Around 1,000 daily coronavirus tests possible - or two per family doctor

Medicum chief Tõnis Allik.
Medicum chief Tõnis Allik. Source: ERR

Estonia has the capacity for a maximum of a thousand COVID-19 coronavirus tests per day, or one or two per family doctor list, director of health portal Medicum Tõnis Allik says.

Speaking at a news conference on Saturday, Allik said there are clear limitations to the test collection and response system as it stands at the moment and that the system has a maximum capacity of one thousand tests a day.

Family doctors received 647 referrals on Thursday and Friday this week, half of these in the most densely populated part of the country, Tallinn and Harju County. On average, one or two referrals were sent per family physician, but in some cases this figure rose to seven referrals a day.

"There are 800 family doctor lists in Estonia, and since we can do a thousand tests a day, it is possible to carry out one or two tests per family doctor a day," Allik said, speaking at a press conference saturday.

The first issues were encountered with the testing on Friday, where individuals who had agreed over the phone to arrive at the testing location by public transport or on foot, and were thus not admitted.

Võru, the third most affected part of the country and one of the first areas to record confirmed coronavirus cases, does not have a testing point. Allik said that these were distributed based on population, though Võru Hospital has its own coronavirus point which predates the nationwide system; it is now being debated whether to let this situation continue or to integrate it into the national system, Allik said.

Kuressaare Hospital seeking medical assistance from the mainland

Another of the most affected areas, the island of Saaremaa, has issued a plea to all doctors nationwide, as a large proportion of its staff are now in quarantine.

Ester Öpik, the head of the Northern Regional Division of the Health Board, said that the situation was regrettable and said that in the coming days, Saaremaa would have a special focus.

Social affairs minister Tanel Kiik (Center) noted the scarcity of doctor resources is not solely a coronavirus concern, adding that there is no free resource capacity for the rest of the year. Medical students might be one option, Kiik said.

"With Kuressaare hospital, we have discussed the involvement of medical students; the question is how they can integrate into the work process and what the opportunities and needs are," he said, speaking at Saturday's press conference.

Kiik also said the virus was more in its initial phase than its mid-stage, meaning all hospitals are operating under the assumption that they will require more wards and staff in the coming months. This, however, complicates the distribution of healthcare professionals between hospitals, Kiik said.

Of the 14 coronavirus patients currently hospitalized, none are in intensive care, and their condition is reported as stable. Some have co-morbid chronic conditions which have been aggravated by the virus, Ester Öpik said.

Hopes for more protective equipment from China

The Estonian Embassy in China is also making efforts to speed up the rocuremtn process of protective equipment, much of which is made in China. In the meantime there is a need to deal with existing supplies, which have already been handed out among hospitals on a needs basis, he said.

The Health Board has an inventory of all hospitals' personal protective equipment supplies - not only protective masks, but also gloves, protective goggles, respirators, Kiik said, adding that respirators are the item in the most critical situation at present.

"One of the positive things is that as the situation in China is calming down and production capacity is recovering, or even growing /.../, getting supplies from there, though I don't want to say this for certain, has been getting better, and now there is hope from the fact that China and Asia are having better access to protective equipment than the EU, where there is a high demand," Kiik went on.

Kiik added that although Estonia does not have large reserves, there is no situation where coronavirus tests will be carried out without the necessary protective gear.

Kiik also urged the public not to post conspiracy theories or fake news on their social media channels, reminding them that this was irresponsible and would actually be punishable. 

Kiik added that such communities are likely to disappear from social media in the near future.

Dental care still taking place

Dental practitioners, who are also experiencing current short supply, have turned to the state with their own concerns. 

Asked why dentists were not removed from scheduled treatment categories which would mean their work would be postponed, as with other scheduled medical appointments, Öpik noted that they are aware of dentists' concerns, but that in addition to coronavirus, other dangerous illnesses are also going round and that, under normal circumstances, dentists would alo take all necessary measures to prevent infection

"With dentist, every patient, every chair, desk, and other requires cleaning. This ability must be shown by dental providers every day, and if they meet the quality standards, these will be enough for the coronavirus," said Öpik.

Kiik added that some doctors have stopped scheduled treatment, but since some do not want it, the state has not issued any commands, but has left the decision to the dentists themselves.

"It cannot be ruled out that this decision may come," he said of a possible scheduled treatment ban.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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