Former Covid scientific council chief Irja Lutsar rules out ministerial job

Irja Lutsar.
Irja Lutsar. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

Professor Irja Lutsar, the virologist who headed up the government's coronavirus advisory council during much of the pandemic, becoming a highly visible figure in the process, has ruled out being Estonia's next health minister.

Lutsar ran for Eesti 200, winning a seat after netting 3,523 votes in the Jõgeva and Tartu counties district.

Appearing on ERR webcast show "Otse uudistemajast" Wednesday, Lutsar said that she "probably wouldn't accept the offer," of health minister, if presented with it, citing her age and the fact that there were other people in Eesti 200 who could handle the post more effectively, she said.

Lutsar did not rule out sitting on the Riigikogu's Social Affairs Committee and making a contribution there, however.

As to why she opted to enter into politics ahead of the recent Riigikogu elections, Lutsar said that after seeing shortcomings in the Covid crisis in both the health sector and other areas, she felt called to contribute to improving these, choosing Eesti 200 as the party closest to her own worldview.

"I am right-wing in my views," Lutsar said, likely referring primarily to the economic sphere, but added that not everyone in society is successful or desires to be so, and opposed what she called a "wolf society".

Those countries and societies that are more equitable managed better during the Covid pandemic, she said.

She also said that her time in the limelight during the pandemic, when she was subject to much scrutiny, had helped her become more inured to criticism, and therefore more suited to politics than she would have been before, adding that this period had acted as a type of "vaccination" of its own.

It also helped in gaining a better appreciation of different viewpoints and the need to sometimes balance these.

In any case, the scientific council, the official name of the Covid advisory body, no longer has the same function and importance than it had 2020-2022, she added, something which also reflects greater knowledge we now have about Covid. The World Health Organization (WHO) has not officially declared the pandemic over yet, she added, but may do so soon.

"The coronavirus will remain, but it is certainly no longer an unforeseen disease," she said, adding the last viral outbreak of that scale had been over 100 years ago, with the Spanish influenza, while the last pandemic of any size was a decade ago.

One lesson which could be learned from the pandemic as it affected Estonia, Lutsar added, was the Communicable Diseases Prevention and Control Act (NETS), which, she said, had a lot of ambiguity in its current version, meaning it could complicate any potential future pandemic situation.

Eesti 200 are in negotiation with Reform and the Social Democrats (SDE) and as for concrete health issues the coalition, should it enter into office, should address include regional differences in healthcare quality, availability, young doctor residence and specialization, and the need to oversee proper medical coverage in more outlying areas, as is the case in Norway, vastly larger in area, and not just in the "golden triangle" surrounding Tallinn.

Other strong healthcare professionals may be entering the XV Riigikogu, she added, naming Karmen Joller (Reform), Mario Kadastik (Reform) and Eero Merilind (also Reform) as among these.

Lutsar also spoke in favor of having a central Tallinn Hospital, a project which the Center Party had proposed, but which has since been swept off the table.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Mait Ots

Source: 'Otse uudistemajast'

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