Estonia coronavirus rate falls below WHO restrictions easing threshold ({{contentCtrl.commentsTotal}})

Carside coronavirus testing in progress in Estonia.
Carside coronavirus testing in progress in Estonia. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

Estonia has already met international thresholds below which countries can in theory start to step down restrictions imposed due to the coronavirus pandemic, health authorities say. This, however, still depends on getting a clearer picture of the exact numbers, and is ultimately a decision for the executive.

Merike Jürilo, Director General of the Health Board (Terviseamet), said the World Health Organization (WHO) has recommended starting to ease restrictions when the rate of COVID-19 infections reaches 5 percent or less per 1,000 inhabitants (i.e. 0.5 percent overall).

"We have had less than five percent in the last week," Jürilo said Tuesday.

"We are gradually moving towards a trend of stabilization and reduction of infection," said Jürilo. "Stabilizing the infection doesn't mean we can breathe too freely, but we can take steps to open up services that help us as a society cope better."

Professor Irja Lutsar, head of the government's coronavirus research council, agreed that in her organization's opinion, certain relaxations are viable.

"The position of the council is that if we start to relax [restrictions], we must definitely note we are taking small steps and we must always have the option to step back. We must be sure to monitor very carefully what is going to happen, which none of us knows exactly," Lutsar told ERR on Tuesday.

No clear overview of those diagnosed

Lutsar also touched upon a qualifying point with her words, given that the figures are a moving target and the Health Board still does not have an overview of the total number of people diagnosed, for instance over the phone by a family doctor, without having taken a test.

"Unfortunately, we are still in the technological development phase," said Jürilo, explaining that the data must reach them from the information systems of family doctors, but this solution is still being developed, meaning databases are not yet compatible.

For the same reason, the board does not have an overview of the number of people declared healthy on the basis of a clinical evaluation alone.

"We are also waiting for technological development concerning those who have recovered," said Jürilo. "But surely people are better, I can confirm that."

The picture is not clear also for those coronavirus carriers who are asymptomatic.

Main restrictions should stay in place

Jürilo added that primary restrictions including the 2 + 2 rule (maximum two people congregating in public, families excepted; minimum two meters' distance from others when in public-ed.) should continue to be adhered to.

Self-quarantining for those affected must remain in place and special attention should be paid to the elderly, she added.

However, Professor Lutsar said that the council only gave its guidelines as recommendations and not concrete steps which would have to be followed; any scaling-back would have to be most likely in reverse order in which restrictions were placed, though this was ultimately up to the government, she said.

"The most important [restrictions] come first and the less important ones next. We also did not give very clear recommendations to do the first on May 1, the second on May 5. In the end, it is still a government decision."

When the emergency situation was declared on March 12, the government put its expiry date at the end of April. However, interior minister Mart Helme (EKRE) says that the situation will last at least into May.

More PPE coming by air and land

Minister of Public Administration Jaak Aab (Center) said that stocks of personal protective equipment (PPE) are secure to the end of May, provided that two more expected transport aircraft arrive with their complement of masks this week.

However, half of the goods procured from China still need taking delivery, according to ERR's online Estonian news. 

Due to the high cost of air transport and the high volume of goods delivered, the remainder, i.e. about half of all procured goods, will be transported from China by train, in particular safety goggles.

Transport by train is 15-20 times cheaper, Aab said, and is expected by the end of May.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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