Experts consider summer lockdown messages unsuccessful

An unvarnished and direct tone but hardly effective in the current situation, Vootele Päi, consultant for communication group Corpore, said. This kind of “twitching” suggests that those in charge of crisis management are panicking and on the verge losing control and a sense for reality.

“The prime minister’s messages will not discipline anyone as long as this rhetoric is maintained, while they will provoke those who have exhibited patience so far,” Päi said. He also wondered at the prime minister echoing Lanno after his initial statement received negative feedback. “Is Kallas’ team so concentrated on their own messages it is losing touch with the rest of the information space?” he asked. The communication expert said that people need to be offered motivation instead. For example, that while the case rate is still growing, measures will take effect in a few weeks’ time. That if we can minimize contacts in the coming weeks, warmer summer weather will soon allow us to return to a more open society, Päi said.

Commenting on the messages of mathematician, member of the government’s COVID-19 crisis committee Krista Fischer, Päi said: “I have never been a fan of black and white or categorical messages according to which we should lock down the country, close schools or cancel summer.” The country is not locked down, we simply have certain restrictions. Schools have not been closed, with children simply studying remotely. Spring started on March 20 and summer will start on June 21. The only question is whether we can afford to organize events that will draw crowds in constrained spaces.”

Is compliance a problem?

Päi said he sees what he describes as a measure of schizophrenia in Kallas’ past actions and recent words. While Kallas initially hoped society had adjusted to the virus and could maintain discipline when she delayed new restrictions, practical experience – crowds in malls, gatherings, people taking small children to the gym – quickly dispelled such hopes. “Estonians need orders,” Päi said.

Andreas Kaju from META Advisory pointed out that most Estonians are in favor of stronger measures. “Threatening restrictions might not be self-destructive in the current context. Whereas it is another matter whether they would be of any use,” Kaju said. Most people comply with measures as best they can.

Because bans and directives have had their day and could perhaps have been useful three months ago, emphasis should now be placed on vaccination, Kaju believes. “I would like to hear more communication on how we are making daily efforts to secure additional quantities of vaccine, in addition to the EU common procurement, and what is our plan B should deliveries be dialed back again. I believe that failure to appear busy on that front is a bigger threat in terms of government communication.”

Vaccination alone not enough

Krista Fisher emphasized that the infection rate needs to be brough down with other measures besides immunization. The number of people who have antibodies after recovering from the virus is too low for herd immunity to develop, while recent vaccination efforts only help reduce the relative importance of elderly among people who need to be hospitalized. “Infection exploding among people under 40 would bring thousands more people who need to be hospitalized and dozens of deaths,” Fischer added. The rapid spread of the so-called British strain of the virus has caused illness to spike among young people.

The summer will not be canceled of course. The Earth is still orbiting the Sun irrespective of the coronavirus or the actions/lack thereof of people in Estonia, as put by virologist Andres Merits.

“I believe that the government’s message today is that measures can only be relaxed once the infection rate comes down to a certain level – I believe [Health Board Deputy Director] Mari-Anne Härma said something about the situation as it was in early November or around 100 daily cases – whereas it does not matter whether it’s spring, summer, fall or winter, not to mention other circumstances. That is the rational view,” Merits said.

He added that there is no enthusiasm in terms of trying our luck once more. Merits welcomes the approach and does not consider simply stating obvious facts intimidation. “Rather, the message here is that what we will be able to do come summer depends on what we are doing today.”

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