Government likely to make masks mandatory at entertainment venues
The mask obligation is likely to become tighter from Friday, which means that wearing a mask will be mandatory at entertainment venues where an urgent recommendation to wear one was previously in place. The Health Board added that the time when breaches of the mask obligation were merely met with a warning is now over.
The government will discuss a potential order, which is likely to be approved, on Thursday, which will make masks mandatory at entertainment venues.
Kalle Kitsing, deputy head of the crisis headquarters at the Health Board, said that in terms of supervision, the Health Board has thus far been hoping that businesses comprehend the severity of the coronavirus crisis and follow the established rules. However, he added, this has sadly not been the case and the government's orders have not been followed as expected.
"We are continuously in a crisis and all measures so far have been crucial to protect public health and the health of each individual. Consequently, the government announced a new order on October 25 whereby the mask obligation was enhanced. Thus, in public places that can be accessed by anyone, wearing a mask is mandatory," Kitsing said.
Pursuant to the new order, starting from Friday, October 29, wearing a mask becomes mandatory at venues where proof of vaccination or recovery is needed and where an urgent recommendation to wear a mask was in place thus far.
"We are talking about entertainment venues, such as theaters, cinemas and concerts. A mask must be worn even when the visitor has presented their vaccination certificate," Kitsing said.
Kitsing noted that the Health Board will no longer issue warnings for breaches of the requirements, instead, starting from the second half of this week, it will enhance its country-wide activities in cooperation with the police by conducting joint raids in Estonia's major cities.
With regard to businesses that have failed to check their customers' coronavirus certificates, proceedings are to be launched immediately, which may result in a precept or fine.
"The violation will be registered and we will do so in cooperation with the police, thus, we'll have more forces at our disposal," Kitsing said.
The measures have not been put in place out of a desire to punish people but instead out of an urgent need, according to the deputy head of the Health Board's crisis headquarters.
"The time is over for warnings," he underscored.
He said that when going to a public place, such as a store, people must have either a medical mask or a store-bought triple-layered mask.
"A mask must be worn in public places by everyone except people who have a health reason for not doing so, and they need to have a certificate proving their condition issued by a specialist," he said, adding that people without masks must carry the certificate with them, otherwise misdemeanor proceedings will be launched against them.
If a person claims to have forgotten to bring a mask to a public place, a precept will be issued to them and a fine may also be meted out to them. Should the person refuse to wear a mask, both measures will be taken against them, and if they refuse to leave the public space, they will be escorted out by force.
Health minister on schools: People should monitor different sources
The Ministry of Education and Research has set a goal of keeping schools open for as long as possible, but the situation must be taken into account in addition to the government's orders, Minister of Health and Labor Tanel Kiik (Center) said.
"There are some regions where it is reasonable to go on distance learning, I am wholly in support of that," the minister said. "It is correct to make these decisions in cooperation with the Health Board."
Kiik said people should follow different sources. One is what a ministry or the government states, another is what the local municipalities say. "That is unfortunately the reality now," the health minister said.
On Wednesday, Tallinn city government made a decision to send students in grades 4-8 in Tallinn municipal schools to distance learning for one week after the school break.
Minister: Resigning will not bring hospitalization number down
Kiik was asked at the press conference about his earlier pledge to take responsibility if hospitals can no longer cope with growing numbers of coronavirus patients.
Kiik said in his response that just like in the past, he still says today that it is his responsibility to ensure that hospital treatment capacity is guaranteed.
"The fact that this responsibility has been viewed as resignation - in my view, indeed, resignation will not alleviate the burden of hospitals in this case," Kiik said.
"If anyone has a different opinion, it is their right, but I don't see that if there are 600 people in hospitals in a week's time, my resignation would that number down to 300 at once. It is difficult to see this connection," Kiik added.
Up to 150,000 people need to be vaccinated to exit crisis
For Estonia to be able to exit the coronavirus crisis, up to 150,000 additional people must be vaccinated. "The situation has escalated rapidly, the number of hospitalized patients has grown twice as fast as we predicted some weeks ago," Kiik said.
The health minister said that people should work from home, not go to gatherings and parties, avoid any kind of travel and keep children away from their grandparents, if possible.
As of Wednesday, 786,526 people have been vaccinated with at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine, making up 59.1 percent of the population. A total of 1,446,525 doses have been administered, 25,443 of which have been booster doses.
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Editor: Kristjan Kallaste