Saaremaa schools close for rest of week after 2 coronavirus cases on island ({{contentCtrl.commentsTotal}})

Saaremaa mayor Madis Kallas.
Saaremaa mayor Madis Kallas. Source: ERR

Authorities on the Estonian island of Saaremaa have opted to close all schools for the rest of the week, after two cases of the COVID-19 coronavirus were confirmed there.

Municipal mayor Madis Kallas confirmed to ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" Wednesday evening that schools on the island would be closed Thursday and Friday following the coronavirus cases and concerns from parents and teachers, as well as some reports of children who had gone to see a volleyball tournament last week exhibiting symptoms.

"There has been a tremendous amount of enquiries today from people who want to clarify the various issues and details on this. We want to discuss the situation calmly with the Health Board and the Ministry of Education and Research. We have decided that the wisest thing to do was to take two days out, and close the schools [for the rest of this week]," Kallas told "Aktuaalne kaamera".

Two cases of COVID-19 were diagnosed on Saaremaa and reported in the media late afternoon Thursday. Both of the affected individuals were adults, who most likely contracted the virus from a volleyball team visiting Saaremaa from Italy to play in a tournament last week.

Another new case was also reported in Tallinn on Wednesday, bringing the total figure to 16 confirmed cases in Estonia to date.

All those infected have been contacted by the Health Board and are at home and self-quarantining, ERR reports.

On being asked whether the tournament should have gone ahead at all, Kallas said that organizers had followed Health Board (Terviseamet) recommendations and saw no potential threat, though added that with hindsight perhaps a different choice should have been made.

Deputy mayor Merili Niits told "Aktuaalne kaamera" that the permit for the event had not been issued lightly.

"Up to the last minute, information had been made available by, and expected, from the Health Board," she said, adding that the decision was made on the basis of this information and organizers saw no reason why the event should be canceled if all recommended hygiene practices were followed.

Madis Kallas said it was too early to say what would happen with Saaremaa schools next week, adding that a meeting is scheduled for Thursday and schools will be given new information by Friday afternoon, to make their plans for the following week.

Health Board: Guidelines were in place

Ester Öpik, Head of the Health Board's northern region, said the agency has clearly and rigorously emphasized, even more given Wednesday's situation, that any organizer must first assess whether the event poses any risk to human health, before deciding whether to go ahead with it or not.

"Such instructions were also given to the organizer of the event in question (i.e. the Saaremaa volleyball tournament-ed.) and it was stated that the organizer was responsible for ensuring whether or not requirements would be met," Öpik said.

Öpik added that the requirements now are even more stringent: "Which means that if an event organizer fails to meet the strict health protection requirements, then it makes sense to call off the event. The Health Board is not saying it will ban an event, but it stresses that these requirements must be met and if the organizer is unable to meet them, he/she must be aware that he/she has to deal with the consequences and bears responsibility for them," she went on.

International events must be postponed to the second half of the year

The Health Board said Wednesday that upcoming international events due to be hosted in Estonia should be postponed to the second half of the year, due to the spread of coronavirus, with several noted regular international events, including Tallinn Music Week, being put back.

Organizers of local events, which may still go ahead, should ensure the presence of health care personnel and that staff' have protective equipment (protective mask, gloves, etc.) In addition, they need to ensure that there is a facility to measure the body temperature of people suspected of being infected. There also need to be rooms available to isolate the infected temporarily, within the locations of the events.

Organizers additionally need to ensure quick and easy access to hand disinfectants in visible places (such as corridors, competition areas, changing rooms, toilets).

When arranging accommodation, participants from the same region should be accommodated in the same complex or floor where possible, to streamline the isolation of the infected if needed. An organizer needs to ensure that regularly-used and public surfaces such as handles, door handles and dining tables, are properly cleaned. 

Toilets must always be equipped with handwashing detergents and a waste bin with a foot pedal. Water faucets should also be disinfected regularly as well, the Health Board says.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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