Estonia’s Digital Solutions to COVID-19

Estonia’s Digital Solutions to COVID-19

According to Johns Hopkins University, Estonia’s novel coronavirus numbers have generally stayed similar to those of its neighbors in the European Union. With an infection number so far at just above 2,000 it is slightly above the rates of nearby Latvia and Lithuania, but well below Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine. By the end of July the death toll remained below 70, and with over 2,000 cases had recovered. However, in addition to its relatively low coronavirus numbers compared to those of other European nations, Estonia appears to have also experienced one of the lowest levels of panic amidst the pandemic. To fight the virus, Estonia has deployed familiar techniques: lockdowns, testing, emptying of intensive care wards, human contact-tracing, and government-mandated quarantine. However, Estonia’s coronavirus response is most distinguishable from its global counterparts because of its digital capabilities and “solutions” to the virus.

As Marsha Gessen explained in her recent the New Yorker column, even prior to the pandemic outbreak, Estonia was already known for its unparalleled digitalized society and e-governance: “ninety-nine percent of households have broadband internet connection, and the education system is a world leader in developing and using electronic technologies, this system has proved to be fully functional even in a pandemic lockdown.” So, it was only expected that the country would have a  “digital solution” to the pandemic.  The low-key information system the Estonian government has designed enables medical facilities and government officials to share and review COVID-19 patient data in real-time, significantly reducing the amount of typical bureaucratic red tape. National healthcare and medical facilities represent just one area of Estonia’s famously agile e-governance system. Estonia is known for its fully paperless governance; people vote online and use digital prescriptions, and a single piece of I.D. securely stores each Estonian’s personal information. Thus going into the pandemic, Estonia was already well-equipped to avoid face-to-face human contact in carrying out many of the interactions in public services, healthcare, education, and social welfare sectors.