Scientific Council: Testing for coronavirus should replace quarantine

A social distancing sign outside Tartu railway station which translates as
A social distancing sign outside Tartu railway station which translates as "I'll love you from afar". Source: Helen Wright / ERR

Estonia should focus on living according to the new rules to control the spread of coronavirus in place, not on new restrictions, the scientific council advising the government said on Monday. However, a more flexible approach to going abroad should be taken into account and testing should replace quarantine.

Professor of Virology Irja Lutsar told ERR: "We should live by the new rules and not put all our efforts into restrictions," Lutsar told ERR. "We [should] focus on what we can do so that restrictions are not needed. And when those restrictions come, let them be focused, not general."

Coronavirus testing instead of quarantine

The Scientific Council's main recommendation was to propose the two-week self-isolation requirement be replaced by a test for coronavirus when a person comes from a highly infected country. 

This is because, firstly, it is not possible to check compliance with the isolation rule. Secondly, it is not always possible to be in the same country for two consecutive weeks. 

Several other countries are already implementing this measure, the council said. This requires a good logistical plan which the government must establish in cooperation with the Health Board.

"Estonia depends a lot on what other countries do. We also see that these restrictions are different. In Estonia, it can be seen that a number of cases have been introduced [from abroad]," Lutsar said.

She said the overall number of people infected per 100,000 inhabitants is not a very good indicator for a large country because outbreaks are usually local, so it makes a big difference whether a person travels to part of the country in the middle of an outbreak or to another area under control.

"These numbers are not set in stone, they need to be discussed and this isolation [period] needs to be looked at - if I have definite contact with someone with coronavirus, it is one thing and another when I come from a country where I can potentially bring the disease," Lutsar said. "There's a lot of detail to be confirmed there, but it's definitely something the Scientific Council suggested for discussion."

Irja Lutsar Autor/allikas: Siim Lõvi /ERR

Scheduled treatment should not be interrupted

Mistakes made in the spring should also be avoided in the future when new restrictions are created, the council said.

Lutsar cited the termination of scheduled treatment and the closure of schools as mistakes, emphasizing that scheduled treatment was interrupted only due to lack of personal protective equipment. 

This should not happen again during the autumn wave of infections and scheduled medical treatments should be able to continue. Lutsar used scheduled treatment as an example of how blanket restrictions, rather than targeted restrictions, do not work well.

Children's vaccinations were delayed

Another example is the closure of schools. This did not only affect children's education but also stopped vaccinations from being administered, the Scientific Council said.

In the spring, when classes moved online, vaccinations were stopped so many children are now behind with their vaccinations. 

But no less important are hobby groups and sports training, which go hand in hand with schools. The backlog was large in both, and development will stop if children cannot attend classes or training sessions.

In the case of sports training, Lutsar highlights the obesity epidemic that endangers Estonian children, which will only worsen after months of sitting at home.

"Obesity is becoming more and more of a problem among children," said Lutsar. She suggested children could start walking to school in the autumn if possible. 

Each school and institution has its own plan

Another recommendation by the council Lutsar said was that every school and institution should make a plan for the coming months about how to limit the spread of coronavirus.

The Ministry of Education can give general instructions, she said, but as every school and its staff are different a detailed plan cannot come from "above".

Weekly meetings

Due to the rise in infections, the Scientific Council will meet once a week from now on and make recommendations to the government.


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Editor: Helen Wright

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