Health Board acting chief: Second coronavirus wave likely

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Health Board acting chief Mari-Anne Härma
Health Board acting chief Mari-Anne Härma Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

A coronavirus second wave in Estonia is probable, though not inevitable, the Health Board (Terviseamet) says, adding that it will monitor three key indicators in assessing the spread of COVID-19.

Acting Health Board chief, Mari-Anne Härma, who started work on Monday following the departure of Merike Jürilo, said Tuesday that second outbreaks were likely.

"Until there is a proper vaccine, we cannot talk about herd immunity and we have to take into account that outbreaks are coming," Härma said.

Four of the nine new coronavirus cases identified in Estonia in the past week are of unknown origin, with some vectors coming from outside the country.

"As long as there are still positives with an unknown origin of infection, there is a chance of widespread outbreaks in Estonia. If we know exactly where someone got their infection, we can then say that we have a limited spread on the spot," Härma said.

On Monday, a coronavirus-positive person traveled from Helsinki to Tallinn and came into contact with an unknown number of fellow passengers.

The three key indicators Härma said the Health Board would be using in monitoring the virus and its potential resurgence were test incidence – with higher numbers of tests indicating an increase in prevalence, a World Health Organization (WHO) yardstick, proportion of positive tests – where 5 percent or more would represent an outbreak (Estonia's current COVID-19 positive testing rate lies below 1 percent), and rate of increase in cases.

At present the situation is under control in Estonia and the incidence relatively slow Europe-wide over the past two-and-a-half weeks, Härma said, but the virus has not gone anywhere and if given the chance could easily recur.

Härma said recently that she would not take the role of Health Board chief on a full-time basis, citing a lack of experience. Merike Jürilo stepped down in mid-June after social affairs minister Tanel Kiik (Center), who had up to then supported her, abandoned her. Jürilo's second-in-command, Martin Kadai, announced his resignation last week and now no longer works for the board.

The Health Board had faced criticism for its handling of the pandemic, including from Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Center), as early on as April.

Minister: Preparation for second wave ongoing

Tanel Kiik added that head of the Health Board's emergency situation crisis team Dr. Arkadi Popov will oversee decisions on whether all 19 hospitals in Estonia will be ready to receive COVID-19 patients, or just some hospitals will be designated with the role.

Kiik added that with a national one-month reserve of personal protective equipment (PPE) and a requirement for all medical institutions to create their own one-month stock, funded by the Health Insurance Fund (Haigekassa), there was no danger that PPE items would run out in a fall COVID-19 resurgence.

The pharmaceuticals private sector has also committed to more regular stock-taking regarding coronavirus paraphernalia, as well, it is reported.

The March-May pandemic came at a time when the pharmacy sector was being reorganized in terms of ownership, a development which sparked fears of wholesale pharmacy closures, especially in rural areas. In the event, only a few pharmacy outlets closed for good.

The coronavirus scientific council will also continue cooperation in an autumn pandemic, as it did in spring, it says.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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