Saaremaa residents want visitors to wear masks

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A statue of the letter Ö has been placed by the roadside on Saaremaa to note the differences in the islanders' dialect. Source: Margus Muld/ERR

Saaremaa is currently the county with the lowest number of coronavirus cases in Estonia, having been the epicenter of the original spring wave. Authorities put the transformation largely down to responsible behavior on the part of the local population, which they fear being disrupted by the arrival of non-islanders during the Christmas and New Year's break.

For those planning to travel to Saaremaa for Christmas, the Health Board (Terviseamet) advises implementing all preventive measures, including mask-wearing, to avoid spreading the virus there.

In spring, Saare County was hit the strongest by the virus and was effectively closed off to non-residents at the peak of the emergency situation, but now it has switched places to become the area with the lowest number of cases nationwide. There are no local outbreaks, and individual cases are reportedly mostly brought in from abroad or the mainland.

"We know that during the last 14 days, 35 cases have been registered in Saare County, but we also know that only 10 of these are local residents," the Health Board's head of the department of communicable diseases, Hanna Sepp told ERR's news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK) Sunday. "Several cases have occurred when people go to visit their families and acquaintances from the mainland, and bring the virus along, though locally; the virus spreads only within the family group in that case."

Regardless of the low number of cases, locals are taking the responsibility of wearing masks in public, AK reported. At the same time, whereas a week ago, it was hard to find a person without a mask in a supermarket, within the last week as the holidays arrive, the situation has changed.

"It has been apparent that people from the mainland are wearing face-masks less," a spokesperson for Kuressaare's branch of supermarket Maxima, said. "The people of Saare County have experienced a pandemic already, fear it and know the value of mask-wearing."

The Health Board's recommendation for those travelling to Saaremaa is to stick to the 2+2 rule, and mask-wearing requirements.

"If you are planning to go to Saare County, if it's possible to avoid it this year, you should, but if it's necessary to go, it is key to lower the number of contacts and to minimize the chance of carrying the virus there," Sepp continued.

Mayor of Saare County Mikk Tuisk reminded visitors coming from the mainland to respect the local populace, who are wearing masks, by doing likewise.

"We want our island to remain clear after the Christmas break as well," Tuisk said.

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Editor: Roberta Vaino, Andrew Whyte

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