We, 29.03.2023

Tallinn demands tougher Covid measures

Toomas Kask
, Saatejuht
Tallinn demands tougher Covid measures
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Mayor of Tallinn Mihhail Kõlvart (Center) said on Thursday that he wants the city involved in vaccination efforts.
Mayor of Tallinn Mihhail Kõlvart (Center) said on Thursday that he wants the city involved in vaccination efforts. Photo: Andres Haabu

Mayor of Tallinn Mihhail Kõlvart (Center) said on Thursday that he wants the city involved in vaccination efforts. Local governments currently have no role in the immunization process, which the mayor finds is a mistake.

“We are prepared to contribute human resources, money and work with the private sector,” Kõlvart said.

Mihhail Kõlvart, you have proposed declaring an emergency situation in Estonia. Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform) said that Estonia already has a virtual emergency. Why do you believe we should declare one officially?

In a situation where we already have one, we should come out and say it and make it official. It is not about what we call things but our actions. I said at the city government press conference that the situation is bad, while we need to count on it getting worse. Decisions need to be based on what could happen three weeks, a month or two months from now as opposed to recent statistics. Measures need to be preventive, not reactive. We are currently reacting with a delay.

I understand that recent amendments make it possible to bring in the Defense Forces in an emergency situation. Do you believe that would be necessary?

It needs to be seriously discussed. Once we decide the situation is no longer critical but downright catastrophic, should we still limit ourselves to dialing back the opening hours of cafes and restaurants?

There are a number of other fields where such an approach can be seen. Why wait if we see the situation getting out of hand? Why are we not acting preemptively? If a lockdown is what is required, we need to do it.

While we could discuss whether bringing out the army would be a suitable last resort measure, it would simply be for the sake of making headlines. Our problems are different in nature.

Have you lost confidence in Minister of Health and Labor Tanel Kiik?

This drive to politicize absolutely everything is part of the problem. I have been talking about where the city stands as its mayor – irrespective of the makeup of the coalition and who is serving as health minister. This matter should not depend on political choices but the situation. And yes, we have been critical of the government’s decisions, also during the previous coalition’s time.

The health and labor minister has remained the same?

Yes, but the choices of a single minister are not enough – members of the cabinet decide matters together. Coronavirus measures are not decided by individual ministers.

You met with Tanel Kiik last Friday and had proposals for how to involve local governments in the vaccination plan. What did you propose?

The problem today is that the role of local governments remains undetermined. Cooperation is incidental. Our proposal concerned preparedness on the part of Tallinn to support the process. We are prepared to contribute resources, including funds and work with the private sector. We could pay for certain services.

But it requires central government initiative and a cooperation plan.

The government did not accept your proposals?

We cannot say it resulted in systematic cooperation. That said, claiming there was no cooperation would not be accurate either. The meeting was fruitful.

Preparations are currently being made to vaccinate Tallinn’s social workers. It will be handled by the municipal family medicine center. We hope that this experience will give us the chance to develop and plan future cooperation. I gathered that the ministry is prepared to pursue cooperation.

Will you be meeting with the health minister again?

We agreed that another meeting is in order. My goal is not just to criticize but to look for solutions and participate in putting them into practice.

Where do you stand regarding Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine?

I’m saddened by the fact your question is political and not factual.

I believe that we must use it if the vaccine is effective, which our health experts have found it to be as far as I am aware. I believe that states are competing over who can vaccinate their population first. If we can get doses of the vaccine from Russia and China, we should seize this opportunity.

Estonia is currently acquiring vaccines inside the EU framework agreement. Do you believe we should also make independent decisions?

Yes, I believe that Estonian residents will not be asking European institutions for vaccines. They will ask the central government and the Tallinn city government.

We must also keep in mind that we need two doses of the vaccine [per person] and that the vaccine is effective for a period of six months, while we may not be able to defeat the coronavirus in that time. This means we might need a second round of vaccination, and that is something that needs to be considered today.

The Health Board forecasts 2,600 daily cases in two weeks’ time. What will the city government do in that situation?

Tallinn started taking precautionary measures in September. We launched a mass awareness campaign in October and handed out a million masks last year. We are currently handing out masks on public transport vehicles and to people belonging to different social groups.

The Health Board notifies us of buildings that have outbreaks or where more than five people have taken ill. Tallinn will be sending information booklets and masks to all apartment associations.

How many apartment associations have COVID-19 outbreaks in Tallinn?

Two days ago, we had 100 buildings in Lasnamäe that is Tallinn’s largest district. While we initially sought to only campaign in Lasnamäe, we have expanded the measure to cover all districts.

What to do with Lasnamäe where the infection rate is among the highest in Estonia? The radical idea of temporarily locking down Lasnamäe has been discussed.

That experiment was done around New Year’s when Tallinn and Ida-Viru County were locked down while the rest of Estonia remained open. Tallinners simply went elsewhere for their needs. I think that was why the infection started spreading more quickly outside the capital.

I think that this kind of labelling is misguided. It was not right to blame the residents of Saaremaa during the first wave, just like we have no reason to say something like that about people in Lasnamäe or Maardu today.

Tallinn has the eighth highest infection rate in Estonia, while it is the largest municipality, with Lasnamäe district alone having more residents than [Estonia’s second largest city] Tartu. It is inevitable that the infection rate is highest in such districts.