Leadership of the two coalition partners, the Reform Party and the Center Party, say they have struck agreement on the lifting of Covid restrictions, with the requirement to present vaccination certification to be lifted from February 21, pending sufficiently low daily hospitalization cases, and the 11 p.m. curfew on entertainment venues likely to be lifted, though no date for this has been given.
Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform) said Wednesday evening that if fewer than 25 people are being hospitalized per day due to symptomatic Covid as of February 17, then coronavirus certification can be scrapped from four days after that date.
The figure represents a compromise between Reform and the Center Party; the latter had been pushing for dropping the certification from mid-month, while Reform had been more cautious.
Writing on his social media account Wednesday night, Center leader Jüri Ratas said that the move was: "A welcome message to a large part of the people and companies in Estonia, and a significant step that makes it clear that the restrictions were not put in place permanently. This is not only necessary for schoolchildren and their parents, but for everyone whose lives and health, including their mental health, have been affected by this very difficult time."
The prime minister herself said that: "We wanted to make science-based decisions because we're still talking about the lives of people who will be affected and we can't reverse those decisions.
"If things go wrong, we can't go back and say we shouldn't have done it. The compromise is tied to that criterion," Kallas said, referring to the 25 or fewer daily hospitalizations.
Kallas noted that sorting out the issue, which was threatening to split the coalition, was necessary to be able to focus on other pressing matters, namely the energy price crisis and the security situation in the region.
She said: "We still need to get this ripping over political points under control, because in the turbulent times of the three crises we are facing, we need peaceful, firm and evidence-based governance."
The pace of vaccination has slowed down, but as restrictions ease, it must be borne in mind that vaccination and booster doses will prevent serious illness, Kallas noted.
Ratas, too, stressed the importance of acting responsibly and protecting public health, while at the same time saying his party would be in favor of a fast-tracked lifting of restrictions, if the epidemiological picture permitted it.
Of concrete restrictions which will remain or be axed, Kallas said that the face-mask wearing obligation in public indoor places should remain given experts say it helps curb the viral spread, adding that the 11.00 p.m. curfew on entertainment venues will be removed.
Kallas also said that it was easy to be in opposition, as politicians and the public in that case have an easier ride in picking holes in the government's Covid policy.
"It seems to me that everyone wants to be on the side of the opposition, because it is a comfortable position to be in right now," she said.
The situation with schoolchildren remains as it had been as of the weekend, in other words, quarantine in the event of being a close contact at school ends from Monday, while the certification requirement ends a week later.
Ratas said that this and the national epidemiological picture together suggest the easing of the certification and other restrictions, and that his party had been seeking clear and concrete messages on that, to ease tensions with the coalition partner.
The prime minister also said that looking at the situation in neighboring countries was necessary.
While the headlines have been saying that restrictions are being lifted in Finland, in that country, this means, for instance, the public can attend spas or swimming pools, whereas this was the case all along in Estonia (with certification – ed.).
While Denmark has lifted all its restrictions, that country has a higher level of vaccination, particularly among the elderly, she noted.
According to the English-language portal of public broadcaster LRT, Lithuania will lift its coronavirus certification requirement on Saturday.
Kallas said that the main sticking point between Reform and Center had been over the date of the abolition of the Covid passport, while there was agreement on most other things, including the situation with minors.
The government's coronavirus advisory body – the scientific council – as well as the Health Board (Terviseamet) and doctors as a whole are urging caution about lifting restrictions amid high rates of spread of the Omicron variant in particular. Daily figures of new Covid cases breached the 7,000-mark at the weekend and again on Wednesday, though hospitalizations have fallen below 300 since mid-January.
Editor: Andrew Whyte