Clouds darkening over the rallies

Rally Estonia. PHOTO: Jaanus Ree/Red Bull Content Pool

New hotspots of the coronavirus have brought dark clouds over the location of the South Estonian rally and Rally Estonia as the health board is considering radical decisions.

“According to the Health Board, it is not possible to carry out safely the South Estonian rally speed stage in Võru,” said Tiia Luht, head of the Southern regional department of the Health Board. She said that the whole day had been full of intense meetings concerning the future mass events. Today since nine o’clock the Health Board, together with the organizers of the South Estonian rally, the mayor of Võru and the local chief of police, is discussing options for replacing the planned town stage of the rally.

Gabriel Müürsepp, director of the South Estonian rally competitions scheduled for August 22–23, was unwilling to express his opinion about the canceling of the town stage. “We are living in a situation which tomorrow may be quite different from today,” the mayor of Võru Ants Allas commented. “But I do not like to hear it brutally said – no way! For me it is not about whether it can be done but how it can be done. There are presently no general restrictions on public events.”

The mayor was hopeful that the meeting today would be able to fond a reasonable solution. “For example, to demand that the public wore face masks, to ban trumpets, etc,” Allas proposed. “You have to do it reasonably.”

The local government leader admitted that the risk is too high in case of some events. For example, the traditional August children’s festival was postponed for a year. “The limit of visitors would have been met by the locals only and there would have been no space for outside guests,” Allas explained.

Rally Estonia, which is scheduled to take place on September 4–6, had removed from its website the information for the locals concerning the closing of roads during special stages and the maps. The maps had been replaced by a notice stating that the locals would be briefed starting from August 5 and asking for understanding.

“We do not have yet the special stages maps,” said Tarmo Hõbe, one of the main organizers of Rally Estonia. He did not explain why the maps had been posted on the website last week.

“The coronavirus situation at present may change within weeks or days, no matter what we decide today,” he said. “We are currently waiting for the decision whether competitors from the “red countries” with relatively high level of infection could be allowed to race on special terms. We have no information about the canceling of the rally.”

The government is to discuss the issue of holding Rally Estonia on Thursday (August 6). “The minister of culture will bring this issue to the cabinet sitting,” said Liis Velsker, media advisor of the government communication office. She added that the government’s decision would be guided by the Health Board recommendations and the general situation.

Tiia Luht emphasized that the permission to hold mass events will be granted by the local government.

“It is difficult to say anything since we have not even received the application,” said Jaanus Barkalaja, the head of the Otepää municipality. “But the locals are worried about what the mass of outsiders in shops and catering establishments could do. We are seriously considering whether the promotion of Otepää via the rally could outweigh the security of the local people.”

According to mayor of Tartu Urmas Klaas, the organizers of the rally have thought out all health protection rules. These are very strict and if they will be followed, there should be no problem.

“Many people are waiting for Rally Estonia and I hope that it will take place,” Klaas said. “We must make a maximum effort to overcome the present situation. We therefore recommended the government to restore the 2+2 rule all over Estonia. It would not work if we impose tough restrictions only in Tartu because people are moving around.”

Hõbe assured that the organizers of rally Estonia operate according to current plans. “If the situation deteriorates we shall toughen the safety measures; the first move would be to ban the public;” he explained, “But I ask everybody to be reasonable. Today is the first day of selling the tickets. I recommend that all rally fans should buy their rally passes. 16,000 passes is a lot, they would not be sold out within an hour. Please, do not plan to sneak to the road through the forest. It would make a bad impression of the event if we had to cancel some special stages because of illegal onlookers.”

The Ministry of Social Affairs announced yesterday that the increasing number of infected people is worrying. According to the ministry, the Health Board is making intensive efforts to isolate the hotspots of Covid-19 in Tartu county.

“We ask all organizers of parties and concerts to consider canceling their events for the next two weeks at least,” said Heli Laarmann, head of the Ministry of Social Affairs public health department. “Or that they would at least reduce the maximum number of participants and carefully consider how to ensure the dispersal of guests and the hygiene facilities.”

According to her, the people should assess themselves whether they have symptoms related to Covid-19 (weariness, cold in the head, rhinitis, headache, eye inflammation, sore throat, loss of taste, ache of joints) and think whether it would be reasonable to attend major events or parties in the coming weeks. “Please consider also the possibility that you might catch the virus and bring it home to your family members,” Laarmann reminded.

As for the Health Board planning to check the dispersal standards at events together with the police, Laarmann said that the board can carry out checks jointly with the police. “But it is not feasible that they would check every party or event. We need the responsible attitude of the establishments and the organizers of events so as not to consider imposing restrictions once more,” she said.

Laarmann reminded again that everyone infected with Covid-19 or having close contact with those infected should remain in self-isolation. “Regarding those who had been in contact, we emphasize that even people without symptoms and having negative test results can carry the disease in the latent period,” she added.