The first relaxations of restrictions in Estonia brought a slight rise in COVID-19 infection rates. If the fourth epidemiological coronavirus study confirms an expected lower infection rate, the 2+2 rule could be lifted starting in July.
Professor of virology and head of the COVID-19 Scientific Council Irja Lutsar is happy about the first day of no new reported cases in Estonia, but says it will not affect restrictions yet.
"We think it's random. If we look at what's happening around us, it's not like the virus has disappeared," she said, adding that across the world, except for a few island countries, new cases of the virus tend to fade for a few days and then reappear at some point.
Because Estonia has once again opened its borders to flights starting this week, there is a chance the number of cases will again jump for some time.
"We have mostly beaten it spreading in Estonia, but the danger that it will be brought in from somewhere else still remains. Even though chances are low, someone can still bring it into the country," Lutsar said.
The Scientific Council will not make new proposals to the government for further relaxations this week, because they need time to analyze the effects of already made relaxations.
Although the relaxations have pushed the infection rate higher over the last two weeks, Lutsar does not think that is a critical change.
"Our numbers are so low that just one party is enough to tip the scales. We experienced a small rise in infection rate but that is all under control, we know who and what the cases were. Health Board (Terviseamet) has done great work with surveillance and tracking the sick," Lutsar said.
The government will unveil a new set of relaxations next week, including opening night clubs, losing the restrictions on cinema and theater visitors, etc.
New study might lose 2+2 rule
The third wave of coronavirus studies confirmed that there is no widespread infection in Estonia. The next study is planned to take place before Midsummer Eve (jaanipäev) on June 24. Lutsar said that if the next study shows even further decrease in infection, it is possible to nix the 2+2 rule. At the same time, she does not think the rule needs to change at all.
"Estonians have acquired the habit of washing their hands, keeping hygiene, and keeping distance well. The rule is not a bad one, even though keeping distance from each other probably isn't the biggest problem. The country is not overpopulated at all, but infection is still possible at big events," Lutsar said.
Latest infections have been among people aged under 50. Part of them have been discovered from random tests, but the majority of new cases have had their backgrounds looked into and confirmed. To this day new cases are coming from a party held in Rapla a few weeks ago.
A rainy Midsummer Eve should be postponed
Lutsar fears that a traditionally rainy Midsummer Eve celebration can lead to more cases, due to festivities moving indoors. In case of rain, she recommends postponing the celebration for a dryer day.
She does confirm that there will not be an official directive from the government for this.
"I believe the Estonian people have enough sense, everything does not need to be said. Who I can visit or invite over for a party, everyone should think about it with their own head," Lutsar said.
A call to participate in the randomly selected sample
For new relaxations to be made, there first needs to be a representative sample in the new study. Because people are tired of the virus, it is increasingly more difficult to get randomly selected people to participate in it.
"I would like to remind people to participate in studies if you happen to be invited. It matters a lot," Lutsar said.
"Scientists aren't doing it out of curiosity, if there are not enough people in the sample, we can't make decisions going forward. Taking the test isn't that bad and there aren't that many questions, blood is drawn using a very sharp needle, it's all micro pain," Lutsar encourages.
Editor: Kristjan Kallaste