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Freedom Square in Tallinn, Source: Ivo Kruusamägi, Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0 Unported

Estonia imposes harsher Covid control measures amid spike in cases

Estonia imposes harsher Covid control measures amid spike in cases

Restrictions include mask mandate and Covid certificate requirement with negative tests no longer accepted

Amid Covid-19 case numbers in Estonia reaching the spring peak of 2021, thousands of protesters braved the bad weather to demonstrate on Saturday in Tallinn against the new coronavirus restrictions imposed by the government, reports ERR

Mask mandate, negative tests excluded from Covid certificate

From Monday, October 25, access to restaurants, cafes, gyms, sporting, cultural and leisure facilities will be possible only with a Covid certificate. However, the pass can only comprise proof of vaccination and recovery, as the option of a recent negative coronavirus test will no longer apply.

The Covid certificate requirement is extended to include public meetings taking place indoors or in restricted outdoor areas as well as adult education and training activities. Regarding access to the workplace, decision will be made by each individual employer following risk assessment.

The obligation to wear masks (not surrogates such as scarves and bands) is reintroduced. The use of protective masks is strongly recommended even for those who are fully vaccinated or have recovered from the virus and children aged over 12 when attending controlled events such as plays, cinema screenings and concerts.

Self-isolation for close contacts in schools

From 1 November, any student who has come into a close contact with an infected person in a school or hobby education facility, must immediately isolate at home and take a PCR test at a public testing facility no sooner than four days afterwards. If the result is negative, the student may return to their school or hobby group but must refrain from other cultural and leisure activities requiring a Covid certificate for 10 days.

The new mitigation measures will remain in place at least until 10 January 2022.

Infections rise stretching the healthcare system

On Saturday, Estonia registered 1,643 new coronavirus cases - a number equivalent to the spring peak in March 2021. Thecountry’s 14-day notification rate was 1,238.17 cases per 100,000 people - one of the highest in Europe.

453 people, the majority of them unvaccinated, are being treated in hospitals for Covid-19. Healthcare authorities say the system has the staffing capacity to treat approximately 600 coronavirus patients – a level that is expected to be hit by the beginning of November.

Estonia’s vaccination coverage is 55.4 percent, including children. 68 percent of the adults are fully vaccinated.

Using health crisis for political gains

The four-hour protest on Tallinn’s Freedom Square was summoned by the Foundation for the Protection of the Family and Tradition (SAPTK), a self-proclaimed family rights pressure group. Thousands of people took part, many of them coming from Pärnu, Võru and Saare counties. Photos on social media showed lines of buses parked behind the square.

Speaking at the rally which was opened by popular singer Tõnis Mägi, the head of SAPTK Varro Vooglaid called on the government to stop "compulsory vaccination" against coronavirus, jabbing of children and sowing division of society with vaccination certificates. According to him, Estonia is now struggling under an apartheid regime. Describing the new government restrictions as unconstitutional, Vooglaid called for civil disobedience.

Opposition politicians could be seen in the crowd, including the leadership of the right-wing populist Conservative People’s Party of Estonia (EKRE) and its youth wing Sinine Äratus (Blue Awakening). Members of the anti-immigration group Soldiers of Odin were also present.

Protestors held placards reading "No to dictatorship", "We demand freedom of vaccination", "Stop Kaja Kallas", "How many vaccine deaths is OK?", "God save Estonia"... As a counterpoint, news portals Delfi and Eesti Päevaleht flashed messages on electronic billboards urging people to trust science and get their information from reliable sources.

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