The island of Saaremaa is one of the most affected regions in Estonia in the current coronavirus pandemic. Travel to the island is restricted to residents-only, businesses are being severely affected given the importance of the tourism sector there, the mayor has been diagnosed with coronavirus and is working from home, as are many others, and islanders have rallied in support of Saaremaa's sole large hospital at its capital, Kuressaare, with mobile sampling setting an example to the country as a whole.
However, according to a report on ETV current affairs show "Aktuaalne kaamera" Sunday night, a major influx of patients with coronavirus could cause a major issue, particularly with intensive care, given the current capacity is for 36 people.
Saaremaa currently has 94 coronavirus cases, according to the Health Board.
The work of the island's crisis committee, which has been operating for more than a week, is evaluated positively by deputy mayor Jaan Leivategija, and residents are starting to adjust to the situation, though the impact of travel restrictions is having most effect.
"At present, goods can move freely. That's not an issue. But people who are forced to leave the island from time to time due to work are asking questions. Businesses are bound by contracts," Leivategija said on "Aktuaalne kaamera".
Above all, this critical situation is putting to the test the functioning of the social sector on Saaremaa – in normal times Kuressaare welfare service sees very little unemployment cases, Leivategija added.
"At the moment we can manage with our own resources. We provide service to almost 700 people in Saaremaa in case of crisis, and we have about 500 people at home, most of them elderly," said Ene Vahter, Kuressaare welfare officer.
Kuressaare welfare service (Kuressaare Hoolekanne) enables elderly people and those under quarantine to order hot meals at home. Groceries or medicines can also be brought home from the store upon ordering.
"At the moment, volumes have increased tremendously, they have tripled. Most people are very grateful, there are even people who call back to express their thanks," said Valve Heiberg, head of Kuressaare Day Care Center (Kuressaare päevakeskus).
In the new situation, there are also entrepreneurs on the island who have to think about the present and the future. The movement restriction and the emergency situation imposed on Saare County to limit the spread of COVID-19 has already caused significant damage to operators on Saaremaa.
Sixty-four percent of businesses say they can't fight setbacks alone
Of the 210 companies that responded to a survey conducted recently, 64 percent said they will no longer be able to overcome the setbacks on their own.
"Nobody could think that a virus we saw somewhere far away in Asia would catch up with us," entrepreneur Ivo Uustulnd said.
"That's why I've taken all preventive measures. Here's how well we've dealt via basic solutions: One client at a time, distancing ourselves from people as much as possible. Our staff, colleagues use masks, gloves, and disinfect themselves," he added.
The situation is compounded by the uncertainty about how long we have to live in a crisis and what we really need to be prepared for. What happens when the crisis passes?
"I can't imagine. I don't know what's going to happen. Today, cafes, restaurants, hotels, are closed," Uustulnd said.
Populace rallying round hospital
The most important thing is the health of the islanders, who are now considering the importance of their hospital as never before. Edward Laane, Chief Medical Officer at Kuressaare Hospital, praised the hospital's staff and recognized the community, many of whom have made donations, for its support.
"On March 12, we got one additional brigade with the permission of the Health Board, which takes a lot of coronavirus-related samples - we call it a coronavirus brigade. Now we have come from an epidemiological point of view to where more patients should come from. The principle of hospitalization for patients who were on the mainland is no longer valid. Now, patients needing treatment must be hospitalized at the local hospital where the ambulance originated, which means that Kuressaare Hospital must have the capacity to hospitalize and treat these patients," Laane said.
The current capacity at the Hospital is to accommodate up to 36 COVID-19 patients, he said, but the point of concern is intensive care. Laane said that if there were many patients in need of such treatment, the hospital could be in trouble and these patients would inevitably need to be sent to the mainland.
In addition to the virus, the hospital has to cope with everyday life.
"Ordinary life has been cut back to a minimum. In fact, the hospital now has an 'extraordinary' life. There is no major planned work at the moment, everyone is on guard or is waiting for an incoming flood of sick people," Laane said.
Laane was firm in his view that testing facilities should be accessible to as many people as possible. On Friday, an extended free coronavirus testing was launched on the basis of referral from a family doctor in Kuressaare, along with several other Estonian cities. However, an uncomfortable ignorance still leaves many islanders. The main thing, however, is the islanders' do not lose their famous sense of humor, the report said.
Editor: Andrew Whyte