Restrictions imposed at the end of November have helped the number of coronavirus carriers remain stable, while still high, in Estonia, the University of Tartu says.
A COVID-19 prevalence study authored by the university shows that the virus is widespread and numbers are high, with as many as one in 20 people infected in Ida-Viru County, the most affected region of the country, but the figure remains stable.
Ruth Kalda, Professor of Family Medicine at the University of Tartu, says there are signs of stabilisation both Ida-Viru County and in Tallinn, thanks to stricter measurements put in place.
Kalda said, via a university press release, that: "We can say that the general obligation to wear masks, introduced by the government on November 24, has started to yield results. This gives us courage that we can stop the disease when we observe the rules."
However, prevalence has risen in parts of South Estonia she added, meaning precautionary measures should remain in place and be taken seriously.
Around half of carriers with mildest symptoms unaware they have the virus
Another issue is that over half of those carrying the virus who have mild symptoms do not realize they have COVID-19, with many not complying with restrictions.
"Considering the wide spread of the virus in Estonia and the overload of hospitals, it is essential that even if people have the slightest symptoms, they must go for a test, stay home, and use the HOIA app, which notifies of cases of exposure to the coronavirus," Kalda added.
"The fewer close contacts people have and the earlier they learn of the contact with an infected person, the better we are able to suppress the spread of the virus," she said.
Overall, 12,000 people are currently carrying the virus, which translates to around on in 90 adults, the university said via a press release.
Between December 11 and 21, 2,500 people were tested, with 30 new cases found.
Around 20 of these people did not suspect they had contracted it.
The study also found that most people at least said they were complying with regulations, with 95 percent of respondents saying they adhered to mask-wearing where it is required (for instance in indoor public spaces, and on public transport).
However, younger people are not always following requirements not to congregate, the study found.
Kalda reiterated that following the regulations was key.
"I ask everyone to be considerate of themselves and to others during the upcoming holidays. If we limit our contacts, stay home with symptoms and wear masks in public places, there is hope that after the holidays, children can return to school, the hospitals will be able to cope, and there will be no need to introduce more stringent restrictions," she said, adding that the effect of the additional restrictions imposed in mid-December can be estimated in a few weeks' time, when the next stage of the monitoring study starts.
The coronavirus prevalence monitoring study was conducted by a research team made up of members from five institutes at the University of Tartu, in cooperation with private sector firm Synlab, and market research company Kantar Emor.
More information on the study is here.
Editor: Andrew Whyte