Several bars and restaurants in Estonia have announced they will no longer be complying with Covid restrictions, claiming that the regulations are now redundant and are harming the sector.
Owners of venues, nine in central Tallinn along with one in Tartu and one in Narva, have signed a statement to the effect that from next week they will no longer follow the restrictions, in place since last November.
The signatories say the current curfew, which requires venues to close at 11 p.m., as well as the capacity limitation and the continued requirement for proof of Covid certification for nightclubs, bars and restaurants is no longer justified.
From Friday, March 11, the businesses will no longer be following the measures, while the signatories call on other venues to follow suit.
The statement added that: "We hope the government will come to terms with this appeal and announce, proactively, at its press conference on March 10, that Estonia will abandon its Covid restrictions.
The government holds a regular press conference Thursday lunchtime, preceded by a cabinet meeting.
The authors of the announcement have also stated that, in looking at the situation regarding Covid restrictions elsewhere in Europe, where many countries have abolished them, along with statistical indicators in Estonia, it is time to put pressure on the government to follow the example of those countries, in order to keep the Estonian entertainment sector afloat.
"Entertainment plays an important role in people's mental health, and the entertainment and catering sector offers jobs to thousands of Estonians," the statement adds.
The venues joining the statement as signatories are include:Rrestaurants Korsaar, Grand Shisha, Oasis and Vegan inspiratsioon, nightclub 9/11 and bars Kolma Koht, Baila, and Koht (all in Tallinn), along with the Naiiv nightclub (Tartu) and the Geneva nightclub (Narva).
Current Covid restrictions require Covid certification of vaccination or recovery from the virus to be shown in order to enter and gain service at venues – the certificates must be checked against the user's ID – and that entertainment establishments close between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m.
These rules have been in place since November 1 2021.
Daily confirmed Covid cases have been falling since the last peak in mid-February, though daily hospitalizations remain well above the 25 benchmark which the government said earlier in the year would need to be met in order to ease restrictions.
Health minister: Restrictions apply equally to all
Minister of Health and Labor Tanel Kiik told ERR that for as long as the current regulations are in force, all must obey them."
Kiik said: "We can't create a situation where every person or business decides what legislation is right for them and what is not.
"The case would be the same if everyone driving in traffic decided what speed they would travel at and whether they would drive soberly, or after drinking alcohol," he added.
"That is no viable way to resolve any crisis, and I very much hope that these businesspeople will think calmly and abandon this unilateral action," Kiik went on.
Kiik added that the Health Board (Terviseamet) continues to monitor the implementation of the restrictions.
He said: "There have been situations in the past where both the health board and the police have had to intervene. In the current crisis, we are trying to negotiate reasonably with businesses in the first instance, because there is even more work to be done in both the health and internal security fields. I hope we do not have to start use this resource to check individual irresponsible businesses."
Kiik added that the spread of the virus was fortunately in decline. The workload at hospitals is still high, but it has also shown a downward trend, he added.
The situation with Ukraine has also meant that Covid restrictions have had to take a back seat in recent days, Kiik said, adding that this would change soon.
"The government will certainly carry out further easing of restrictions. Both this week and last week, much of the government's time was spent in support of Ukraine. We will hopefully be able to discuss Covid-19 again in the coming weeks," further putting the time-frame for changes along those lines as by the end of this month.
This article was updated to include comments by Tanel Kiik.
Editor: Andrew Whyte