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What happens to a fully digitalised society during a pandemic lock-down?

The Covid-19 pandemic is sweeping across the world and Estonia is not exempt from the effects of this. The government declared a state of emergency on March 13, with schools and universities closed and switching to remote teaching, access to entertainment services limited and, most recently, borders closed, too. In most cases when the whole country is advised to stay indoors and avoid contact with other people, such a scenario would also severely limit access to vital services (ie refilling medical prescriptions) or completely halt any normal functioning.

Not the case in Estonia, however

On the same day the Government announced the emergency, only a few hours later a hackathon to “hack the crisis” was announced. Naturally, it took place fully online, with teams looking to solve Covid-19 related crises in 48 hours. It’s a great example of being agile, reacting quickly and adapting to the situation. Perhaps surprisingly, another institution to react the same day was the Church by moving to broadcast sermons online.

The essentials

People like to joke that Estonians would rather not interact with other people, which is why the whole country is digitalised. However, when human contact can be dangerous, it comes in incredibly handy to have 99 % of government services available online. So while we enter full lock-down thanks to Covid-19 and have to make do without convenience services like cinemas, spas and theatres, the state is still fully functional. Of course, the first requirement to that is to have proper infrastructure in place and in Estonia 90% of households have a broadband connection.

Digital support network

Having a well-established digital support system helps to quickly and flexibly rearrange working, if possible, and education to be done remotely. For example, schools have switched to remote teaching as of March 16, however, this is thanks to already having digitalised study materials in place – 87 % of schools have already been using some type of e-solutions.

The government can rely on paperless e-cabinet to continue work online, using their electronic identity for that. Similarly, thanks to electronic identity combined with services like the Business Register, e-Tax environment or online banking, doing business need not stop either. Granted, now might not be the best time to establish a company, however, all these services can be used remotely and without actually visiting an office.

Healthcare and social affairs

Digital services in healthcare are crucial in times like these. For, example, thanks to digital health records and e-prescription, you don’t need to visit a doctors office to refill a prescription, limiting unnecessary contact between doctors and patients. More recently, an Estonian company developed a solution within two days in collaboration with the digital patient portal that will allow people temporarily to start their own sick leave digitally – so far it was initiated by the doctor after a call or a meeting with the patient.

Luckily, benefits and allowances are also not dependent on applications on paper. They can be applied for digitally and in some cases – like family benefits – they’re even triggered automatically by certain life events like the birth of a child.

In a time of confusion and emergency a functioning digital society acts as a constant – it helps keep a certain level of normalcy and retain some of our every day routines. We’ll also be going live on Facebook on March 19 to talk about this further, join us for a discussion or just to pass the time while under quarantine.

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