Two government orders were passed Thursday which make face-mask-wearing mandatory in public indoor places, remove the use of negative coronavirus test results as an acceptable form of coronavirus certification where checks are mandatory, and which require schoolchildren remain in quarantine when being identified as a close contact.
The new restrictions come into effect in two stages, on Monday, October 25 (vaccine certification regulations) and on Monday, November 1 (schools restrictions – next week is the half-term break) and will remain in force at least until January 10, 2022, at the time of writing.
Employers in general will conduct risk assessments on whether staff should continue to attend work in person, or switch to remote working.
Government: Delta strain more contagious than variants appearing earlier in the pandemic
The orders take into consideration data which shows the dominant coronavirus delta strain is significantly more contagious than variants found earlier in the pandemic, while covering the mouth and nose with something other than a protective mask will not help the spread of infection.
Scarves, shawls, shemaghs, balaclavas, bandanas, hats, coat collars, handkerchiefs and other items of clothing will not longer constitute protection against the spread of the coronavirus, following two government orders passed Thursday which tighten up the obligation to wear face-masks in public places, the monitoring of compliance with this rule, and the definition of what a face-mask is.
Coronavirus certification restrictions, in force from Monday, October 25
As announced by Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform) on Tuesday evening, only those who have certification of coronavirus vaccination, or of recovery from the coronavirus, may gain access to public events and businesses open to the public, on presenting their certification.
Proof of a negative test result of any kind will no longer be acceptable in gaining entry.
Public events and businesses comprise the following, as listed in the government order are:
- Entertainment businesses.
- Catering venues – restaurants, bars, cafes etc.
- Theaters, concert halls and cinemas.
- Sporting events and competitions (as spectator, competitor or staff).
- Gyms and other sports halls and training groups.
- Public swimming pools, spas, water parks and saunas.
- Public conferences.
- Museums and exhibitions.
- Employee in-work training sessions.
- Youth work.
- Indoor meetings.
- Outdoor meetings if restrictions apply.
Face-mask wearing is required even in the cases listed above.
Exemptions are made for refresher: In-service and further training undertaken by adults and related exams, whereby training which has already commenced and which is needed in order to obtain a certificate evidencing the earning of a qualification may be carried through to its conclusion. This exception is required, because in certain cases such a certificate is needed in order for a person to be able to do their job," the government stated in a press release Thursday.
Government: Unvaccinated present risk and so must have access to activities and events curtailed
The same statement added that: "Those who are unvaccinated will have their access to such activities and events restricted, since they both face and present a very high risk of infection: If an unvaccinated person contracts the virus, they are in danger of suffering a more acute case and ending up in hospital, and they are also more likely to spread the virus than those who have been immunized against it. Moreover, the pressure on hospitals is already at a critical level."
The government has mandated that face-masks be worn, and not ad hoc items of clothing etc., while exemptions must be backed up by a note provided by a medical professional.
Medical face-masks are strongly recommended by the government, including for vaccinated individuals and children age 12 and over, given their higher effectiveness in preventing viral transmission.
Sales and service areas can only be entered when wearing a mask, and those not wearing one must be barred access, while staff are responsible for monitoring that this is followed, and dispersal of customers or clients must be ensured.
The regulation remains in force in those places – such as theaters, cinemas and concerts – where coronavirus certification checks are conducted (see list above).
Schools and education quarantine and testing regulations, in force from November 1
The government also approved Thursday changes in quarantine and testing procedures in schools and with extra-curricular hobby education groups, as a way of curbing the viral spread.
The updated procedure applies to students at all general education and vocational schools who have not been vaccinated or have not recovered from a previous bout with the virus.
The procedure stipulates that in the event of being identified as a close contact at any type of school or extra-curricular group must be followed by immediate quarantine at home, and a PCR test no earlier than the fourth day after the contact. The PCR test must be performed at approved test sites.
A positive test result, i.e where a student has contracted the virus, and/or the appearance of coronavirus symptoms, means remaining at home until recovered.
A negative test result means the student can return to school and take part in extra-curricular activities, though those places where coronavirus certification is checked (see list above) is forbidden for 10 days after being identified as a close contact.
The order will enter into force after the school half-term break ends, on Monday, November 1.
Government: 600 hospitalized by mid-November if no additional restrictions in place
The orders' explanatory memoranda state that, without additional restrictions, the number of people in need of hospital treatment can be expected to rise to 500 by the end of October and to 600 by mid-November.
On Wednesday, the Health Board announced that the hospital and healthcare system was nearing disaster level, exacerbated by burnout among healthcare staff which has led to a reduction in the capacity for coronavirus ward beds from that available last year.
Both the PPA and the Health Board (Terviseamet) are to pay heightened attention to compliance with the new restrictions, in particular those on coronavirus vaccine certification checks, and will have the powers to both fine and close down businesses which flaunt the rules.
The Government Communication Office publishes orders and explanatory notes online here.
This article was updated to include information on which types of venues, events and businesses will be conducting mandatory vaccine certification checks, and the new quarantine and testing regime to be in place in schools.
Editor: Andrew Whyte