Minister: Estonian healthcare system prepared to control coronavirus

Minister of Social Affairs Tanel Kiik (Center).
Minister of Social Affairs Tanel Kiik (Center). Source: Anna Aurelia Minev/ERR

Minister of Social Affairs Tanel Kiik (Center) confirmed that Estonia's healthcare system is prepared to control the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV). The Health Board has issued codes of conduct to all Estonian medical institutions and competent state authorities in case the virus should reach Estonia.

In cooperation with the World Health Organization (WHO) and the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), the Ministry of Social Affairs and the Health Board are monitoring the spread of the novel coronavirus worldwide. As of Friday, the Health Board also has independent testing capability for the 2019-nCoV virus in Estonia.

"The Health Board estimates that the risk of the infection spreading to Estonia does exist, but our medical institutions and other competent state authorities are prepared to control the spread of the disease."

According to the minister, the WHO declared the novel coronavirus, also known as the Wuhan coronavirus, a global emergency on Thursday, but first and foremost to halt the spread of the disease and prevent it from reaching countries with weak healthcare systems who are unprepared to manage the spread of the virus.

"The WHO has not recommended restrictions on travel or commerce," Kiik said. "As Estonia is currently in a period of other viruses spreading, in order to avoid infection, we recommend following regular preventive measures, washing your hands and avoiding contact with sick people."

Incoming travelers difficult to check

The ECDC has rated the effectiveness of medical checks on incoming travelers in identifying those infected with the novel coronavirus to be low, as even if very effective medical checks were to be arranged, some 75 percent of arrivals would still go undetected, as they may not exhibit any symptoms yet at the time of their travels.

The European agency believes that the risk of sustained transmission of the virus remains low within the EU on condition that appropriate disease control measures are implemented. Considering the known incubation period of the coronavirus, it can be assumed that if someone has not visited the Wuhan region in China within the last two months, the likelihood of them becoming infected with the novel coronavirus in Estonia is very low.

According to Health Board Director General Merike Jürilo, the Health Board is monitoring the situation round the clock in order to update guidelines for residents and authorities alike if necessary.

Currently, no active health monitoring or health checks are taking place at Estonia's border crossing points.

"We have forwarded informational materials aimed at travelers to border crossing points," Jürilo said. "We are monitoring developments and will respond accordingly."

Accepting and opening packages from China is not dangerous, as the novel coronavirus does not survive long in the external environment — according to the latest information, no more than 36 hours.

The Health Board is advising people to avoid traveling to the People's Republic of China, and advising those traveling to follow Health Board guidelines to prevent infection. According to current information, those currently at higher risk of infection are elderly people with serious comorbidities who live in or have visited high-risk areas in China.

Visit the ECDC's homepage for more information about the novel coronavirus.


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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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