Mask-wearing as a preventative measure needs to be normalized in Estonia, head of the Health Board's (Terviseamet) emergency medicine department Dr. Arkadi Popov says.
Appearing, replete with mask, on Monday morning's edition of ETV morning show "Terevisioon", Popov said that with rising rates in Tallinn and environs in Harju County, wearing a mask should become a habit, while at the same time not be viewed as a punishment.
"I think we need to get used to it," Popov told host Katrin Viirpalu.
"It's a prophylactic measure. It is not a punishment, for people to wear this mask, but a preventive measure. If we make prevention more effective, it is my belief that we won't have to fight the disease afterwards," Popov went on.
Commenting on the pandemic's current phase Popov said that he hopes the recent outbreaks can be contained, but only time can tell.
At the same time, he acknowledged that more outbreaks are appearing, so the situation could hardly be called calm.
The increase in the proportion of "elderly" (meaning over 50 in this definition) patients was particularly worrisome and went hand-in-hand with rising hospitalization rates, he went on.
"We need to be more prepared for the health care system to treat these people, and we are preparing for that eventuality," Popov added.
Low rates of hospitalization up until recently may have lulled the public into a false sense of security about the pandemic as well, he added.
Availability of key information in the Russian language could also be a factor in some of the recent outbreaks in Ida-Viru County and Tallinn, Popov added.
A third issue is fear of losing income (the government has ruled that state sick pay only kicks in on day four of an illness – ed.) which is preventing people from staying home when they have potential coronavirus symptoms or have been in contact with infected individuals, he said.
Reducing the self-quarantine requirement for those who have been in contact with a carrier, presented with symptoms or traveled from a COVID-19 high-risk country, from 14 days to 10 days was, on the other hand, optimal, Popov thought.
"From the tenth day onwards, a person usually develops effective immunity and, it could be said additionally, becomes 'safe'. Even if he or she becomes ill, ten days is the average period of suffering from this illness," he said, though discussion is needed as to whether those ending quarantine after 10 days would need a test.
Reducing quarantine periods also helps the economy, he noted.
"The less a person has to stay at home and the more efficiently they can work, the better, of course, and the better the results in terms of the economy and incomes. All of this must correlate with the risk of illness. If the period can be shortened, it's worth thinking about.
The government is set to discuss reducing the quarantine period at its next regular Thursday meeting.
Editor: Andrew Whyte