Allow hospital, care home visitors from June 1, says research council ({{contentCtrl.commentsTotal}})

Warning sign outside Tammiste Care Home in Pärnu
Warning sign outside Tammiste Care Home in Pärnu Source: Verner Vilgas/ERR

The coronavirus research council tasked with advising the Estonian government is recommending allowing visitors to hospitals and care homes again beginning June 1, with final decisions regarding visitors remaining up to individual establishments depending on local epidemiological circumstances.

Research council chairwoman and professor of virology Irja Lutsar told ERR that the council recommended to the government to allow visitors to hospitals and care homes again beginning June 1, but added that every institution would retain the right to decide an exact date for themselves, as the epidemiological situation may not be safe enough everywhere to allow for ill patients or those receiving care to have visitors.

"There may be differences here," Lutsar said. "Some might allow visitors sooner, while in another community that has seen more carriers of the virus might allow them later. Local care homes must decide this for themselves."

Nonetheless, the government will have final say over the exact date from which visits to hospitals and care homes will be allowed again, and it is possible that the government may decide on a date sooner than recommended as well. A decision is expected to be reached sometime this week.

The research council also recommends visitors meet with those they are visiting outdoors if possible, although it acknowledged that this may not always be possible.

"The weather is getting nicer," Lutsar said. "We recommend visiting them outdoors. Of course, not all patients can be brought outside, and the weather isn't always sunny."

The council chair added that when visiting ill patients or the elderly, visitors must adhere to hygiene guidelines, including wearing a mask, washing their hands and filling out a health declaration form confirming that they are well and have not come in contact with any carriers of the novel coronavirus.

The research council has not yet discussed allowing birth partners to be present at births.

"We must first hear out the Estonian Perinatal Society's position before we discuss allowing fathers to be present at births," Lutsar explained.

Children's summer camps to be permitted

The research council is, however, in favor of permiting children's camps to operate this summer.

"We saw no reason why they shouldn't take place," Lutsar said. "There can be ten or more smaller groups at camps; the entire camp doesn't constantly have to be all together."

While the 2+2 rule must continue to be followed in schools, the same expectations do not extend to kindergartens or early grades. Whether or not the 2+2 rule will continue to apply at the basic and high school levels this fall, however, has yet to be discussed.

"We haven't discussed what will happen this fall at all yet," the council chairwoman said. "We don't have a very good idea yet of what the situation will be like this fall."

The research council is of the position that very long-term plans for the relaxation of restrictions can't be made, as several stages of relaxation or lifting of restrictions are planned for this and next week — including the reopening or partial reopening of shopping centers, gyms, pools and schools — and any possible accompanying changes must be monitored in the process.

Lutsar: Major events will be risky

It is for this reason that Tuesday's announcement that major events with attendance of up to 1,000 will be permitted beginning in July cannot be regarded as a promise, as if the epidemiological situation worsens, these planned relaxations of restrictions will be reversed.

"Organizing major events this summer will be very risky," Lutsar warned, adding that event attendance will still be capped at 500 for indoor events, and only on condition that this does not exceed half of maximum capacity. For example, Saku Suurhall in Tallinn, which has a maximum capacity of more than 6,000, may only permit up to 500 people at a time on its premises this summer.

"The 2+2 rule is still in force in indoor spaces, with no end date set," she stressed. "This should be followed in stores and shopping centers, and masks are strongly recommended indoors. Store owners are also responsible for ensuring that their employees do not get sick."

Lutsar also recommends that people think critically, and not just wait for each step to be spelled out for them. "If dad needs a new suit, the whole family doesn't need to go to the store with him," she said.

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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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