The second case of novel coronavirus COVID-19 found in Estonia on Tuesday is not likely to be the last in the country, social affairs minister Tanel Kiik (Center) says.
"Looking at the numbers in other countries and how they have changed over time, we can of course assume that more cases may still appear in Estonia," Kiik said, speaking on ETV political discussion show "Esimene stuudio" Tuesday evening.
The Health Board (Terviseamet) confirmed the COVID-19 case, also on Tuesday evening. The affected individual had arrived at Riga Airport on a flight from Bergamo, Italy, on Saturday, and traveled to Estonia by car. They later developed mild symptoms and called an ambulance, and have since self-quarantined at home.
Kiik said those who had traveled on the same flight were being contacted by authorities; since the individual traveled by private car to Estonia, the numbers of people needing to be contacting is lower than had they come by public transport.
The first coronavirus found in Estonia was announced early on Thursday morning after an Iranian national resident in Estonia arrived in Tallinn by bus from Riga, following a flight from Turkey, and had developed symptoms. He is currently recuperating in a Tallinn hospital.
Kiik noted that the second case did not constitute a failure of prevention measures, but in fact highlighted them, since communicating all threats, including those from coronavirus, was vital, he said.
The minister added that those who have come from at-risk areas should monitor their well-being and avoid mixing with crowds, and also avoid contact with older relatives and others, since the virus is particuarly dangerous for the elderly.
"Our goal and direction has been to uncover [cases] as soon as possible, an approach which has so far been successful in both cases in avoiding them coming into contact with large numbers of people in the country, and attending crowded events," he said.
Lithuania has imposed emergency situation, Estonia not
Whereas Lithuania has established an emergency situation after receiving its first confirmed coronavirus case late last week, Estonia has not, due to differing legislation, Kiik said.
"Lithuania has followed the legal requirements of the country. They realized that they could not have taken certain measures without then imposing a state of emergency. In Estonia, we can take the necessary steps without that," Kiik said.
"We have no direct need to establish an emergency; it would create confusion and unnecessary fears, rather than providing the state with solutions," he went on.
An overreaction would pose a risk to both the economy and business, as well as the health system, since focusing on preventing the spread of coronavirus would result in a lessened ability to respond to other incidents, he said.
The ambulance service (Kiirabi) reported late last week that coronavirus false alarms had been putting a strain on its operation.
Mass events up to organizers
The state similarly does not plan to regulate large events' organization, Kiik said.
"There are recommendations for organizers, from local governments for specific events, where those concerned can consider the arguments themselves. These decisions have to be made by each organizer. Right now there is no state compulsion," Kiik went on, adding that recommendations for avoiding large, public events are primarily directed at those who have come from at-risk areas such as northern Italy or Iran, rather than at the populace as a whole.
Along the same lines, Kiik said people should give thought to whether they really needed to travel to an at-risk area, even if tickets etc. have been booked and paid for.
"If a trip to a risk area has been purchased, people should think very carefully about whether to go and note that following the trip, you would need to spend two weeks at home in quarantine," Kiik said.
Not all flu symptoms equal coronavirus
Kiik also said that the appearance of a runny nose or sore throat need not lead people to consider that they have picked up coronavirus, if they have not been to an at-risk area.
"If a person notices their nose is running or thye have a sore throat, they need to note whether they have been in an at-risk area or not. If they haven't, it's likely to be a regular virus. For peace of mind, however, it is advisable to consult a family doctor," he said.
Kiik also said that there was a duty to counsel friends and relatives who might be more susceptible to fake news or be otherwise duped.
"Fake news always tends to spread when emergencies appear, since there are people who try to profit from panic by even selling 'miracle products' which have zero effectiveness, or at worse are even harmful. There is a threat, we are taking it seriously, but at present there is no serious risk or possible scenario along those lines in Estonia," he added.
The virus appeared last December in central China, but has now spread to 60 countries around the world.
The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Sunday the virus appears to particularly affect people over the age of 60 will underlying health problems.
If you suspect you are suffering from coronavirus, you should consult either your GP or the helpline on 1220. In the event of a serious health problem such as breathing difficulties, call the emergency number on 112. Do not go to the emergency room.
Editor: Andrew Whyte