Ida-Viru County lockdown and schools closed

Loora-Elisabet Lomp
Apartement building in Kohtla-Järve.
Apartement building in Kohtla-Järve. Photo: Sander Ilvest

The government decided on Wednesday to lay down additional restrictions to slow the spread of COVID-19. All Ida-Viru County entertainment establishments will have to close doors from Saturday. Public events will be banned in the county for three weeks, with the government ramping up supervision and minimizing cross-border traffic with Russia. The second measures concerns educational institutions all over Estonia that will have to close from next week.

Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Center Party) told Postimees that because Ida-Viru County has the highest case rate in Estonia, tougher measures have to be taken.

“I have visited the Ida-Viru County Central Hospital and Narva Hospital and been told the situation is extremely serious,” the PM said. Ratas added that the situation is made more complicated by the fact that the healthcare system is overloaded and efforts are needed to maintain at least some planned treatment capacity.

Next moment of truth next week

Ratas emphasized that the COVID-19 scientific council and the Health Board’s additional measures package was not completed until Tuesday. Minister of Social Affairs Tanel Kiik (Center) found that the government has worked very quickly: “The proposal was made on Tuesday morning and the government decided on Wednesday and will issue the formal order tomorrow (today – ed.).” However, information available to Postimees suggests that the measures have been in the works for some time.

The new restrictions are based on viral spread statistics. “The restrictions we had before have not had the desired effect,” Ratas admitted.

Can people from other areas visit Ida-Viru County? “We have said that we will not cut off any county,” Kiik said. The minister explained that trips for work or taking care of relatives are allowed, while people should refrain from visiting friends or attending birthday parties in Ida-Viru County.

The PM said that restrictions could be alleviated once they start producing results. “I am very grateful to everyone making efforts to contain the spread of the virus and complying with measures,” Ratas said.

When could Harju and Tartu counties experience similar closures as Ida-Viru County? The social minister said that closures will not be ordered in the two counties at this time, while figures will be reassessed next week. “We know that the case rate is over 1,000 in Ida-Viru County. Neither Harju nor Tartu County is there yet today,” he added.

All educational institutions in Estonia will be closed from December 14. They include general education and vocational schools and universities. Academic work will return to normal from next year provided the government will not decide otherwise. Contact study will be retained for students with special needs and for the purposes of consultations, workshops and examinations provided appropriate safety precautions are taken. Kindergartens and nurseries will remain open.

“The government has made it its goal to continue with contact study for as long as possible and we have been able to maintain it for three and a half months, but the virus has gained ground and tougher steps are in order,” Minister of Social Affairs Tanel Kiik said.

The decision to close schools is based on recommendations from the scientific council. The same applies to hobby activities. Hobby schools will have to close from December 14 until January 4, with hobby and sporting activities suspended for both children and adults all over Estonia.

Travelers from Russia to be checked more thoroughly

Individual education, hobby and sporting activities as well as those that can be taught from a distance are allowed. Open air exercise is allowed individually.

The social minister said that there would only have been eight school days left before the holidays. Kiik recommended replacing hobby activities with spending time with one’s family and outdoors, as well as keeping in touch with relatives using digital means.

The government will also ramp up isolation obligation supervision, especially as concerns people crossing the border from Russia and whether they observe quarantine requirements.