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Prime Minister gave an overview of the spread of the coronavirus, the measures implemented to contain it and the progress of vaccination.

Prime Minister explained that we had had to live with the virus for nearly a year. “This has meant in many respects looking for a balance between locking Estonia down and keeping it open, and between the endurance of our medical system and the functioning of our society,” Prime Minister noted. She underlined that those were serious decisions that concerned all people in Estonia.

Kallas said that, according to a proposal by the Scientific Advisory Board, it had been decided to harmonise restrictions across Estonia on 29 January. “The situation with the spread of the coronavirus is very serious. The rate of new infections remains high and the spread of the virus is wide. Stress and fatigue due to a life of restrictions is increasing in society,” Prime Minister admitted. In her words, at the same time, in a longer perspective, there is reason to be more hopeful than before. At the beginning of this year, we launched vaccination and this is enabling living together with the virus so that Estonia stays open.

Kallas emphasised that we were still living in an emergency. The Government makes its decisions, keeping in mind several indicators, one of the most important of which is the capacity of the hospital network. “The high spread of the virus is a critical concern. Starting from November last year when the second wave reached Estonia, the number of daily positive tests has been growing steadily and the proportion of positive tests among tests has ranged between 7–15 per cent by day. A total of 895,345 laboratory tests have been confirmed, 58,445, that is 6.5 per cent of which have proved positive.”

The number of infections shows that the epidemic spread of the virus is wide in Estonia and the virus can be caught everywhere where social distancing is not maintained, for example, in shopping centres, public transport, etc. The high infection rate is aggravated by the weakened sense of danger regarding the spread of the coronavirus.

“Getting the virus under control is in everyone’s power and it is a task for all of us. Research studies have shown that the most efficient ways to contain the virus are those that rely on people’s behaviour and precaution, that is, caring about themselves and the others. Only by behaving responsibly ourselves, with regard to ourselves and others can we keep the infection level low and life in Estonia as open as possible.”

Kallas explained that the Government had knowingly not imposed very strict blanket restrictions, that is, it had not taken the path our neighbouring countries had chosen. “We are imposing restrictions that are unavoidable and that aim to reduce interaction between people in places where the threat of infection and the spread of the virus is the greatest. We have adopted a problem-based approach. We have intervened at infection sites and addressed the causes. We are trying to avoid the mistakes seen during the last school holiday. We are trying to prevent movement of people and contacts between different regions,” Prime Minister noted.

“When imposing restrictions, we assessed the impact of every restriction on both the economy and the people, because besides visible victims, there are also invisible victims among us. Since the beginning of the corona crisis, unemployment has risen to 8.8 per cent in Estonia, amounting to as much as 14.6 per cent in Ida-Viru county. We do not yet know the extent of the gaps in education,” Prime Minister added.

Prime Minister admitted that there had been more problems with vaccination than had been expected. “It is one thing that there is a general vaccine deficit in Europe, but it would definitely have been possible to think things through better and to start vaccination earlier. Already last May, when we were in the opposition, we said that it was necessary to use the summer to prepare for vaccination,” Kallas said.

She explained that there was a general vaccine deficit in the European Union, and the quantities promised and the actual supplies did not tally. Starting from May, when a wider vaccination of the population will begin, temporary vaccination centres will be established. “I have instructed the Minister of Health and Labour that we need to increase the daily number of vaccinated people. For that, we will need to use all days, including weekends, to give injections to risk groups, teachers, police officers and all others,” Kallas noted. She said that in recent days, the pace of vaccination had risen and a record number of 20,322 people had been vaccinated in the previous week. There could always be more, but everything is very much connected with the fact that there simply is not enough vaccine.

In conclusion, Kallas emphasised that the behaviour of every single person had the greatest impact on the spread of the virus. She urged everyone to reduce contacts with other people and to stay at home. Where work permits, let us work from home – this has a great impact on reducing the spread of the virus. If teleworking is impossible, please wear a facemask and maintain social distancing at work.

During the debate, Martin Helme (Estonian Conservative People’s Party), Siret Kotka (Centre Party), Helir-Valdor Seeder (Isamaa), Indrek Saar (Social Democratic Party) and Prime Minister Kaja Kallas took the floor.

A Bill passed the first reading

The Bill on Amendments to the Anti-corruption Act (compliance with GRECO’s recommendations and restriction on the public availability of the declarations of interests of heads of security authorities) (323 SE), initiated by the Government.

The Bill provides an obligation to submit a declaration of interests for political advisers of ministers, and restricts the disclosure of the declaration of interests of the head of a security authority.

The amendment of the Act is based on subsection 7 (6) of the Civil Service Act that provides a definition of political advisers to ministers and differentiates advisers to ministers who perform assisting and advisory tasks.

The obligation to extend the circle of the people who must submit a declaration of interests derives from GRECO, the Council of Europe’s anti-corruption body. Its aim is to include among the people who must submit a declaration of interests the “political” advisers to ministers, that is, the advisers who under subsection 7 (6) of the Civil Service Act perform support or advisory functions with the Prime Minister, a minister, etc., until the expiry of the term of office of the person specified and with whom an employment contract is entered into for a specified term.

During the debate, Tarmo Kruusimäe (Isamaa) and Lauri Läänemets (Social Democratic Party) took the floor.

During the open microphone, Jevgeni Ossinovski, Kalle Grünthal and Lauri Läänemets took the floor.

The sitting ended at 6.42 p.m.

Verbatim record of the sitting (in Estonian):

Photos: (Author: Erik Peinar)

Video recordings of the sittings of the Riigikogu can be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/riigikogu.

(Please note that the recording will be uploaded with a delay.)

Riigikogu Press Service

Gunnar Paal, +372 631 6351, +372 5190 2837

[email protected]

Questions: [email protected]