Estonia and the pandemic

Anett Numa, e-Estonia

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When it comes to comparing how well different states have been coping with the pandemic, we often focus on the number of infections per capita or the number of people who have been hospitalised. Of course, this is an essential issue to talk about and helps governments make proper decisions. However, is this drawing the best picture of the resilience of a state? 

I doubt it. Due to the restrictions, most of us must work and study from home. But closing shops, entertainment venues, and businesses have had a significant impact on the economic situation. Digitalisation has helped companies to continue running their businesses, serve customers, and offer services. Today I would like to take a closer look at how Estonia has been coping with the crisis – besides focusing on the infected people only – and bring out some sectors that have helped citizens continue their everyday lives.

 The smallest GDP decline in the EU

The pandemic has drastically affected consumer spending, investment, trade market, capital flows, and supply chains. Estonia’s gross domestic product (GDP) decreased by 1,2 per cent in the fourth quarter of 2020, the smallest decline in the European Union. We are expecting some positive changes this year to see the GDP growing again by the end of 2021. But why is that? Analysts say that even though in spring 2020, the manufacturing field got hit, trade already showed recovery. The import and export of goods increased thanks to trade in electronic equipment and chemical products (by 14,4% and 8,7%). The Estonian Bank predicts the economic growth to speed up to 5,9% per cent by the end of this year. And if everything goes by the master plan, by 2022, Estonian Bank expects economic growth to return to the level of good old 2019.

Any link to digitalisation?

Is there any evident link to digitalisation? We cannot say that clearly, but I would not underestimate the impact. Transforming your business model and operating your business through e-channels has advantages. Also, I am convinced that the new normal will allow us to work partly remotely, which helps different groups of people be engaged in the labour market depending on their unique needs.

Estonians now only need to do two things on paper

But let’s now cover some amendments that helped us to cope with the pandemic. It is widely known that there are only a few things Estonian have to proceed with on paper. Before the crisis, the list consisted of three items. By spring of 2020, we could cross out one of these – notary transactions for buying a property. The Chamber of Notaries worked out a solution, this time in partnership with the private sector. To identify yourself in notarial acts, we can now use Veriff’s biometric face recognition technology. The remote verification is carried out using the electronic identity – we can choose between the Estonian ID card, digital ID, mobile-ID, or even e-residency digital ID. Therefore, you can skip taking the risk by heading to the notary office in person and additionally also save lots of time. And speaking of growing during the crisis, Veriff recently secured 69 million $ in series funding to grow identity verification business and combat online fraud.

Electronic ID assists the government meetings

What else can be done by using electronic ID to pretend we still operate on an everyday basis? Switching over to remote working has also been smooth as we have been signing documents for more than 15 years by using digital signatures. That helps both the companies proceed with the papers at a high-level speed and even assists arrange the government’s e-cabinet meetings from a distance. The number of digital signatures given has drastically increased.

Record number of people i-voting

The local elections of councils will be held in October 2021. Several countries have had to postpone their elections due to the pandemic, which is in some ways understandable. But it would not be acceptable here, in Estonia, where elections have been held online since 2004. The last EU Parliament elections in 2019 showed the record (46%) number of people voting by i-voting application. I have to admit I am incredibly excited to see what these numbers will turn out this time.

We could also talk about how well the educational system worked during the COVID-19 crisis in a wholly digital state thanks to e-learning platforms or how to avoid going to the doctor thanks to e-prescriptions. But my point was to show that there are many other factors to understand the resilience of a state. One thing is definite – it is time to take advantage of digitalisation and shape the future.

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Written by
Anett Numa

digital transformation adviser at the e-estonia briefing centre


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