Urmet Kook: Let us abolish Covid certificates and mask obligation

Urmet Kook.
Urmet Kook. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

Let us reduce social stress in the currently fraught security situation and abolish coronavirus certificates and the mask-wearing obligation, focus vaccination efforts on the elderly and other risk groups, journalist Urmet Kook writes.

33, 108, 107, 68, 97, 113, 42. These are Estonia's daily vaccination figures for the week (last week – ed.). A total of 568 weekly vaccination, 81 as the daily average.

A member of the COVID-19 Scientific Advisory Council recently suggested that the press should not be publishing these modest figures as they supposedly manufacture reluctance to get vaccinated. Unfortunately, that is just so much wishful thinking.

What is more, I haven't noticed any great journalistic effort to emphasize these figures over the last month. The results are unchanged – so few people are getting vaccinated today that all their names could be published in the paper, jokingly speaking. Whereas they likely include children who get the shot so they could go traveling, not because of any great need for it.

The recent Omicron coronavirus wave that cares little for prior immunity is washing over both vaccinated and unvaccinated people, including those who have gotten two or three jabs. This means that Estonia's reason for continued use of Covid certificates is on shaky grounds.

"We cannot abolish them because people will not go in to get vaccinated if we do," a high-ranking government politician admitted earlier in the year. But it is clear they are not getting the shot either way. It is not a good reason for sticking with Covid passports.

Life has also changed quite a lot in the last two months. Several Tallinn cafes that were still diligent about monitoring compliance with Covid certificate and mask restrictions in January no longer notice customers not wearing one. Establishments also fail to check the certificates or identification of repeat patrons. Half of moviegoers are not wearing a mask, while almost everyone takes it off as the movie starts.

At the same time, we find ourselves in a major security crisis that also manifests in Estonian residents' heightened perception of danger, anxiety and broader uncertainty for the future. A society that is broken on the inside is not a good recipe in such a situation. Let us take down one source of domestic tension in the form of Covid passports, more so as maintaining it no longer has any notable positive effect for the healthcare system in a situation where both vaccinated and unvaccinated people contract Omicron.

Yes, hospitals are treating a lot of people today, but looking into the daily figures, more than half are not in because of Covid. They have other medical problems and have also been diagnosed with the coronavirus prior to or after being admitted.

True, they also have to be isolated, but their treatment differs from what is needed for people with severe Covid who are having trouble breathing. It requires fewer hospital resources, as pointed out by head of the previous COVID-19 council, professor Irja Lutsar.

Another well-known argument is that vaccinated people are less likely to need hospitalization with Covid. And it is true. However, the Health Board's recent epidemic overview also points out that the average age of people hospitalized is 72. Let us focus the vaccination effort keenly on the elderly and other risk groups. For them, vaccination is still essential.

Let us have a positive campaign. Let us not threaten to cut people off from night clubs or gyms because these are not places the elderly frequent. We should have a campaign that offers the elderly benefits, even just cash. If politicians are not ashamed to deploy "cash in hand now" tactics during elections, why should they now? It would also be cheaper for the state than paying for days spent in intensive care.

Protective masks could also be made strictly voluntary. And please do no mistake me for a mask denier. I have diligently worn one even in situations where it is completely pointless; for example, well-ventilated shopping centers. And I will continue to wear one in tight crowded spaces, such as when taking public transport. But coercion could be replaced with voluntariness.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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