Government approves bill giving Riigikogu boosted role in pandemic scenario

Stenbock House, seat of the Estonian government.
Stenbock House, seat of the Estonian government. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

The government has approved amendments to the main piece of legislation governing the state's powers in the case of a communicable disease. The amendments would ostensibly put the legislature on an equal footing with the executive, and amends legislation which had predated the Covid pandemic.

The act in question, the Communicable Diseases Prevention and Control Act, is often known by its Estonian acronym NETS.

Tanel Kiik (Center), health minister, said: "In the case of an epidemic, the state is under the obligation to ensure the protection of the lives and health of all people by making sure that the spread of the virus and mass infection of the people do not go out of control."

"It is also important for the society that there are transparent and clear rules agreed on for this purpose. If the amendments to the act are adopted, the government will have a clearer framework for action in the event of an epidemic in the future. This also means instructions on which measures may be imposed by the government and which must be approved by the sectoral committee of the Riigikogu," Kiik continued, according to a government office press release.

The NETS amendments, twinned with orders government orders, the main instrument by which Covid restrictions have been put in place since the virus arrived in Estonia nearly two years ago, are aimed at protecting public health by controlling the spread of any virus which causes a dangerous disease, the government says, as per section 28 of the Estonian constitution.

The development means that legislation passed by the Riigikogu, and executive order instigated by the government (government ministers do not sit in the Riigikogu – ed.), will both regulate measures in any future epidemic disease spread.

These measures would include mask-wearing, Covid certification and testing.

Those measures not listed in the amended act would first have to be put to the Riigikogu and the relevant Riigikogu committee.

The move also follows repeated calls for such regulation from the Chancellor of Justice, Ülle Madise, hastened by the realities of the Covid pandemic.

Pre-Covid, measures for controlling a communicable disease were always to be established by government order, largely on the grounds that such a situation would constitute a novel one.

Most government ministries were involved in drafting the amendment bill and its explanatory memorandum, along with the government office itself, and two state agencies - the Health Board (Terviseamet) and the Police and Border Guard Board (PPA).

Supposed over-reaching powers on the part of both of the latter authorities had been the subject of protests last year, and again this month.

University of Tartu lecturers in medicine were also consulted in drafting the amendments.

The amendments were approved at an extra-ordinary cabinet sitting Tuesday, and must now pass a Riigikogu vote.

The Supreme Court had also urged a greater role for the legislature within the framework of the NETS.

§ 28. of the constitution states that:  

Everyone is entitled to protection of his or her health.

 Every citizen of Estonia is entitled to government assistance in the case of old age, incapacity for work, loss of provider, or need. The categories and extent of the assistance, and the conditions and procedure for its allocation are provided by law. Unless otherwise provided by law, citizens of foreign states and stateless persons in Estonia enjoy this right equally with citizens of Estonia.

The national government facilitates voluntary provision of welfare services and provision of welfare services by local authorities.

Families with a large number of children as well as people with disabilities enjoy special care of the national government and of local authorities.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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