The Estonian government is imposing a new set of restrictions on movement in public space, Prime Minister Juri Ratas said at a press briefing introducing the new measures on Tuesday evening.
The working group made up of virologists and doctors sees the measures as timely and justified.
"No more than two people will be allowed together in public places, that restriction will not apply to families present in public space or moving there together, as well as to persons performing public duties. That restriction will take effect from March 25," Ratas, head of the emergency situation, said.
He said that restrictions concerning places to eat and bars, which order them to close from 10 p.m. except for the sale takeaway food and food for home delivery, will take effect from March 27. The restrictions will be reviewed in two weeks.
"We definitely have not defeated the virus, the most difficult moments still lie ahead. The next few weeks will be critical in combating the virus, and that's why it is necessary to impose these restrictions," he said.
From March 25, shopping centers, except for grocery stores, stores selling basic necessities and pharmacies, will be closed. Standalone stores will remain open, but also there the rule applies that people will move either alone or two together and there must be a space of at least two meters between people, the prime minister added.
"Estonia has been having a very strong neighborhood watch society where we stand for it that also the neighbor would be doing well, and now we need to implement this," Ratas said, adding that those who fail to observe the restrictions will be sanctioned.
Irja Lutsar, professor at the Institute of Biomedicine and Translational Medicine of the University of Tartu, said that toughening of certain measures in the current phase was warranted in order for Estonia to get the virus under control.
"Specifically, this isolation. We are in this stage where we have no 'me' society. I understand that it's not pleasant to be in home quarantine, but we have to think that if I pose a threat to others, then I protect them, will not infect others," Lutsar said.
"Starting from when measures were applied, the spread of the epidemic has been relatively stable, without exponential growth," Lutsar said. "This shows that the restrictions imposed in Estonia slowed down the spread of the virus, but we have to be aware that stopping the spread of COVID-19 is a long process that requires patience from everyone. It is inevitable that measures of social isolation must be made stricter to stop the spread of the virus," the scientist said.
"Such measures worked in Singapore, we are a small country too, why shouldn't they work also in Estonia," Lutsar added.
Lutsar said that according to tentative estimates, there should be enough hospital bed places and intensive care bed places in Estonia.
"At the same time, we need to take a further look at these models already tomorrow," she said. "Considering the resource of intensive care in Estonia, it's very important to prevent a sudden overload on the health care system."
The scientists said in their recommendations to the government committee that risk groups, especially the elderly, have to be informed consistently. The monitoring of people undergoing treatment or isolation at home must be strengthened and distancing ensured in public space. At the same time, it must not be forgotten that also younger people and children fall ill with coronavirus.