City dwellers moving to countryside carry coronavirus to rural communities ({{contentCtrl.commentsTotal}})

Summer houses built before 1995, which predominate in the Tallinn commuter belt, often need permits for being reconstructed. Such permits are often lacking
Summer houses built before 1995, which predominate in the Tallinn commuter belt, often need permits for being reconstructed. Such permits are often lacking Source: Enno Raag, 1971 (Estonian Museum of Architecture).

Experts are warning that city dwellers who have moved to the countryside to escape from the coronavirus (COVID-19) can accidentally spread the virus to smaller communities and should self-isolate for 14 days to mitigate the risk to others. The Health Board suggests rural communities start limiting their own movements.

On Wednesday, Finland announced restrictions limiting movement between the region of Uusimaa and the rest of the country to stop coronavirus spreading outwards from the capital, Helsinki.

Similarly, Norway has banned people moving to their country cabins if they are based in a region where they don't usually live amid fears city dwellers will cause an outbreak leaving local medical facilities unable to cope.

ETV's "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK) reported on the same phenomenon in Estonia and spoke to experts who believe an outbreak in the countryside is certain.

Many rural regions live in the sincere belief that they will not be affected by the coronavirus, as there are only a few infected people in the county, AK reported.

One example is the island of Hiiumaa which has also had travel restrictions imposed on it by the government. However, on Wednesday an 83-year-oid woman from Hiiumaa became the first person to die after becoming contracting the disease.

Toomas Rõhu, deputy mayor of Hiiumaa, told AK: "It was through family contacts. /.../ She was 83 years old and has always been in Hiiumaa."

As of Thursday evening, two people from Hiiumaa have been diagnosed with coronavirus, only one of whom actually lived on the island. People who have come into contact with the islander are currently being identified, but the Health Board does not believe COVID-19 is spreading from person to person on the island.

Ragnar Vaiknemets, chief of the Health Board's crisis staff, said: "On-site spread is currently confirmed in Tallinn, Harju County, Võru and Saaremaa. In smaller places, we can't confirm it at the moment, but that doesn't mean the virus hasn't spread there."

Vaiknemets said there is no longer a question of whether the virus will reach the countryside. The question is when will this happen. Smaller communities are now being asked to stay at home and avoid contact with other people.

Tiit Tammaru, Professor of Urban and Population Geography at the University of Tartu, said by studying telecommunications data it can be shown that Tallinners have moved to their country homes. Now it is necessary to think carefully about how the coronavirus will spread in these areas.

"The first and biggest hotspots are grocery stores. Imagine if the infection spreads to the sales assistant... Then think how quickly the disease can spread in the local community," Tammaru told AK.

He urges people who have moved to the countryside to self-isolate themselves and their families for two weeks, to bring enough food from the city to avoid having to go to a local shop, and to postpone meeting with neighbors. 

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Editor: Helen Wright

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