Prime minister: Remote learning effects cannot be compensated for in cash

Prime Minister Kaja Kallas at a previous government press conference.
Prime Minister Kaja Kallas at a previous government press conference. Source: Government Office.

Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform) told ERR on Tuesday that taking schools to remote learning is still the last considerable option since remote learning affects children devastatingly and the damages can only be seen in a few years and cannot be paid for with money.

Kallas said on Vikerraadio's monthly prime ministerial interview show "Stuudios on peaminister" that the issue with the coronavirus currently is that even vaccinated close contacts get infected with the virus, but establishing an additional quarantine requirement for those people is complicated.

The prime minister said the people are turning to court against the state often and legality of restrictions must be considered before imposing them. "All these decisions must be very justified. In a situation where our infection rates are dropping, even the Health Board said we do not need additional restrictions. If our infection rates are dropping and we implement such restrictions, I fear they will not hold up in court," Kallas said.

"If there is a high rate of infection, then these vaccinated people will also carry the disease and the main source of infections is at home," the prime minister added.

She said it is difficult to impose a quarantine requirement on vaccinated close contacts, since close contacts must first be defined - whether they are the entire household, the family or another categorization. "How the Health Board can identify the people, if we currently know that we have a problem with the Health Board calling these people three days later if they have been deemed close contacts," Kallas said.

Remote learning to remain a critical option

Tallinn has sent municipal school students in grades 4-8 to remote learning, extending the period by another two weeks from Tuesday. Kallas said the decision to send students on remote learning must take into account that it can have devastating effects on children. "That is what the [government's] scientific council has also said - children should be sent to remote learning only as the last option," the prime minister said.

Regular rapid testing has gotten off to a fine start, but there is an issue with schools and counties not testing enough. This has happened in Ida-Viru County, where the vaccination rate is also low.

Imposing mandatory testing, however, is complicated. "A positive aspect is that most schools are rather understanding of this and feedback has also been positive. It has gone better than expected," Kallas said.

"If a company is closed and people want compensation, that is money. If children stay home, we only see those damages in a few years and will not be able to compensate it with money. It is very important that children can go to school," the prime minister said.

Current restrictions do not require supplemental benefits

Auditor General Janar Holm wrote in his annual report on Monday that the government needs to rethink aspects of the crisis management system so it can better respond to unexpected crises in the future. Kallas said she was the one to call for the report and that it is certainly more specific in hindsight.

"For us to be able to make better decisions and act better, it would be best if the Auditor General was behind the table to share his opinion. The justice chancellor (Ülle Madise - ed), for example, is very active in these discussions, she immediately points out if something is unconstitutional. That cooperation works well," Kallas said.

The prime minister noted that the closing time restrictions on entertainment venues did not come with a supplemental benefits package, since everyone plays their part in the crisis. Kallas noted that the opening times of most restaurants are not too restricted, since people rarely go out to after 11 p.m.

Vaccination rewards are off the table

Experts have said that that the coronavirus recovery certificate, currently valid for six months, should be harmonized with vaccination certificates and be made valid for a year. The prime minister said the immunoprophylaxis expert committee has not given the government such a recommendation yet.

"One problem with it has been what the health minister (Tanel Kiik - ed) has pointed out. If we have agreed in Europe that recovery certificates last for six months and you must get vaccinated to enter most countries, then if we agree domestically that recovery certificates are harmonized, people will have issues," Kallas said.

This would also not be a positive signal for vaccinations, Kallas said. "If our infection spread is at a high level and we need to increase vaccination rates, which will help us avoid serious illness, it can also give out a negative signal," she said.

Paying people to get vaccinated is off the government's table, since the measure is not reasonable. "Vaccination is a moral obligation and paying for it is not correct," Kallas said.

She added that the measure could also have negative effects in the future as people might await compensation for further vaccination initiatives.


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Editor: Kristjan Kallaste

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