Researchers urge government to move forward with loosening restrictions

Playgrounds in Tartu were closed on March 24.
Playgrounds in Tartu were closed on March 24. Source: Mana Kaasik

The coronavirus outbreak has been brought under control across Estonia and the number of infections is decreasing everywhere, including in Tallinn, the government's scientific council said. The restrictions implemented during the emergency situation can now be eased.

Professor of Virology Irja Lutsar, head of the government's scientific council, told ERR: "The numbers are all falling. Our assessment is that the situation is under control. We have advised the government to move forward with relaxation efforts."

The forecasts made have not changed during the last week and there is a downward trend in infection rate, hospitalization and deaths. Now restrictions can start to be relaxed.

Krista Fischer, a professor of mathematics who leads the team of modelers said: "From the point of view of the whole of Estonia, there is a very clear downward trend in all regions. It is justified that measures are eased here. A week ago it was seen that there was an increase in Tallinn in people under the age of 50, but this week has changed. The is no growth there."

She added: "If the current situation continues, the situation will move very quickly to zero."

Lutsar agrees: "Tallinn has been quite stable. Tallinn and Harju County are the largest regions in Estonia, so 15 cases in Tallinn is not exactly the same as 15 cases in Võru. Certainly, the number of cases in Tallinn has not increased. Tallinn has the youngest population in Estonia, there it becomes apparent that younger people have a milder course of the disease and also a better end result."

This is why researchers have proposed to the government to allow children to visit playgrounds and to gradually restart relaxing restrictions on public spaces. However, since the decision is made by the government, the researchers do not want to make their proposals public.

Lutsar said: "There certainly will not be a specific date on which all measures will be lifted. Major restrictions will be lifted first, minor ones later."

Fischer said much of normal life could be restored: "Definitely in May. I don't see a reason right now to keep these restrictions in place. I have a feeling the government does not agree on that either: Some want to be more careful."

She is in favor of keeping border restrictions in place as the virus has not yet been brought under control in neighboring countries, such as Sweden and Russia, and the risk of reintroducing the disease to Estonia remains high. However, in her opinion, schools could be opened and children's playgrounds.

Fischer said not all restrictions can be removed at once because the easing of restrictions is likely to lead to an increase in infection rates. If all restrictions are removed at once it will not be possible to determine what caused it. Which is why the restrictions must be removed step by step and, if necessary, some must be reintroduced.

A cautious approach to rolling back the measures is also recommended by international organizations.

Lutsar said: "The initial plan is to go step by step. It would be worse if the situation gets out of control and needs to be curtailed again."

ERR asked the experts if they knew how long the restrictions and the emergency could be maintained? Until the infection rate reaches zero?

Lutsar said the best case scenario is when a vaccine is developed, but noted no potential vaccine has been found yet. The effectiveness of any potential vaccine also needs to be determined.

"We need to be able to live with this virus," she said. The key is to let it disturb life as little as possible, to not let the hospitals get overrun, to make sure there are good stocks of PPE and to maintain testing.


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Editor: Helen Wright

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