Crisis chief doctor: Doing all we can to avoid Saaremaa scenario in Tallinn

Dr. Arkadi Popov on Monday's edition of "Vikerhommik". Source: Kadri Põlendik/ERR

Head of the Health Board's (Terviseamet) emergency medical crisis unit Doctor Arkadi Popov says that while a reported rise in the rate of new COVID-19 diagnoses in Tallinn was cause for concern, all that could possibly done, would be, to avoid a Saaremaa-scenario in the capital.

Saaremaa is by far the worst hit region of Estonia in the pandemic so far, with a per capita infection rate 17 times that of Harju County, the most populous part of Estonia.

Dr. Popov did say that: "You can never be 100 percent sure of anything," when asked on ERR radio show "Vikerhommik" whether similar rates to those experienced on Saaremaa could be duplicated in Tallinn, adding that while many new cases are emerging in the capital and its environs on a daily basis, this had to be seen in the light of the larger population.

"As the population is larger in Tallinn, there have been more infections. Some people have fallen ill within the a family where coronavirus cases have been identified before, with some [in the same situation] at work. What worries us is that in some cases, we don't know the source of an infection, be it from a place where a person had personal contact, for example in a store, or touched something that carried the virus. "

At the same time, Popov acknowledged that it was the responsible behavior of the people of Estonia which has helped stabilizing the situation thus far, adding that the pandemic has not taken on similar dimensions to that experienced in many other countries.

Dr. Popov cautioned against rushing to ease restrictions, however.

"The general rule-of-thumb globally is that easing restrictions should not be rushed, because the virus is still present. If lifting restrictions comes too early, there will be consequences. In Singapore, for example, there have been such problems, and somewhat in China. This is why we started with easing restrictions from the resumption of scheduled treatment, but as for the future and other reliefs, we await a government decision.

As of Sunday morning, the highest number of positive tests had been found in Harju County – population over 580,000 – (including Tallinn), at 577. This was followed by Saaremaa with 541 (population: c. 31,000) and Ida-Viru County, with 115 positive tests (population: c. 144,000).

Dr. Popov also commented on differences of opinion on the usefulness of masks, adding that these could be worn, but the most important factor was general hygiene.

"When wearing masks, we have many factors that affect its use. Unfortunately, what we see is that a culture of wearing a mask does not meet the requirements. People may not observe hand hygiene, but wear, and touch, masks, or the mask is worn incorrectly," he said.

"Primarily, other hygiene rules should be followed – washing the hands and avoiding social contact. Then masks can also be worn."

On the issue of planned international events in Estonia and elsewhere in the world this summer, Dr. Popov said that at present he cannot talk about the longer perspective.

"There are certain risks, especially with regard to international events. We have to take into account where people have traveled from. These [events] can only then happen if the number of new cases is quite small both in Estonia and in the region [visitors have come from]. As of today, we are not in a position to talk about such situations yet."

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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