The Estonian Defense Forces (EDF) is looking at expanding its coronavirus quarantining facilities amid growing numbers among conscripts and others.
A recent outbreak centered on the eastern Estonian town of Jõhvi has resulted in patients being transferred to Tapa base, with larger facilities being planned as needed.
Conscripts based in Jõhvi who fell sick are to be taken to Tapa, which hosts a large NATO base complex and as such has more space, while the Seli rehab center in Tallinn and the base at the western Estonian town of Paldiski are also being considered, the EDF's chief doctor Lt Col. Targo Lusti told ERR.
125 COVID-19 cases among conscripts
So far, 125 positive COVID-19 cases have been identified in the recent EDF outbreak, with its flagship structure, the 1st Infantry Brigade, being hardest-hit, although most other units have experienced cases too.
Lt Col. Lusti said: "There are outbreaks at Tapa and Jõhvi, but and since the city of Jõhvi is very densely populated and is confined to a small area, the COVID-positive Jõhvi conscripts have been transferred to Tapa, where all the positive the 1st Brigade positive cases have been isolated."
Cases came on back of NCO course
The 1st Infantry Brigade's commander Col. Vahur Karus said that conscripts will be able to keep in touch with family while in quarantine, and have other diversions during that time.
Col. Karus said: "The soldiers are getting some downtime. We have created opportunities for them to … play table tennis, use the library and internet and do all the things that young people do every day."
This also ties in with the fact that many conscripts have been doing a Non-Commissioned Officers' (NCO) course, which would be generally followed by leave – although with the coronavirus outbreak this will not entail visits home.
Col. Karus said: "Furthermore, we have not in any way prevented young men from communicating with their loved ones, but on the contrary, we want [them] to make themselves known and talk about what exactly is happening to them here [in quarantine]," Col. Karus went on.
Seli and Paldiski will be used if Tapa not enough
The area hosting the quarantine zone at Tapa is naturally hived off from the rest of the complex and is temporary in nature, ERR reports.
Preparations are also underway for a larger-scale, nationwide centralization of COVID-19 cases in the EDF.
Lt Col. Lusti said:"For this purpose, we have the rehabilitation center in Seli. We are also currently looking at the currently empty and partially renovated town of Paldiski in this focus."
The Seli facility, if it goes ahead, would handle those cases who needed round-the-clock treatment.
EDF follows same COVID-19 practises as rest of society
In the meantime the EDF is maintaining social distancing, hygiene and mask-wearing measures as elsewhere, as well as quarantining immediately where suspicions of COVID-19 arise.
The EDF includes Estonia's air and maritime forces as well as land forces. The 1st infantry brigade, a largely mechanized heavy infantry set-up, also includes the NATO Enhanced Forward Presence (eFP) Battlegroup based at Tapa in its organizational structure.
Conscription in Estonia is for eight or 11-month stints, followed by a lengthy reserve period where former conscripts can be called to training every few years. Exemptions from conscription including for those who go to university.
The EDF is distinct from the volunteer Defense League (Kaitseliit), made up of citizens and residents who give their time voluntarily to Estonia's defense. It's officer cadre is generally made up of regulars.
ERR News will shortly be publishing an interview with defense minister Jüri Luik (Isamaa) where much more about Estonia's present defense and security scenario will be covered.
Editor: Andrew Whyte