While the overall number of new coronavirus cases had not increased in recent weeks, there are still a high number of cases and the situation remains serious, Deputy Director General of the Health Board Mari-Anne Härma said on Wednesday.
"Since the infection rate has been high all over Estonia since the 49th week of last year, today it is certainly not possible to say the situation is good," Härma said at a press conference.
She said, for the second week in a row, the largest areas of growth are currently coming from Valga, Pärnu and Jõgeva counties which are mostly related to care homes and domestic travel. At the same time, cases have stabilized in Harju County and Ida-Viru County.
The two-week infection rate per 100,000 people is just under 600 and has been so for several days. However, Härma said the situation is not improving, only stabilizing. "This view is also supported by the high proportion of positive tests," she said.
Härma said 3,543 new COVID-19 cases were recorded in the second week of the year, which is 17 percent less than in the first week of the year.
The average age of people testing positive has fallen, Härma said.
Concern around schools
There has been an increase in the number of infections recorded in people of working age and cases connected to workplaces and schools are on the rise, she said.
More than half of new cases last week were close contacts. 30 percent were infected by family members, 11 percent at work and 8 percent in relation to events, friends, and hobbies. Approximately 40 percent of people do not know where or how they became infected.
The infection rate among children is also rising after distance learning ended earlier this month. The infection has increased by 37 percent among children up to the age of 9 and by almost 10 percent among those aged 10-19. This has also led to an increase in the number of close contacts.
Härma said more than 30 schools in total are distance or partially distance learning in the northern, eastern and western regions of Estonia. The situation is worse in the south where 21 schools and 59 classes are distance learning.
"The current picture is that infected teachers are bringing the infection back to students," said Härma.
She said the chains of infection were cut during the school holidays, but now new chains related to schools and families have emerged. Härma said schools need to look at social distancing in staff rooms.
More contagious COVID-19 strain found in arrivals from UK
Several cases of the more contagious strand of COVID-19 have been diagnosed in arrivals from the UK, Härma told the press conference.
"We also received information that three cases introduced from England tested positive for the [more contagious] UK variant," Härma said. She said the people were quarantining, were at home and said they will continue to be monitored.
Last week, 111 new cases of coronavirus were brought to Estonia from abroad, almost half - 48 cases - came from Russia, 12 from Finland and seven from Great Britain.
The age of patients in hospital has fallen
Härma said the number of people over 60 years old being hospitalized has declined over the last month but now more young people between 40 and 60 are being admitted to hospital.
Younger people being treated in hospital are experiencing more severe symptoms such as high fevers and acute respiratory symptoms. Härma said the Health Board is looking into the issue.
The number of patients has stabilized at approximately 400.
Concern around welfare institutions
Approximately 20 percent of over 60s who have been diagnosed with coronavirus in the last six weeks are residents of nursing or care homes.
"And unfortunately, nearly 40 percent of the deaths in the last six weeks have been in residential institutions," she said.
Last week, 205 residents of care or nursing homes tested positive.
Deaths are rising
"We do not yet see a stabilization in terms of deaths, we are moving in a clear growth trend," said Härma. Last week, 47 people died who had contracted the virus.
The average age of the people who died last week was 78.2 years and all had underlying health problems. The youngest was a 38-year-old man.
Editor: Helen Wright