An Estonian Defense Forces (EDF) field hospital, aimed at alleviating pressure arising from the coronavirus pandemic on Kuressaare Hospital on the island of Saaremaa, is to be up and running on Thursday, defense minister Jüri Luik (Isamaa) says.
The hospital will have 20 intensive care units and up to 40 additional beds, and will be ready to receive patients in the most heavily affected region of the country.
The Health Board (Terviseamet) filed a request with the EDF to deploy the field hospital, which will be staffed by up to 20 EDF personnel, with the EDF's commander signing the project into being Monday.
"This is a unique hospital, originally designed for use in military conflict," Luik said, according to ERR's online news in Estonian.
"The container-field hospital, together with EDF personnel and civilian staff, up to 20 intensive care units and up to 40 additional beds, will provide significant support to the Saaremaa hospital in its intensive care capacity," he went on, adding it will be ready for admissions from April 2.
The hospital is configured to accommodate the maximum number of patients requiring emergency and intensive care. The EDF has the capability to activate a mobile unit with surgical, emergency medicine, intensive care and general ward capabilities.
The Health Board has ultimate say in when the hospital will halt its activities as needed.
"We are assisting the Health Board and the police in every conceivable way, patrolling with policemen on the Estonian borders, as well as on Saaremaa, where strict restrictive measures have been imposed. The military has also supported the civilian sector with surgical masks," Luik went on.
Field hospital under Kuressaare Hospital management
Precisely what function the field hospital will fulfill in conjunction with Kuressaare Hospital will become more clear on Thursday, said Arkadi Popov, medical director of the agency's crisis team.
"The management of Kuressaare Hospital will be coordinating the work of the field hospital; we have made this decision," Popov said. "Those who come to the island to work at the field hospital will sign a contract and they will remain under the remit of Kuressaare Hospital. Everyone will be accommodated at local hotels, and they will be receiving meals as well; that is ensured."
He added that the new employees would also be guaranteed personal protective equipment.
According to Popov, one eight-hour shift at the field hospital will be staffed by three doctors and eight nurses; work will be conducted in three shifts. This means that the new field hospital will be staffed by a total of nine doctors and 24 nurses, to be joined by EDF logistics personnel and medics.
Four working scenarios
Four scenarios have been worked out for hospitals, Popov said. Currently in place is Plan A, under which the bed occupancy rate at hospitals isn't high. The current occupancy rate is 40-45 percent; in a typical situation, the occupancy rate in intensive care units is 80 percent.
"We have completed preparations and intensive care units are ready," he said. "We have a great deal of resources for serving patients in Harju County and Tallinn."
Plan B is for if and when the number of patients exceeds hospitals' typical capacity. "Then we will start thinking about all wards being filled with COVID-19 patients," Popov explained. "Plan C is when outpatient departments are included as well. Plan D is large-scale plans already, which we are working on right now, involving what could happen in the case of a widespread pandemic."
Kuressaare Hospital has also opened a third isolated coronavirus ward itself.
Saaremaa, one of the first regions in Estonia to record cases following a touring volleyball team from Italy which was taking part in a tournament on the island early on in March, has by far the highest per capita rate of coronavirus at 77.93 per 10,000 inhabitants at the time of writing, according to Health Board (Terviseamet) data. The next-highest rate in any of Estonia's other 14 counties is in Võru County, another region which has among the first recorded cases of the virus and which has recorded 17.61 per 10,000, followed by Hiiumaa, Estonia's second largest island, at 6.39 per 10,000. All the remaining counties have figures at the time of writing below 5 per 10,000.
Saaremaa and other Estonian islands are closed to non-residents; additional measures rolled out by the government on Saturday include mandatory carrying of ID when leaving the house, with fines of up to €2,000 possible in the case of infringements. The president has given the go-ahead for volunteer Defense League (Kaitseliit) personnel to be drafted into assist the Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) on the island, whose own patrols have been stepped up.
Editor: Andrew Whyte, Aili Vahtla