Prime Minister said that the spread of the virus had increased greatly, in particular in Ida-Viru county, but also in Harju and Tartu counties, and elsewhere, and that in more than a third of the cases, the place where the infection had been acquired was not known. In Ratas’s words, in one fourth of the cases, infection happens within family, in more than a tenth of the cases it happens at work, and the same range of infections happen through other contacts.
“If in September and October we could see the disease spreading more among young people, then soon it was transferred to the elderly through them. As a result of this, the number of the people who need hospital treatment and the number of deaths due to the COVID-19 disease have soared. In November, 47 deaths were registered in Estonia, which was as many as eight times more than a month earlier,” Prime Minister said.
Jüri Ratas said that the continually developing crisis was affecting all aspects of society at the same time and therefore it was necessary to weigh every restriction and mitigation and to think of the consequences of lockdowns and reopenings. “We are communicating with the Health Board, the Scientific Advisory Board and all administrative agencies on a daily basis in order to make reasoned and weighted decisions that take into account the context and would best correspond to the situation,” Ratas said.
Prime Minister also said that Estonia had been able to keep the infection indicators and the numbers of COVID-19 deaths lower than in the majority of European countries also during the second wave. The aim is that the Estonian healthcare system would hold up to the pressure of increasing infections and that it would be possible to provide both planned and emergency treatment to all Estonian residents.
Ratas said that, in order to reduce the spread of the virus, every one of us should avoid every fifth contact in our daily life.
Regarding vaccination, Prime Minister noted that, in the morning, the Government had approved a preliminary COVID-19 vaccination plan that defined the major target groups and the further organisation of vaccination. He added that preparations were being made to start vaccination at the earliest possible opportunity, preferably in January. According to the plan, the first vaccinations will be ensured to healthcare workers and other people working in healthcare institutions, the residents and staff of social welfare institutions as well as the elderly and people with certain diseases. “Our aim is to reduce and prevent deaths caused by COVID-19 and to also provide free vaccinations in 2021 to Estonian residents who do not belong to the vaccination target group,” Ratas said.
When speaking of the economic situation, Ratas said that, with the help of the measures taken last spring as well as the efforts of people and businesses, Estonia had passed the downturn phase significantly more mildly than the average of the European Union Member States. “Our economic downturn over the first nine months of this year was 3.2 per cent, which is also more than two times less than the Union’s average,” he specified. Ratas added that the people and businesses who had suffered due to the coronavirus crisis needed additional support in the coming years, and the use of foreign subsidies would focus on stimulating human-centred economy, healthcare sector investments, strengthening of sense of security and carrying out great innovations.
At the end of his statement, Ratas said that the spread of the coronavirus continued to be a threat to people’s health and the functioning of society and the economy. “This is a concern for all of us, and slowing down the spread of the virus is in the hands of every Estonian resident. Therefore it is particularly important that we all follow the guidelines of healthcare experts. The virus spreads from person to person and in order to fight its spread we must not give it a chance to transmit,” Ratas said.
During the debate, Kaja Kallas (Reform Party), Kersti Sarapuu (Centre Party), Jevgeni Ossinovski (Social Democratic Party), Heiki Hepner (Isamaa) and Mart Helme (Estonian Conservative People’s Party) took the floor.
Kaja Kallas said that the coronavirus was out of control and noted that the Government had not used the summer to learn from the lessons and to prepare for the second wave. In her opinion, this has backfired. She said that Ida-Viru County had been left to manage by itself, and the local businesses were learning about the Government’s decisions through the media. Kallas added that a very clear plan to tackle the virus was needed for the upcoming months. In her words, it is also necessary to set out a very detailed vaccination plan.
Kersti Sarapuu said that, looking at the global picture, Estonia had successfully contained the virus. She said that the sticking points in our health care were becoming obvious and many of the current funding models in place were no longer sustainable. “Since we do not wish to cut the volume of health services, it is necessary to increase health care funding which the current Government has done,” she said.
Jevgeni Ossinovski said that the epidemic had been let go out of hand in Estonia during its second wave. “The situation is bad,” he stated. In Ossinovski’s words, the risk scenarios have realised and the situation will be critical before Christmas and the upcoming vaccinations. The people will not follow restrictions that are implemented ineptly and are inefficient. Ossinovski also touched upon the communication of the restrictions and he recognised that it was indeed impossible to communicate unsystematic decisions.
In Heiki Hepner’s words, it is naive to hope that we have the golden key to solve the problems. He emphasised that it was necessary to avoid drawing lines between the opposition and the coalition and to fight together against the disease because then there was certainty that the crisis would be overcome. Hepner also said that vaccination needed a good and clear plan.
Mart Helme said that Estonia had adopted important yet complicated decisions at the level of Government and the head of government. In his words, the Government has tried to find a golden path between keeping the economy alive and finding funds for businesses and people.
The Riigikogu passed three Acts
The Act on Amendments to the Funded Pensions Act and Amendments to Other Associated Acts (287 SE), initiated by the Finance Committee, is related to the reform of the second pillar pension scheme.
The Act ensures smooth data exchange between the registrar of the pension register, the Social Insurance Board and the Estonian Unemployment Insurance Fund so that payments from the second pillar pension made to persons who have no capacity for work are not subject to income tax.
The Act makes the necessary improvements particularly to the regulation concerning the pension investment account and corrects reference errors and inaccuracies.
In relation to the investment account, specifications are made in the movement of the money and data relating to the account. For example, the procedure for the entry into a pension contract is specified, where it is recommended to use the money on the pension investment account to pay insurance premiums. The Act also specifies the procedure for making the lump-sum payment made to the pensioners in the second pension pillar scheme and the partial lump-sum payment due to be added on 1 January 2022 under the reform Act where the payment will also include the money on the pension investment account.
The Act also makes some simplifications to the processes of the payment of money from the second pension pillar. If a person retires from the second pension pillar scheme and uses all his or her money contributed to the pillar to do so, under the Act, the registrar of the pension register is allowed to simply pay the person the money accrued on the person’s pension account later or to transfer such money to his or her pension agreement, depending on which payment option he or she has used.
The Investment Funds Act prohibits charging a fee for the redemption of the units of a pension fund from unit-holders who have attained the old-age pension age or who are going to attain such age in no more than five years. The Act extends the prohibition to unit-holders who are assessed as having no ability to work and who are already equal to pensioners in the second pillar pension scheme anyway under the reform of the second pillar pension scheme. In the Guarantee Fund Act, the regulation of the compensation for any loss caused to unit-holders of the second pension pillar is amended by including references to the pension investment account to which the amount of compensation should be transferred once the person no longer makes contributions to the pension fund but uses a pension investment account instead.
According to an amendment to the Act, until 2023, it will be impossible to submit to the registrar of the pension register a claim to seize a payment to be made to a debtor in the case of succession, in the event of retirement, or in case the person leaves the pension scheme before pension age. By 2023, it is planned to establish a technical solution enabling the bailiff to send an instrument of seizure to the pension register after which the registrar will first have to meet the claim in the instrument of seizure and only then make the payment to the debtor who is the holder of the pension account. Until then, the current practice will remain in place where the payment is made to the current account of the holder of the pension account that the bailiff can seize.
An amendment was incorporated into the Income Tax Act that enables sole proprietors to deduct up to 5000 euro additionally, besides documented business-related expenses, from their income derived from the sale of self-produced agricultural products. The amendment will have a positive impact on Estonian sole proprietors who are small farmers. Also, the requirement according to which self-produced agricultural products must be unprocessed is omitted from the Act. Abandonment of this requirement will enable farmers to gain more added value from their products and will ensure engagement outside the growing season as well.
Aivar Kokk (Isamaa) took the floor during the debate.
89 members of the Riigikogu were in favour of passing the Act.
The purpose of the Act on Amendments to the Animal Protection Act and the Bankruptcy Act (226 SE), initiated by the Government, is to protect the life and health of animals when the obligations of an animal keeper need to be taken over from him or her because of his or her activities. These are rare cases, for example, when an animal keeper is facing bankruptcy and he or she is no longer able to take care of animals. Under the current procedure, the local government must take over the obligation to keep animals. Under the amendment, this task will be given to the Agricultural and Food Board from 2021, and the necessary funds will be provided in its budget.
The expenses incurred by the state in such situations are collected from the animal keeper from whom the obligation to keep the animal in compliance with the requirements is overtaken. This amendment is applied in respect of all animals: farm animals as well as pet animals, circus, experimental and zoo animals and other animals. The amendment does not concern stray animals.
The Act also amends the Bankruptcy Act by providing for the obligation of trustee in bankruptcy to ensure the keeping of the animal in compliance with the requirements when the debtor’s assets include an animal. In addition, the cooperation obligation of the Agricultural and Food Board and the trustee in bankruptcy is provided for.
88 members of the Riigikogu were in favour of passing the Act.
The aim of the Act on Amendments to the Fire Safety Act and Other Acts (120 SE), initiated by the Government, is to increase the number of fire safe facilities in Estonia, to make people aware of their responsibility in meeting the fire safety requirements, to reduce the number of fire deaths and to create more flexible possibilities for cooperation between the public and private sector.
Local governments are given more decision-making right in relation to processing building permits and authorisations for use. Instead of the fire safety self-inspection report, owners of industrial buildings, warehouse buildings, office buildings and garages that meet certain criteria must organise a fire safety inspection at their facility. The interval for communication with the Rescue Board is also extended – instead of submitting an annual report, a fire safety inspection must be carried out once every three years in the facilities listed. Fire safety service provider must submit a notice of economic activities.
With a view to reducing carbon monoxide poisoning and deaths caused by it, carbon monoxide detector becomes mandatory where solid fuel heating systems are used. A carbon monoxide detector will have to be installed in buildings with a wood-fired oven, kitchen range or fireplace at the earliest opportunity but by 1 January 2022 at the latest. Carbon monoxide detectors are mandatory already now in dwellings where a gas appliance connected to the chimney has been installed.
During the debate, Kalvi Kõva (Social Democratic Party) and Toomas Kivimägi (Reform Party) took the floor.
82 members of the Riigikogu were in favour of passing the Act and 11 voted against.
One Bill passed the second reading
The Bill on Amendments to the Estonian Public Broadcasting Act (122 SE), initiated by the Reform Party, will extend the target group and the range of persons with hearing disabilities to whom the Estonian Public Broadcasting must ensure the availability of the original programmes offered by the television programme services as far as possible.
With the Bill, the word “vaegkuuljatele” (“persons with hearing disabilities”) will be replaced with the words “kuulmispuudega inimestele” (“people with a hearing disability”) in the third sentence of clause 5 (1) 1) of the Estonian Public Broadcasting Act. The essential meaning of this sentence is that the original programmes of the Estonian Public Broadcasting must be made available to the maximum extent to people with hearing disabilities as far as possible. Original programmes also include, among other things, public communications, speeches and welcoming addresses by heads of state that are intended for the whole society and are broadcast on national television which currently do not always come with translation into sign language.
During the debate, Jüri Jaanson (Reform Party) took the floor.
Due to the end of the working hours of the sitting, the second reading of two Bills and the first reading of three Bills were postponed to tomorrow’s sitting.
The second reading of the Bill on Amendments to the Natural Gas Act (256 SE), initiated by the Government, and the Bill on Amendments to the Code of Criminal Procedure and the Forensic Examination Act (implementation of the Regulation on the mutual recognition of freezing orders and confiscation orders and the Regulation on the European Public Prosecutor’s Office) (261 SE), initiated by the Government, and the first reading of the Bill on Amendments to the Penal Code and the Code of Criminal Procedure (fight against hate crime) (276 SE), initiated by the Estonian Reform Party Faction, the Bill on Amendments to the Alcohol, Tobacco, Fuel and Electricity Excise Duty Act (297 SE), initiated by the Finance Committee, and the Bill on Amendments to the Courts Act (298 SE), initiated by the Constitutional Committee, were postponed to tomorrow.
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.)