TALLINN - Although ministers did not support a nationwide restriction on alcohol sales last week, the Estonian government will return to the issue on Thursday, the daily Postimees writes.
"We will be discussing this issue again, as the situation has changed rapidly in the meantime," Minister of Social Affairs Tanel Kiik said, referring to Estonia's regional outbreaks and Finland's decisions on passenger traffic. "It is extremely important for Estonia to avoid any restrictions on movement with neighboring countries. A nationwide restriction on the sale of alcohol would help reduce the number of infected people and allow the Health Board to track down all close contacts of infected people," the minister added.
The government is waiting for an opinion from the anti-COVID-19 research council on Thursday on the level of infection per 100,000 inhabitants in the last 14 days in order for a national alcohol sales restriction to be imposed. "Whether it will be 25 infected people per 100,000 inhabitants, which was written in the original strategy, or we will have to lower this limit due to the relatively strict virus control policy of the neighboring countries," Kiik said.
At the end of last week, Finland imposed strict travel restrictions on countries with more than eight infected people per 100,000 inhabitants. In Estonia, this indicator was already more than ten at the end of last week. At the same time, Finland has the possibility to make exceptions.
Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto, who visited Tallinn on Sunday, said that Finland is trying to avoid closing the border with Estonia, as this would have significant economic effects.
While in the spring, at the height of the coronavirus crisis, all catering and entertainment venues were banned from selling alcohol from 10 p.m. to 10 a.m., as in shops, then now, according to the social affairs minister, it is probably not necessary to be that strict. "The restriction could start either at 11 p.m. or why not at midnight, because the restriction also has its effect," Kiik said.
The minister said that the purpose of the alcohol restriction is to reduce situations where people spend their free time in such a way that they may not remember the requirement to distance and also not remember in the morning how many people and how close they have been in contact with during the night. "It all depends on the direction in which the infection turns in the coming days. Based on this, we will decide whether county restrictions are sufficient or whether there is a need for a nationwide approach," he said.
According to Kiik, no government party has taken a firm position that a nationwide restriction on the sale of alcohol will not be imposed. "Before last week's Cabinet meeting, the attitude of the ministers was such that it is too soon for national restrictions. But the situation is changing fast," the minister said.
Irja Lutsar, professor at the Institute of Biomedicine and Translational Medicine of the University of Tartu and head of the anti-COVID-19 research council, said that she has a firm position on restrictions on the sale of alcohol, but the council has not yet discussed the issue. "The council will meet on Wednesday. We will not make our position public until we have presented it to the government. I do not want Prime Minister Juri Ratas to read first in the newspaper what the research council thinks," Lutsar said.
According to the professor of virology, the council has always formed its positions by consensus so far. Lutsar noted that at least so far, the research council has used a focused approach to setting restrictions. "We have not been in favor of one size fits all, rather, we have found that we should impose restrictions where there is a problem," Lutsar said.
She added that in general, Prime Minister Juri Ratas has supported the focused approach.