Estonia


Author: Theis Klauberg, LL.M, MBA, Rechtsanwalt, Partner and CEO at Klauberg BALTICS attorneys-at-law (Tallinn, Estonia)

Contact: Theis.Klauberg@klauberg.legal, https://www.linkedin.com/in/theis-klauberg-baltics, https://klauberg.legal/de/

Overview of legal measures as of 5 May 2020 as response to the coronavirus. Please note: Due to the extraordinary situation, the legislation is in continuous evolution and may change very fast.

Introduction

The first measures aimed at restricting the spread of COVID-19 in Estonia came into force on 12 March 2020 and were set to remain in force until 1 May 2020. However, the terms of the following measures was subsequently extended until 17 May 2020.

The Estonian government has since approved a set of decisions to gradually lift the current restrictions imposed upon natural and legal persons. The plan calls for a step-by-step easing of restrictions over the following months.

1. INTERVENTIONS AND RESTRICTIONS

1.1 Legal basis

Acting on the basis of the numerous laws, the Estonian government introduced a number of preventive actions.

1.2 Border

Starting 17 March 2020 border control is established on all Estonian borders, including external borders with Latvia, air borders and sea borders. Anyone entering Estonia has to provide information about their current health situation, travel itinerary, travel companions, and possible contact with a person showing COVID-19 symptoms.

As of 17 March 2020 foreigners working on a C or D-visa or visa-free will not be able to return to Estonia. If already in Estonia, they will be able to remain in the country or to leave it.

1.3 Visas

The issuance of visas has thus far not been discontinued.

1.4 Prohibition of crowds

People are to comply with the principle of moving alone and keeping a distance of two meters from other persons. Shops must ensure disinfectants are provided at the entrance and exit of the store.

1.5 Lockdown

Schools and universities

Classes and lectures at schools and universities, as well as kindergartens, preschools and other educational and training institutions are prohibited. Kindergartens, preschools and elementary schools shall provide childcare services where both parents are employed and there no other means of childcare can be provided for.

Starting 15 May 2020, educational institutions including schools are set to gradually open for business.

Businesses and retail

Shopping centres, save for grocery stores, pharmacies, telecoms sales outlets, bank branches, and ATMs, are to be temporarily closed. Supermarket food courts, meanwhile, may only sell takeaway food.

Hairdressers, massage salons and beauty salons located in shopping centres are closed as well. If located elsewhere and separately, such establishments can continue to operate, provided sufficient attention is paid to hygiene to protect both staff and customers. Restaurants, bars and other entertainment facilities must not stay open past 10 p.m., with only take-out and home delivery being allowed thereafter.

As provided for by the aforementioned plan on re-opening the Estonian economy, restaurants are now permitted to serve clients, so long as certain limitations are followed.

All entertainment venues such as bowling, billiard, hookah cafes, and adult clubs are under a similar prohibition to operate. Lastly, museums, galleries, cinemas and other cultural institutions are no longer open for visitors, whereas all theatrical performances, conferences, seminars and rallies have been cancelled.

Starting 11 May 2020, museums and exhibitions will be able to continue their operations while following specific limitations as imposed by the Estonian government.

1.7 Open Businesses, Industries and allowed Gatherings

The following establishments may still continue operating notwithstanding if located within or separately from shopping malls:

  1. grocery stores;

  2. pharmacies;

  3. telecoms sales outlets;

  4. bank branches;

  5. ATMs.

1.8 Shareholder's meetings and other meetings of companies

Estonian law recognised the need for remote shareholders' meetings even prior to the current lockdown. Accordingly, the articles of association of an undertaking may prescribe that shareholders may vote on draft resolutions prepared in respect to the items on the agenda of a meeting of shareholders using electronic means.

1.9 Supply of essential medical goods

Healthcare professionals are allowed to prescribe medications for up to two months. Pharmacies, on the other hand, may dispense medication only on the basis of a single repeat prescription for a maximum period of two months.

1.10 Health care

Remote healthcare services, planned clinical services including dentistry services are postponed, with only emergency cases and necessary procedures being served.

2. SUPPORT OF BUSINESSES

2.1 Legal basis

The Estonian government has adopted a number of extraordinary measures aimed at providing much-needed support to the business sector.

2.2 Support measures

A bill seeks to suspend the obligation for companies and to prohibit creditors from filing for bankruptcy within the next two months, and will enable companies to adapt their economic activities to the situation at hand, and to take additional time to use state aid measures to prevent mass bankruptcy filings.

The government has introduced a short-term aid package to channel public money to support businesses by providing labour market support, sickness benefits, tax breaks and allow tax debt to be deferred for up to 18 months. It also includes a partial reimbursement of the direct costs of cancelled events. Moreover, a long-term package is being set up to help recover quickly from the current market shock, set to be implemented once the short-term package is made available to economic operators.

Estonian government measures also allow for suspension of interest calculation on tax arrears for the period of emergency with retroactive effect from 1 March 2020 to 1 May 2020. Starting 1 May 2020 the interest rate will be reduced from the current 0.06% to 0.03% for an indefinite period. Additional reduction of interest rates on tax arrears paid in instalments by up to 100% in the future. The current maximum possible interest reduction amounts to 50%.

Moreover, sole proprietors will receive advance social tax in the first quarter to help them cope with economics difficulties caused by the crisis. The amount of the first quarter’s advance social tax will be transferred into sole proprietors’ pre-payment accounts. If the advance social tax has already been paid, the amount can be used to cover any tax liability, either immediately or in the future, or can be remitted into the sole proprietor’s bank account.

3. SUPPORT OF THE JOB MARKET

3.1 Legal basis

The government has also provided much-needed support to employees via the introduction of a number of specific measures.

3.2 Support measures

Employees whose employers are significantly impacted by COVID-19 are provided the opportunity to apply for temporary subsidies for up to two months during the relevant three-month period. The subsidy grants an income for employees and helps employers overcome temporary difficulties without having to lay off their staff or file for bankruptcy. The subsidy will amount to 70% of the average monthly wage of the employee but no more than EUR 1000, and is subject to a number of preconditions.

7. DEBT COLLECTION

7.1 Legal basis

The Estonian government has introduced measures aimed specifically at distressed undertakings.

7.2 Measures

A bill seeks to suspend the obligation for companies and to prohibit creditors from filing for bankruptcy within the next two months, and will enable companies to adapt their economic activities to the situation at hand, and to take additional time to use state aid measures to prevent mass bankruptcy filings.