Center Party chairman and former prime minister Jüri Ratas said restrictions in schools and entertainment have to be implemented to limit the spread of the coronavirus, but they will come at a cost. There is only one deciding gauge for new restrictions and it is the sustainability of the healthcare system, Ratas said.
Over the last year and a half, the most effective restrictions in limiting the coronavirus have been restricting public gatherings and contacts. "These are difficult sentences, but contact can be limited in entertainment, which means the state will have to compensate for it, it is a tough blow for the economy. Another is education, which comes with a lot of negatives linked to a student's knowledge, education and mental health. But the restrictions work," Ratas said on ETV's interview show "Esimene stuudio" on Tuesday evening.
The Riigikogu speaker said new restrictions help limit the spread of COVID-19 to some degree, but their effectiveness will become clear in two weeks. "The message today is to work from home as much as possible and avoid contacts as much as possible," Ratas said.
The Center chairman said Minister of Culture Anneli Ott (Center) can continue in the position, but he did confirm that unvaccinated people cannot go to the theater until mid-January. "I think we should not get to the point in Estonia where people can only go to work if they arer vaccinated or have recovered [from the coronavirus]. I am not in support of that," Ratas said.
He said risk group people should be motivated to get vaccinated with money, but the government has not approved the idea. "I consider this correct, it helps increase the level of vaccinations," the Center chairman said, noting that the topic is a contentious one in the Reform-Center government coalition.
Ratas said closing scheduled treatments would be catastrophic for society. "In actuality, two concrete and strict rules have worked. They are to do with entertainment and education and both come at a high cost," the Riigikogu speaker said.
Responding to a question from show host Andres Kuusk about the point where the next steps toward closures will be taken, Ratas noted that the only gauge is the burden on hospitals. "We have one gauge today - how our healthcare system, our hospitals manage," he said.
Among the six proposals Center submitted to Reform about limiting the coronavirus and increasing vaccination rates was a vaccine damage fund, which according to Ratas, will provide reassurance for those that fear side effects. "If people are scared of getting the vaccine and there being complications, they can insure themselves against it," he said.
Current measure to motivate people to get vaccinated do not work, Ratas said. "We have reached a ceiling. To make the next step, we need different measures and we must communicate them clearly," he said.
Slamming a fist on the table would divide society, Ratas noted. "The role of politicians in a crisis such as this is to do everything for us not to have one protest in one corner of the room and another in another corner. Things can get much more serious from there, we do not need that."
Speaking to ERR about Latvia's upcoming lockdown on Tuesday afternoon, Ratas noted that an emergency situation in Estonia has not yet been discussed, but the possibility must be taken into account. "If our hospitals receive signals similar to those in Latvia, then all possibilities and measures must be used," he said.
On Tuesday evening, the government decided that proof of a negative coronavirus test result will no longer be sufficient to gain access to indoor public events from next Monday. 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).
Local elections a success for Center
Ratas said his party's result in Tartu at the local government elections last week was a failure, but Center can be happy with its results nationwide. Although the bar for Center in Tallinn is 40 seats of the 79-member city council (Center received 38 and must create a coalition - ed), the final result was great for the party.
"Narva - Katri Raik received a terrific result there, Center will have to make corrections to our result," the Center chairman said.
Ratas commented on the disappointing election results for Center ministers and said voters were professionals and voted for the politicians more present in local issues.
He said there is no rush to create a coalition in Tallinn, but the decision needs to be made and the ongoing week must bring some clarity in terms of a potential partner.
"A broad coalition is always a good coalition. If the coalition works, if the program is seen through. Center's platform has been strong, we have a clear vision for the next four years and further, whether it be connected to a green Tallinn, the Tallinn Hospital development. These are the messages we will take to negotiations," Ratas said.
Center won 45.2 percent of the votes and 38 seats of the 79-member city council in Tallinn. Reform won 15 council seats, EKRE won eight, Eesti 200 won seven seats, the Social Democratic Party won six and Isamaa five seats.
This is the first time in four election cycles that Center has not taken at least 40 seats, or the absolute majority and will now need to create a coalition to take power.
Commenting on the election results for other parties, the former prime minister said Eesti 200 made significant strides with their results and have shown to be a strong contender for the Riigikogu elections in 2023. Ratas said EKRE could not achieve their desired results last week.
Ratas received 3,032 votes running in the Mustamäe district in Tallinn, good for eighth-best nationwide. He was bested in the region by district elder Lauri Laats, who received a whopping 8,457 votes and was the second most popular candidate in Estonia behind Tallinn mayor Mihhail Kõlvart, who gained 27,663 votes. All three are members of the Center Party, which had five candidates (Yana Toom and Vladimir Svet) in the top eight of most popular candidates in Estonia.
See more on the 2021 local government elections here.
Editor: Kristjan Kallaste