Experts: Recent coronavirus outbreaks in Europe do not mean a second wave

Protective masks. Source: Kristi Väät/TTJA

Recent cases of coronavirus in Estonia and elsewhere in Europe do not amount to a second wave of infections, experts say, according to a report on ETV current affairs show "Aktuaalne kaamera".

"It is too early to say that we are somehow in a critical situation; we now have two countries where the incidence is rising, and the number of deaths is rising, namely Romania and Bulgaria," said acting Health Board (Terviseamet) director Mari-Anne Härma.

"However, there are no trends [for a growth] in the number of deaths in other countries yet. There are no growth trends in the positive rate either, it is quite stable in Europe at the moment, and the number of tests is also increasing Europe-wide," she went on.

Virologist and head of the government's COVID-19 research council Professor Irja Lutsar Professor Irja Lutsar said the increase in cases may be the result of the coronavirus having previously been relatively uncommon in several countries, now reaching areas which had largely been untouched by it. 

Migrant workers have fallen ill in several countries, including Lithuania, she said, adding that while there is talk of a second wave in countries outside Europe, such as Israel and Australia, there are few major outbreaks in Europe at present.

Nevertheless, Estonia's foreign ministry has been adding new countries to its list of mandatory quarantining when arriving in Estonia, and Spain and the Netherlands are two countries which have seen significant increases in COVID-19 rates lately.

Over the past two weeks, coronavirus infections in Europe have risen, prompting the World Health Organization (WHO) to say that European countries must be prepared to impose tougher restrictions once again.

Lutsar: Countries have mistimed imposing restrictions

Many European countries are making the wearing of face masks in public areas mandatory again.

Irja Lutsar added that some countries jumped the gun with imposing restrictions, leading to public fatigue at a time when rates have started to rise.

"I think that with those countries that are now seeing another outbreak, one of their problems was that they imposed restrictions too early. By the time those restrictions were needed, their populations were already tired of them," she said.

Professor Lutsar added that both imposing and removing restrictions needs to be done in a timely manner, with excessive haste casing more damage than good.

She noted that new restrictions in Estonia were not currently necessary.

"If we impose restrictions now when we don't really require them, by the time they are needed, the public will be tired and then the restrictions will not be effective," she said.

Lutsar: Visiting Italian volleyball team not the biggest vector of COVID-19 entering the country

Lutsar also told ERR that she thought the imposition of the restrictions in Estonia during the emergency situation in March to May had been right at the time with the information to hand, which does not mean that criticism of current actions has evaporated.

"We made the right decisions at the right time, but I probably need to say that criticism has never been sparing," she said. 

"If you think we are not being criticized now, you are wrong. Nowadays, there are those people who think that restrictions should be imposed, and there are those who think they should not."

Professor Lutsar also pointed out that a visiting Italian volleyball team, the source of infections on the island of Saaremaa – by far Estonia's worst hit region at the height of the pandemic – were not the biggest vector for COVID-19's entry into Estonia.

"What I didn't realize at the time was that when this disease had spread to us, it was not only the Saaremaa volleyball [tournament], but the whole group of skiers who returned home. They were bigger importers than Saaremaa volleyball players.

Mari-Anne Härma also thinks that the rise in testing rates is a factor behind increased COVID-19 incidences, including testing of those with mild symptoms

Coronavirus is seeing recent spread particularly among the young in Estonia, with just 16 percent of new cases being over 50 years of age, it is reported.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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