Lasnamäe district elder Vladimir Svet (Center) has said the reason for the higher infection rate in the area is caused by the nature of peoples' work and less so by differences in behavior. The government, Mayor of Narva and opinion polling suggest the same reasons apply to Ida-Viru County.
Lasnamäe is Tallinn's biggest and most populated district with approximately 100,000 inhabitants and is home to a large Russian speaking community. Last year it was reported that it has the highest coronavirus rate in Tallinn.
Svet said research and statistics show the Russian-speaking population wear masks and are just as aware of the dangers of the coronavirus as Estonian-speaking people, although it has previously been assumed that, as Russian speakers may follow different media, they may not know about the dangers of coronavirus.
"Of course, in the case of Lasnamäe, it must also be taken into account that the population density here is quite high, perhaps one of the highest in Estonia. And this probably also has an effect," said Svet.
He said one of the main differences is that fewer people work remotely which means people are less willing to take sick leave or stay home when sick because they cannot do their jobs from home.
"So these two factors - socio-economic background and population density - are the main reasons," said Svet.
In addition, the extent to which people are aware of their rights to remain on sick leave or in self-isolation is also an important factor, he said.
"When we talk about Lasnamäe or Ida-Viru County, it is very tempting to start simplifying things and looking for simple solutions to complex problems. I am afraid that there are no easy solutions to these problems, and it will be a great help to resolve the situation if everyone tries to be restrained in a good way and think before they speak," Svet told ERR.
He said judgments about the district should not be based on individual examples or subjective judgments, such as wearing a mask or following social distancing rules.
The city authorities are also working to help low-income people - single pensioners and families with many children and 250,000 masks have been given to those in need.
Government office: Employment structure needs to be taken into consideration
Svet's view that socio-economic factors play a role in the infection rate was backed up by comments made by the government's communication office last week.
The office said one of the reasons for the higher infection rates of Ida-Viru County and Tallinn may be the socio-economic status of non-Estonians because they have lower incomes and occupations that do not allow remote working.
Media adviser Jevgenia Värä said in Ida-Viru County the economy is based on the service sector and industry which runs 24-hours a day. As there are few opportunities to work from home people go to work with mild symptoms or must work until they have a doctor's confirmation they are sick.
Värä said there are no accurate statistics for Lasnamäe, as it is not a separate region, but the same logic applies.
"In addition to working with mild symptoms, economic concerns can lead to other differences in behavior - for example, more people go to malls instead of ordering food at home. The population density is also relatively high, making it more difficult to avoid contact stand," she said.
Värä said hopefully the situation will be alleviated soon as the sick pay from day two was introduced on January 1 which should allow low-paid people to stay home with smaller losses.
"However, it must continue to be emphasized that responsible employer behavior, protecting the health of their employees and allowing employees to work remotely whenever possible will remain crucial in curbing the spread of the disease. Another problem in Ida-Viru County has is that the population has a higher than average age, which is reflected in the higher burden on the health care system, as the elderly develop the disease more badly than the young," said Värä.
Raik: Narva residents live closer together
Mayor of Narva Katri Raik (SDE) agreed said these reasons played a factor but also pointed out that people live closer together in apartment blocks as the city has almost no private housing.
"Secondly, the lifestyle of the people here is more communal, it includes a larger family and is more oriented towards the circle of loved ones. Corona does not ask about nationality or gender, but people live differently here," Raik told ERR last week.
She added that several businesses in the area have complained that although they buy protective equipment for their employees, they do not use it. According to Raik, there is little sense of danger in the area, because during the spring corona wave, Ida-Viru County did relatively well and people lost their fear.
Survey: Estonians and Russians behave similarly
The 20th wave of the survey of Turu-uuringute AS conducted in mid-December on behalf of the Government Office and the Ministry of Social Affairs showed that non-Estonians have twice as few opportunities to work remotely as Estonians - 15 percent and 31 percent, respectively.
The same number of people - 68 percent - from both groups have been avoiding gatherings and events and complying with hygiene rules. Masks are worn by 90 percent of Estonians and 87 percent by people from other nationalities.
When it comes to income, things are different. 40 percent of Estonians and 54 percent of people of other nationalities have felt the impact of the coronavirus on their income.
29 percent of non-Estonians feel that it is difficult or very difficult for them to cope financially, compared to 18 percent of Estonians. North-Eastern Estonia has the highest number of people - 31 percent - who agreed.
Editor: Helen Wright