Timeline: How Saaremaa became the epicenter of Estonia's COVID-19 outbreak

Kuressaare Castle.
Kuressaare Castle. Source: Minupilt.err.ee/Katri Kotkas

Saaremaa has become the epicenter of Estonia's coronavirus outbreak after overtaking Harju County as the region with the highest number of cases. ERR News has created a timeline which helps to explain the chain of events which led to this situation.

You can also read ERR New's overview of the situation, the regulations which have been introduced and advice from government and ministries here.

Information from the Health Board can be found here and news from the government is available here.

English language versions of official decrees introduced during the emergency situation can be found here.

All links below are in English unless otherwise mentioned. Key events, such as the announcement of the emergency situation, restrictions and coronavirus figures, have been included. 

The above map shows how many people have tested positive in each county and was made by koroonakaart.ee.

Saaremaa has a population of 33,000 while Harju County has a population of over 585,000. Saare County includes Muhu and several smaller islands and Harju includes the capital, Tallinn.

This timeline will be updated regularly.

Timeline: Coronavirus in Saaremaa  


February 27: The Health Board and Minister of Social Affairs Tanel Kiik (Center) announce the first case of COVID-19 has been diagnosed in Estonia.

March 2020

March 4 and 5: Visiting Italian volleyball team Powervolley Milano play two matches against Saaremaa VK in the CEV Challenge series (link in Estonian).

March 7: Saaremaa Bubble Festival. The BBC reports this public event could also have helped the virus spread.

March 8: Woman's Day, which could have seen an increase in visits to care homes or relatives.

March 11: Two cases of coronavirus are diagnosed in Saaremaa, the first on the island. It is thought both people attended the volleyball tournament the week before.

The manager of Saaremaa VK manager tests positive for COVID-19 and players from Milan are quarantined but are not displaying symptoms (Link in Estonian). 

Approximately 10 cases have already been diagnosed elsewhere in Estonia.

March 12: Government announces an emergency situation until May 1.

Restrictions can be viewed here.

The referee at the volleyball game and several Italian players test positive for COVID-19. (Link in Estonian)

Saaremaa authorities announce schools will close for the rest of the week (two days) after several children who attended the volleyball match start to experience symptoms of COVID-19. 

March 13: A conscript from the Kalev Infantry Battalion who watched the volleyball match tests positive for COVID-19 after returning to barracks. Following the announcement, 146 conscripts and eight active soldiers are quarantined. 

March 14: More than 100 cases of COVID-19 diagnosed in Estonia. The Health Board announce 109 positive cases. The majority have been diagnosed in Harju County.

New restrictions announced. The government announces access to Estonia's western islands will be closed to everyone unless they are registered as a permanent resident on the islands. Non-residents are given the chance to leave but islanders are told they must stay put.

The order applies to Hiiumaa, Kihnu, Muhu, Ruhnu, Saarema and Vormsi islands.

Car ferry passengers must remain in vehicles while traveling.

A nation-wide restriction is also announced by the prime minister, closing all sports halls, sports clubs, gyms, spas, saunas, swimming pools, water centres, day centres, and children´s playrooms, including those operated by hotels and other accommodation providers.

The government's official statement can be read here.

Kuressaare Hospital, in Saaremaa's capital, launches carside, or drive-in, testing. The hospitals medical chief believes anyone who wants to should be able to get a test.

Carside coronavirus testing at Kuressaare Hospital. Source: Foto: Margus Muld / ERR

March 15: New restrictions announced. Additional controls are introduced on all of Estonia's borders.

March 16: More than 200 cases of COVID-19 diagnosed in Estonia. The Health Board announce 205 cases have been diagnosed across the country.

New restrictions announced. Anyone arriving from abroad must self-isolate for 14 days.

March 18: Flights to and from Saaremaa and Hiiumaa are suspended from Tallinn Airport until the end of the emergency situation.  

Kuressaare Hospital announces on Facebook it is fundraising to buy medical equipment and protective equipment for staff.

March 19: Mayor of Saaremaa municipality Madis Kallas, and head of the island's municipal coronavirus crisis committee, announces he has tested positive for COVID-19. 

March 20: Edward Laane, medical chief at Kuressaare Hospital, says most of the hospitalized patients with coronavirus (COVID-19) in hospitals in Tallinn and Pärnu come from Saaremaa.

Laane says there are six or seven patients from the island in hospitals on the mainland.

March 21: Number of positive cases of COVID-19 diagnosed pass 300. The Health Board announces 306 patients have tested positive across Estonia. A total of 2,812 coronavirus tests have been carried out in Estonia since January 31.

March 22: ERR's sports portal reports several players from Saaremaa VK volleyball team have tested positive for COVID-19 (link in Estonian)

March 25: The Health Board announces the first death due to COVID-19.

Positive cases of COVID-19 diagnosed pass 400. The Health Board announces 404 patients have tested positive across Estonia.

March 26: Positive cases of COVID-19 diagnosed pass 500. The big increase in cases is due to a new data counting method and is two days worth of results, the Health Board say.

The Heath Board announces two residents in Südamekodu care home in Saaremaa test positive for COVID-19. 

New restrictions announced: Anyone diagnosed with COVID-19 must stay at home - it is forbidden to leave their place of residence.

March 27: The cases diagnosed in Saaremaa overtake Harju County, which includes Tallinn, the most populated region in Estonia. Saaremaa has 218 positive cases and Harju County 208.

Saaremaa has a population of 33,000 whereas Harju County's is over 583,000.  

Kuressaare Hospital announces that since the outbreak began 20 members of it's staff have tested positive for COVID-19 or are self-isolating after coming into contact with people who have tested positive.

25 residents and members of staff test positive for COVID-19 at Südamekodu care home.

New restrictions announced: 2+2 rule must be followed. Only groups of two can meet in public and two meters must be left between yourself and others. Shopping centers are closed from Friday, March 27.

March 28: Positive cases of COVID-19 pass 600. The Health Board announce 640 cases have been diagnosed across Estonia. New cases were reported in almost every county with Saaremaa seeing the highest at 34.

The Health Board announces Saaremaa will receive additional health workers and medical supplies to help cope with the coronavirus outbreak.

March 29: New restrictions announced. Prime Minister Jüri Ratas announces new movement restrictions for the residents of Saaremaa and Muhu islands.

Most stores and close contact service providers will close their doors from March 29. From March 30, everyone who can work from home should do. Islanders must carry ID when they leave the house and the police will start spot checks. Fines of up to €2,000 can now be issued.

The Health Board announces the first person to die due to coronavirus in Saaremaa.  

President Kersti Kaljulaid allows 40 members of the defence forces to work alongside the police in Saaremaa. 

March 30: Municipality mayor of Saaremaa Madis Kallas says the island is bracing for more cases to be diagnosed.

A third ward opens at Kuressaare Hospital to treat COVID-19 patients. 

March 31: Coronavirus cases in Estonia pass 700. The Health Board announce the figure is now 745.

Minister of Defence Jüri Luik says the Estonian Defence Forces will build a field hospital with 20 beds outside Kuressaare Hospital for additional support.

Police patrols with the volunteer Defence League (Kaitseliit) start in Saaremaa.

Kuressaare Hospital with the Defense Force's field hospital and coronavirus testing tents outside. Source: Margus Muld/ERR


April 1: The Defence Forces start constructing a field hospital in the grounds of Kuressaare Hospital, anticipating further cases.

April 2: Death toll passes 10. Six people die in one day due to COVID-19, the most on any single day so far. Three were patients at Kuressaare Hospital.

Positive cases of COVID-19 pass 800. The Health Board announce 858 people have tested positive.

Kuressaare Hospital announces 41 members of staff have tested positive since the outbreak of coronavirus.

Field hospital opens and the first patient is admitted. 

April 3: Positive cases of COVID-19 pass 900. The Health Board announces 103 more people have tested positive and the figure is now 961. A total of 18,290 tests have been performed in Estonia.

Cases in Saaremaa are 359, compared to Harju County's 303.

Kuressaare Hospital's medical chief tells ERR News the hospital is bracing for hundreds, and potentially thousands, of patients needing hospitalization in the coming weeks.

New restrictions announced. 2+2 rule must be followed in shops, customers must be counted in and out, hand sanitizer must be available from April 4.

New restrictions announced. Residents of care homes are no longer allowed to leave the premises. If a resident leaves, they may not return.

April 4: Positive cases of COVID-19 pass 1,000. The Health Board announces the figure now stands at 1,018. The number of hospitalized patients passes 100. In total, 113 people are receiving hospital treatment.

April 5: The Health Board announces 1,097 people have been diagnosed with COVID-19 across Estonia. Tests pass 20,000. A total of 21,004 tests have been carried out in Estonia since January 31.

The highest number of new cases were diagnosed in Saaremaa.

April 6: Four more deaths on Saaremaa. The Health Board reports four more deaths have occurred since Sunday, all of them in Kuressaare Hospital. The deceased, two men and two women, were aged between 60 and 86.

COVID-19 cases pass 1,100. A total of 1,108 confirmed cases of coronavirus reported in Estonia.

April 7: Deaths due to coronavirus pass 20. The Health Board confirm 21 people have died after contracting coronavirus.

In an interview with ERR, Martin Kadai, head of the Health Board's emergency medicine department, says COVID-19 has spread through all age groups and across the island.

He says the reason the disease has spread to care homes is that patients were leaving and then returning, rather than visitors sneaking in.

April 8: First healthcare worker dies due to coronavirus. The 53-year-old woman was a care worker at Kuressaare Hospital.

April 9: COVID-19 cases passes 1,200. The Health Board reports the new total figure of confirmed cases of coronavirus in Estonia is 1,207.

April 11: Positive tests pass 1,300. The Health Board says the number is now at 1,304 in Estonia. In total, 46 new cases were diagnosed and 25 were in Saare County.

Kuressaare. Source: Government Communications Office.

April 12: Tests pass 30,000. The Health Board announces 30,349 have been conducted in Estonia in total

April 14: Deaths pass 30. The Health Board announces COVID-19 patients will be moved to mainland hospitals to relieve the workload of staff at Kuressaare Hospital. A plan is being drawn up to disband the Defence Forces field hospital.

April 15: Coronavirus cases in Estonia hit 1,400.

April 18: COVID-19 cases in Estonia pass 1,500. The Health Board announces 1,512 cases have been diagnosed since February 26.

April 19: Deaths due to COVID-19 reach 40 and tests pass 40,000.

April 20: Saaremaa reports no new cases.

Harju County, the most populated, overtakes Saare County as the county with the most cases of coronavirus.

Municipality mayor of Saaremaa Madis Kallas resigns, taking political responsibility for the coronavirus crisis on the island.

April 24: COVID-19 cases in Estonia pass 1,600. The Health Board says 1,605 cases have been diagnosed in total.

Government extends emergency situation until May 17.

April 26: Islanders on Saaremaa hold a protest against restrictions remaining in place on the islands but loosening on the mainland.

Mayor of Saaremaa municipality Madis Kallas posts a list of 10 messages to the mainland from the islanders on social media.

April 27: The government agreed that from May 2 the strictest restrictions will be lifted on the western islands.

A limited number of permits will be issued to allow travel between the western islands and the mainland.

Stores and markets will open with similar restrictions to those on the mainland.

Movement restrictions which kept islanders at home and only allowed to visit the grocery store, pharmacy, see a doctor, or go to work in absence of the possibility of remote work, will be lifted. 

The 2+2 rule must be stuck to.

April 28: The defense forces field hospital is packed up and leaves Saaremaa.

The government announces movement restrictions will be completed lifted on May 18.

Tests for COVID-19 pass 50,000.

April 30: Deaths from COVID-19 reach 50.

Mikk Tuisk (SDE) is nominated as the new municipality mayor, replacing Madis Kallas.

The Health Board reports half of all deaths from COVID-19 in Estonia have occurred among residents of Saaremaa.

The Rescue Board posts a video on Facebook of firefighters celebrating the military hospital leaving the island by creating "water gates" for the vehicles to drive under as they depart. 



May 2: The PPA announces restrictions will be partially lifted to allow movement between Estonia's islands and the mainland from May 4 to people who have a registered residence but who are not full-time residents.

One of the four coronavirus wards at Kuressaare Hospital closes and cleaning of the premises begins.

May 3: For the first time since March 2, only one case of COVID-19 is diagnosed in Estonia. The last time zero cases were diagnosed was March 8.

Diagnosed cases of COVID-19 reaches 1,700.

May 6: Tests for COVID-19 pass 60,000.

May 7: The government decides to lift the movement restrictions on Estonia's western islands from Friday (May 8). The restrictions were set to be in place until May 18 and only allowed access to people registered as living there.

Part of the reason is that people registering an address on the islands as a person's place of residence and registering an island address as an additional address have increased significantly in Estonia recently, which means many people have created the possibility for themselves to travel to the islands under current regulations.

Saaremaa Municipality launches a campaign to encourage people to wear masks.

The municipality, which is offering downloadable versions of its new ad for people to print and use, is also reminding people to continue abiding by the 2+2 rule in public spaces, as the "sneaky" novel coronavirus isn't yet gone.

May 8: Movement restrictions for Saaremaa, Muhu, Hiiumaa, Kihnu, Ruhnu, Vormsi and Manija islands are lifted and people can travel freely to and from the mainland once again.

Go Bus restarts services to the islands of Saaremaa and Hiiumaa, which had been closed to non-residents until May 8.

A petition from 24 members of staff at Kuressaare Hospital calling for the dismissal of medical chief Edward Laane is submitted to the hospital's board.

May 9: Deaths from COVID-19 reach 60.

Prime Minister Jüri Ratas visits the islands of Saaremaa and Muhu on Friday after restrictions imposed to stop the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) are lifted.

"Although the difficulties are not over, now is the time to focus on the future and address social and economic challenges," said Ratas.

Prime Minister Jüri Ratas visits Saaremaa and Muhu after COVID-19 restrictions are lifted.. Source: Government Communications Office.

May 10: Transaviabaltika, which operates flight connections between Tallinn and Saaremaa and Hiiumaa, restarts flights.

May 11: Researchers at the University of Tartu have discovered two mutations of the coronavirus which so far have been found only in Estonia - one in Saare County and one in Võru County.

Family doctors in Saare County (Saaremaa) and Õismäe, a residential district of Tallinn, are inviting volunteers to take part in a coronavirus antibody study organized by the University of Tartu.

May 14: An 85-year-old woman from Saaremaa dies after contracting coronavirus. A total of 62 people have died of causes related to the virus to date.

May 15: Kuressaare Hospital agrees Dr Edward Laane will continue in his position as chief of medicine after a petition signed by 24 members of staff called for his dismissal.

May 17: Emergency situation ends in Estonia.

May 18: Tests for COVID-19 pass 70,000.

President Kersti Kaljulaid visits Saaremaa, Muhu and Hiiumaa islands for the first time since the outbreak of the coronavirus.

President Kersti Kaljulaid on Saaremaa Source: Margus Muld/ERR

May 24: Saare County records no new cases of coronavirus during the week May 18 -24, the first time since the start of the crisis.

May 28: The number of coronavirus tests carried out in Estonia passes 80,000.

May 29: The head of the economic and administrative department of Saaremaa municipality Mikk Tuisk is elected to the position of mayor on Thursday after winning 21 of 30 possible votes. He replaces Madis Kallas.


June 3: The former Mayor of Saaremaa Madis Kallas says resigning was not "giving up" and speaks about his time as mayor during the crisis.

June 5: The government agrees to pay out an emergency support sum of €50,000 to the family of a caregiver, who lost their life working in Kuressaare Hospital at the height of the pandemic.

June 6: Kuressaare hospital closes its last coronavirus ward

The number of coronavirus tests carried out in Estonia passes 90,000.

June 9: A total of 201 people tested positive for coronavirus (COVID-19) at three large pubic events in Estonia at the beginning of the outbreak in February and March, data from the Health Board shows. This includes the volleyball matches and Bubble Festival on Saaremaa.

The initial results of a study conducted by the University of Tartu that tested for antibodies in Saaremaa and Õismäe indicate the virus spread further than official statistics show.

June 17: The number of coronavirus tests carried out in Estonia passes 100,000.

June 18: Health Board chief Merike Jürilo resigns

The Health Insurance Fund's audit of the work of Kuressaare Hospital during the emergency situation has been postponed until the end of summer or in the autumn.

June 20: Saaremaa Parish presents Dr. Edward Laane with the highest recognition of Saare County - the Order of Saare County - for his work fighting the islands' outbreak of coronavirus.


July 7: The number of coronavirus cases in Estonia passes 2,000.

The number of coronavirus tests carried out in Estonia passes 110,000.

July 15: The Estonian Red Cross handed over donations collected to support workers who became infected with coronavirus to several hospitals in Estonia, included Kuressaare.


August 1: The number of coronavirus tests carried out in Estonia passes 120,000.

Total deaths from coronavirus revised from 69 to 63.

August 3: Kuressaare Hospital will reintroduce visiting restrictions due to the change of the epidemiological situation in Estonia.


Anyone interested in donating to Kuressaare Hospital by phone can do so automatically by calling the following donation hotlines and remaining on the line until the end of the prerecorded message:

  • 9000 405 for €5
  • 9000 410 for €10
  • 9000 450 for €50

Should anyone be interested in donating larger sums, the hospital can be reached via email at [email protected].

The hospital is also accepting direct donations via online bank transfer:

To: Kuressaare Haigla SA
Account number: EE322200001120090627 (Swedbank) or
EE581010220017888014 (SEB)

The government's new Stay Healthy! campaign is encouraging people to continue to comply with the coronavirus restrictions. Source: Government office.


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Editor: Helen Wright

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