Estonia closes schools, bans public events over coronavirus

TALLINN (Reuters) - Estonia announced on Friday it was closing schools and banning public gatherings until May 1 to limit the spread of the coronavirus, and said it was working on financial support to aid struggling companies in sectors such as tourism.

“To minimize the larger damage to the economy and to speed recovery from the crises, we are ready to further stimulate the economy from the budget,” Finance Minister Martin Helme told a news conference.

Helme said the virus would at best keep Estonia’s economy flat in 2020, but that the economy could decline by 3% this year.

“We are considering permanent and temporary tax cuts, state credit guarantees and easing conditions of unemployment insurance,” Helme said, adding the total cost would be 1.5 billion to 2 billion euros ($1.7-2.2 billion) over two years.

Estonia’s 2020 budget totals 11.8 billion euros.

The government said it would halt sale of cruises on the Tallinn-Stockholm route, news which sent shares in shipping firm Tallink, which operates the route, down over 6% in early trade to the lowest level since August 2015.

Estonia has around 70 cases of the coronavirus so far, one of over 115 countries with infections. The government also said travelers from countries including Italy, China, Iran, South Korea, Singapore, Sweden, Belgium, and parts of France, German and Spain would be subject to two weeks in isolation.

Reporting by Tarmo Virki, Editing by Jon Boyle and Timothy Heritage