The recent rapid rise in COVID-19 cases in Estonia is cause for concern, but the situation is still possible to control, head of the Health Board's (Terviseamet) emergency medical department Doctor Arkadi Popov says.
Speaking on ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera", Popov, who has also been appointed new head of West Tallinn Central Hospital (LTKH) said that Wednesday's record daily total of new COVID-19 cases, so far, at 125, demonstrated the severity of the situation, in an interview which follows.
What do the new numbers mean? Hopefully nothing critical, as yet?
The situation is clearly serious. However, at present it is certainly still viable to keep things under control. We discussed things with our epidemiologists in the [Health Board's] northern region today, and also for instance with the western region, and they confirmed that all the current outbreaks are under control and related contacts can be ascertained.
You say the situation is currently under control, but what can help keep it that way? Is this rather a question of people's conscious behavior and common sense, or instead of restrictions and regulations?
First of all as to the first factor, that people today are, you could say, somewhat used to the fact that life during the summer was comparatively calm, with few people requiring hospitalization [due to the virus]. But people right now aren't quite behaving the way we would wish them to.
We are however talking at present that the situation in Estonia is very good and that we must maintain this on all fronts.
Could it be that your new message is: 'If you don't want new restrictions, act responsibly'?
It's exactly that. We would still recommend the use of masks as much as possible in public places, especially those areas where the infection level is high – namely Harju County, Tallinn, Rapla, Ida-Viru and Jõgeva counties.
There is now a major outbreak at a Rapla care center, a place which is now receiving special protection. What have we now learned from the original coronavirus wave?
Unfortunately this still happens because people do get sick and the care home is one part of our society, and certainly this situation can recur and recur again. However, we needed to set up a system like the infection control commissioners which we have now reactivated, so that they can help and advise care homes.
Additionally, staff at the Health Board's regional departments are working particularly actively to help care homes deal with the problem.
The source of the infection in one fifth of cases in Harju County is not known. What is being discussed about this?
This relates to a hidden spread in the Harju County region. Certainly another aspect causing concern is that the proportion of positive tests is relatively rising – higher than four percent – and for us this is an important indicator that one proportion of our population has not been adequately tested.
We are asking all residents to ensure that if even the smallest symptoms appear, please go to your family doctor so that they can direct you to testing. In this way, we can track contacts.
When will there be a vaccine?
A vaccine will be available when it has a sales permit and when it has passed all the necessary trials – it is in this third phase today. I am very hopeful that next year, maybe in the second quarter, if things go well, we will have it. But time will tell.
So your message to the public, politicians, decision-makers right now is to keep calm?
Yes, activity should be panic-free for sure, particularly for those working in the health sector. One [daily] figure does not mean that all is lost, by any stretch.
Editor: Andrew Whyte