursday.
This article was updated to include information on the types of events covered by the new restrictions, and of support measures to the healthcare sector in encouraging vaccinations and in supporting hospitals.
Editor: Andrew Whyte