Entertainment events must end no later than 11 p.m. under a new round of coronavirus restrictions the government announced Thursday. Schoolchildren over the age of 12 will have to present coronavirus certification to attend public events, while mask-wearing is being made mandatory at events which conduct coronavirus certification checks, even for individuals who have been vaccinated.
The new regulations come into effect Monday, November 1, with the exception of the mask-wearing restrictions, which are in place from Friday, October 29.
From November 1, a restriction on movement in public indoor areas will be introduced from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. The restriction does not apply to the opening hours of the service area of stores and service providers, as well as to the purchase of food for takeaway from catering establishments, nor does it apply to outdoor areas.
The Health Board (Terviseamet) said Wednesday that adherence to the mask-wearing requirement in particular will be enforced more robustly than had been the case, with penalties, including fines for both businesses and individuals, being issued in conjunction with the Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) in situations which up to know might have resulted in being let off with a warning.
Staff performing certification checks will also be required to verify individuals' IDs more thoroughly than they have been, under the new regulations.
Public events and entertainment events in the government's understanding cover a broad range of activities, which are set out here, though they would include restaurants, bars, cafes, nightclubs, casinos etc. Masks must also be worn when visiting spas, water parks and shared premises of swimming pools. Wearing a mask is not required upon contact with water.
The government has also issued guidelines aimed at avoiding all major events relating to the public sector which are not absolutely necessary, until January 10.
90 percent vaccination coverage in state and public sector bodies has also been set out as a goal, while this must include local government and its agencies, as well as the national government.
Mask-wearing mandatory for all at public events
Speaking at the regular government press conference Thursday, Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform) said of the tightened-up mask-wearing rule that: "I know it's uncomfortable and many people don't like it, but this has been a major plea from healthcare professionals; the virus spreads less when masks are worn."
Masks do not have to be worn where this would not be viable, for example when swimming or otherwise directly exercising and in contact with water, as well as when eating and drinking in a restaurant, BNS reports.
Otherwise, masks must be worn indoors by adults when engaging in the following activities or at the following venues:
- In public spaces used for sports, training, competitive sports and and exercise events, as well as at saunas, spas, swimming pools and water parks;
- At entertainment venues of all kinds;
- In the public areas of catering establishments of all kinds;
- At theaters, concerts and in cinemas;
- At conferences;
- When engaging in hobby activities and education;
- At museums and exhibitions;
- When undergoing refresher training;
- At indoor public meetings and other events.
If wearing a mask is contraindicated for health reasons, the person must confirm this with a corresponding medical certificate.
Due to the aerosol spread of the coronavirus delta strain, it is strongly recommended to wear medical masks or their equivalent.
Employees are exempted from the obligation to wear a mask if the employer has provided for the prevention of the spread of the coronavirus in another way in the risk analysis of a specific work environment.
From Monday, children aged 12+ have to present Covid certification to attend entertainment events
From Monday, November 1, when schools return from the half-term break, young people aged 12 and over must present a coronavirus certificate at the same events which conduct coronavirus checks on adults, with the exception that negative test results are also permissible.
The rationale for this exception – at the start of this week, proof of negative test results ceased to be a valid form of certification for adults to use when entering public events – Kallas said, is that younger people have not been getting vaccinated for as long as adults.
The test must be performed either at medical center or an approved pharmacy, which can issue certification.
For minors, and not adults, proof of a negative result to a coronavirus PCR or antigen-RT test is also valid for access to events and activities.
This PCR test must be performed no more than 72 hours and the antigen-RT test no more than 48 hours before the event and the test must be performed by a healthcare provider. In addition, the result of a rapid antigen test performed in a general pharmacy is also accepted.
In addition to the vaccination or recovery certificate, a test certificate will also be valid for minors, as they gained access to vaccination significantly later than adults.
The prime minister reiterated on Thursday earlier statements that curbing the movement of unvaccinated people is needed to slow down the viral spread.
"Unvaccinated people make up the largest share of [hospital treatment], more than 90 percent of people in intensive care due to covid are unvaccinated. This means it is necessary to restrict the movement of these people, so that they do not get sick and end up in hospital," Kallas said at Thursday's press conference.
Minors will not be required to submit a coronavirus certificate in hobby education and activities, youth work, refresher training and education, or in sports and training. In all these areas, children and young people are subject to the same testing, close contact and self-isolation procedures as in school life.
Children at least 12 years old must from November 1 present a coronavirus certificate to gain entry into any theater, concert or cinema; to entertainment services, museums and exhibitions, catering facilities for eating and drinking on site, and also to saunas, spas, water parks and similar.
Only proof of vaccination against covid or recovery from it within the past six months will be acceptable for those aged 18 and over, as has already been the case since the start of this week.
Education minister: Testing to be rolled-out in schools Monday
In order to break the chains of coronavirus infection in the school environment as soon as possible, the government also supported the proposal of the Minister of Education and Research Liina Kersna (Reform) to introduce weekly monitoring testing in general education and vocational schools.
Since monitoring testing is not part of the regulation of restrictions, it is not regulated at the level of government order, BNS reports.
Appearing at Thursday's press conference, Kersna said that close to 50 percent of 12-15-year-olds have been vaccinated with at least one dose, though 16-18-year-olds have the highest number of infections.
Kersna had already said that rapid testing in schools would be introduced, for instance for unvaccinated teachers and students, and for close contacts; this is to be rolled out Monday, with the return from the holiday.
She said: "I apologize in advance; it will certainly be confusing at the beginning of the testing period. We ask anyone who has any questions to call the Ministry of Education and Research, and we will try to answer as best we can."
Those school children and teaching staff identified as close contacts will have to take a PCR test as soon as possible, and quarantine at home while awaiting the results, Kersna said – a time-span of a minimum of two days.
In the case of an entire class under age 12 having to quarantine, the school must provide remote learning, she added.
Other than that, no return to remote learning is being implemented – a statement Kersna had made Wednesday evening, while the half-term holiday will not be extended a week, again a move which had been proposed and discussed at cabinet level.
Entertainment events must end at or by 11 p.m.
The 11 p.m. closing time for entertainment events comes in response to greater risk of coronavirus spread when alcohol is involved, the government says.
"All entertainment events must end at 11 p.m. from the start of the new week, as the chance of the virus spreading is greater during evening events when alcohol is on sale," Kallas said.
Nightclubs and clubs, bars and other entertainment and leisure establishments will be mainly affected by the operating time restrictions.
A restriction on movement between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. will be put in place in indoor public premises, meaning they are closed.
Cinemas, theaters and concert halls, museums and exhibition halls must also close their doors.
Sports and leisure venues must also be closed by 11 p.m.
The restriction also applies to water parks, spas, public saunas, swimming pools and similar.
Sports competitions and events must also end, i.e. spectators and others must have left in addition to the competitors finishing their game, by 11 p.m.
Vaccine certification checkers must verify IDs from November 1
In an effort to crack down on certification fraud, from now on, the government says, staff at events or businesses conducting vaccine certification checks will be required to check IDs as well, to ensure that the documentation presented belongs to the person presenting it.
From Monday, November 1, in order to participate in checked events and activities, an identity document must be presented together with the COVID-19 certificate. This means that the organizer will also have to establish the identity of the certificate holder when verifying the COVID-19 certificate. Until now, visitors had to be asked for an identity document only in case of reasonable doubt.
Health Board: Businesses have not comprehended importance of compliance
Kalle Kitsing, deputy head of the crisis headquarters at the Health Board (Terviseamet), had said Wednesday that in terms of supervision, his organization has thus far been hoping that businesses comprehend the severity of the coronavirus crisis and follow the established rules; however, this has sadly not been the case and the government's orders have not been followed as expected.
He said: "We are continuously in a crisis and all measures so far have been crucial for protecting 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."
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 already in place thus far.
"We're talking about entertainment, such as theaters, cinemas and concerts. A mask must be worn even when the visitor has presented their vaccination certificate," Kitsing went on.
Health Board to crackdown in conjunction with PPA, no more warnings given
Kitsing noted that the Health Board will no longer issue warnings for breaches of requirements, but instead, starting from the second half of this week, it will enhance its country-wide activities in cooperation with the PPA by conducting what he called joint raids in Estonia's major cities.
"The time is over for warnings," Kitsing stressed.
"The focus will be on the businesses and members of the public who ignore the rules, and these will be penalized," he added.
Kitsing 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 doctor," he said, adding that people without masks must carry vaccine certification with them, otherwise misdemeanor proceedings will likely follow.
Board: Individuals may be fined
If a person claims to have forgotten to bring a mask to a public place, they will be issued a precept and may be fined, with refusal to comply at that stage likely to result in being escorted from the premises.
With regard to businesses that have failed to check their customers' coronavirus certificates, proceedings are to be launched immediately, and may also result in a precept or fine, he said.
"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 penalize businesses or the public, but instead out of an urgent need, the board says.
The government's communications office is to publish the order of Thursday's decisions and an explanatory memorandum on its website .
This article was updated to include statements by Health Board crisis headquarters deputy head Kalle Kitsing, and further details on restrictions concerning masks, ID checks, rapid testing, coronavirus certification and the 11 p.m. closing time.
Editor: Andrew Whyte