Today, the Riigikogu deliberated the matter of significant national importance Activities in combating the coronavirus, initiated by the State Budget Control Select Committee.
The Chairman of the Select Committee Urmas Reinsalu said in his report that the most important task of the Estonian state and people is combating the coronavirus. “The explosive spreading of the virus has led us to a catastrophic situation,” Reinsalu said. “In a matter of weeks, the relative infection rate has taken us to second place in Europe as well as worldwide.”
Reinsalu listed the speed of decision making, the required control system, and fearlessness in applying all the appropriate measures to stop the virus without delay as key factors in the current critical situation.
Reinsalu expressed his respects for all the health care system and front-line workers who are working day after day to fight the virus under increasing pressure. “The duty of the national leaders who are competent in making decisions is to make decision that support the front-line workers in fighting the virus and saving human lives,” Reinsalu said.
The Chairman of the Select Committee summarised the public hearings in the Committee on assessing the measures for combating the spreading of the virus, the vaccination situation, and the development and implemented application of the new economic crisis mitigation measures. He highlighted the key insights gleaned from the hearings, and the positions formed in the Committee. “This is not a question of identifying the culprits when possible problems are encountered, this is about applying the appropriate measures without delay and removing the obstacles to solving the crisis,” he said.
In conclusion, Reinsalu called to act fast, keep up the impetus in solving the shortcomings in combating the crisis, improve the logistics of vaccination, enforce economic mitigation measures, and draft an exit plan. “In the current national crisis, governance and correct target setting are vital,” Reinsalu said. “Having taken a very close look at the quality of decision shaping, I would say that an emergency situation needs to be declared first and foremost to put in place a more effective governance.”
Minister of Health and Labour Tanel Kiik started his presentation with the latest figures. He said that a new 24 hour record had been born that very morning, meaning nearly 2,000 new positive tests, which increased our two week infection rate to 1,453, or higher than it had ever been. “The numbers are still continuing to grow, although the growth trend itself is showing signs of slowing down,” Kiik said. “But of course our objective is to reverse the curve.”
Regarding the increasing number of cases over the weeks, Kiik also reported a regrettable continuous rising trend. The objective is to get the numbers to fall from the second half of March onwards. “The virus is spreading all over Estonia, there is no doubt of that,” the Minister admitted. He expects to see a fall in numbers when we fall below the red line, i.e. the infection rate drops below 1; sadly, we have not been able to achieve this the whole of February or March.
The Minister also drew attention to the other side of the COVID-19 crisis – the support to people who have been hit by the crisis, for example through additional wage support. “When we apply some restrictions to some sectors, some fields of economy, we will ensure that the incomes and employment of the workers in these sectors do not fall,” the Minister explained.
Kiik also pointed out that unemployment has increased to nearly 60,000 over 12 months, and we know that this growth trend is only continuing to grow today.
Kiik touched on drafting the supplementary budget because supplementary resources are needed by the health care to conduct testing and purchase vaccines. The need for sickness benefits has also increased. It is also important to receive additional resources for doctors, nurses and medical professionals working in COVID-19 wards, and for involving additional personnel.
Regarding vaccine, Kiik said that during the second quarter it would be possible to ensure at least one dose to everyone who wishes, and concentrate on increasingly offering the second dose protection over the summer months.
He reported that today about 8.6 % of the population has received at least one dose, more specifically 5 % have received the first shot, and 3.6 % two. This ranks us fifth or sixth in the European Union.
Krista Fischer, Member of the Estonian Academy of Sciences, agreed that the growth trend has slowed down, but this should not lull us into a false sense of security. “So we must still keep an eye on the situation and I also sincerely hope that the current restrictions, which are certainly stricter than in November or December, would prove effective,” Fischer opined.
The Member of the Academy pointed out that recoveries from the virus have not started to affect the infection rate in any visible way. The data shows that the aggressive British strain has reached Estonia, but has spread unevenly among the counties. Fischer describes the British strain as more than one and a half times more infectious and leading to more than the same difference in mortality rates, otherwise serious cases, and in the need for hospitalisation.
Fisher spoke of the trend where increased cases among the young would soon carry on to the older age groups. “This underlines the need to avoid and reduce infections among the young, and thus protect the elderly,” she explained. “Today, this new strain also shows us that the actual hospital patients become younger and younger, so we also need to protect the young people themselves.”
The statistics also show excess mortality. She explained that normally the average daily mortality rate in Estonia is 42, while currently nearly 10 people a day die from COVID related causes alone. “What we are seeing is that one death in five is caused by this one infectious disease, which points to significant excess mortality,” Fischer said.
She also outline three different forecasts, all based on the assumption that the infection rate will go down. “In the first one, we will still see the daily infection rates of 2,000+ for the next couple of weeks, also surpassing the 1,000 hospitalised patients mark. If this situation lasts for a great number of weeks, we might run out of resources.”
The second scenario foresees a drop but not that fast. The infection rate R falls to 1.1–1.05, and it takes time before the daily number of infections falls significantly below 1,500, and finally below 1,000. Fisher sees this leading to an extended difficult situation as well.
In the third scenario shows a slight downturn by the end of the next week already; it will then accelerate and the infection rate will plane at 0.8. Fischer would interpret this as a sign that we could go calmly into May, celebrating the May Day outdoors with friends, not to mention Midsummer.
During the debate, Lauri Läänemets (Social Democratic Party), Helir-Valdor Seeder (Isamaa), Imre Sooäär (Centre Party), Siim Kallas (Reform Party) and Peeter Ernits (Estonian Conservative People’s Party) took the floor on behalf of their factions. Jevgeni Ossinovski (Social Democratic Party), Riina Sikkut (Social Democratic Party), Tarmo Kruusimäe (Isamaa), and Leo Kunnas (Estonian Conservative People’s Party) also took the floor.
Verbatim record of the sitting (in Estonian)
Photos of the sitting. (Author: Erik Peinar, Chancellery of the Riigikogu)
The video recording of the sitting will be available on the Riigikogu YouTube channel.
(Please note that the recording will be uploaded with a delay.)
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