Protesters gathered to demonstrate against new coronavirus restrictions in Tallinn on Saturday, as the Health Board reported the highest number of new cases since the spring peak in March.
The four-hour protest took place on Freedom Square and was led by Varro Vooglaid, the head of the Foundation for the Protection of the Family and Tradition (SAPTK).
Thousands of people attended despite the bad weather and newspaper Postimees reported people traveled from Pärnu, Võru and Saare counties to attend. Photographs showed lines of buses parked behind Freedom Square.
At the beginning of the rally, Vooglaid said people had not gathered to protest vaccination but rather for the freedom to choose the right to vaccinate.
He said the protesters want the government to stop "compulsory vaccination" against coronavirus, the vaccination of children and the division of society with vaccination certificates. According to him, an apartheid regime has been established in Estonia.
Vooglaid said the restrictions imposed by the government are not constitutional and called for civil disobedience.
Vooglaid also collected money as part of the demonstration. He said this will help cover the organizational costs of the demonstration.
The rally was opened by well-known singer Tõnis Mägi. Members of EKRE, including MEP Jaak Madison, chairman Martin Helme and deputy chairman Mart Helme, and its youth wing Sinine Äratus (Blue Awakening) could be seen in the crowd. Members of the Soldiers of Odin group were also present.
Protestors held placards that read "No to dictatorship", "We demand freedom of vaccination", "Stop Kaja Kallas", "How many vaccine deaths is OK?", "God save Estonia", among others.
Additionally, an ambulance was called in the middle of the protest because an older woman collapsed.
Restaurant workers harrassed
During the rally, the Pizza Americana restaurant on Freedom Square was forced to close after protestors harassed staff members who asked for vaccination certificates.
"Our employees are not responsible for what is happening in the country, but are doing their job and do not deserve the kind of terror they have suffered today," the company wrote on Facebook.
In response, an initiative was launched to support both the restaurant and hospital workers.
A Facebook group called "Uhhuude ja Külahullude Entsüklopeedia" raised money to send pizza to medical workers at West Tallinn Central Hospital, Postimees' Sobranna portal reported.
Within two hours, €500 has been raised.
Writing on Facebook, head of the hospital Arkadi Popov thanked the organizers and participants. He said 40 pizzas had been delivered.
By the end of Saturday, more than €2,000 has been raised. More food will be sent to other hospitals, including in Tartu, on Sunday.
Gambrinus Beer Shop in Tartu and Georgia Tavern Tbilisi in Tallinn's Old Town have also started collecting tea, coffee and chocolate for medics, newspaper Õhtulet reported.
Minister of Interior Kristian Jaani (Center) showed his support for vaccination on Saturday by tweeting pictures of electronic billboards at the protest calling on people to trust science.
The billboards showed messages from news portals Delfi and Eesti Päevaleht.
The first said "trust scientists" and the second called for people to get their information from reliable sources.
Jaani congratulated the outlets by saying "hats off" to them
Coronavirus in Estonia
On Saturday, Estonia's 14-day coronavirus infection rate is 1,238.17 per 100,000 - one of the highest in Europe.
During the past 24 hours, 1,643 new cases were recorded - a number equivalent to the spring peak in March.
There are 453 people being treated in hospitals for COVID-19 and the majority are unvaccinated. The healthcare system has the staffing capacity to treat approximately 600 coronavirus patients. It is thought this level will be hit by the start of November.
So far, 55.4 percent of the Estonian population - including children - have been vaccinated. Among adults, the rate is 68 percent.
Estonia does not have many restrictions in place and it is not mandatory to wear a mask.
Coronavirus certificates should be shown to enter restaurants, cafes, gyms and cultural and leisure facilities. These certificates can be proof of vaccination, recovery or of a recent negative coronavirus test.
From Monday (October 25), it will no longer be possible to use a negative COVID-19 test to enter places. The obligation to wear masks will be enforced.
See the new rules here.
How can the spread of coronavirus be stopped?
- Keep your distance in public places.
- Wear a mask in crowded places.
- Wash your hands frequently with soap and warm water.
- Cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze or cough.
- If you develop symptoms stay at home and contact a family doctor.
- You can also get vaccinated against coronavirus.
Editor's note: This article was updated to add information about the situation at Pizza Americana and Estonia's coronavirus restrictions.
Editor: Helen Wright