Scientific council: Now is not the time to ease restrictions

Professor Irja Lutsar.
Professor Irja Lutsar. Source: Kairit Leibold/ERR

While the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients has decreased over the last week, there is not enough of a downward trend to begin easing restrictions in Estonia, said Irja Lutsar, head of the government's scientific council.

Lutsar noted on ETV's political discussion show "Esimene stuudio" on Tuesday that Estonia's infection rate per 100,000 people has remained over 500 for more than a month and the number of hospitalized patients has stabilized around 400.

"The same with those needing intensive care. It might have dropped in the last few days, but the decrease is smaller than ten (bed places - ed). There were 28-29 people who needed assisted breathing a week ago, now it is 23 people, it is not a great change. All these numbers remain stubborn, there really is no downward trend," Lutsar noted.

She added that there is no reason to think of easing restrictions currently. "Today is certainly not the situation where we could say we should go by the way of easing. The situation is fragile," the virology professor added.

Regional restrictions were unsuccesful

Lutsar noted that implementing stricter restrictions for Harju and Ida-Viru counties alone was a miscalculation. "Perhaps we were naive with implementing restrictions only on Harju and Ida-Viru counties, which had the highest rate of infection, thinking it could take down the spread of the virus. But what actually happened: Christmas came and then the new year and people drove to different counties and spread the virus that way. We have to be careful with regional restrictions. Restrictions are uniform everywhere now, that is certainly the right step," Lutsar said.

Lutsar said the slogan of having to learn to live with the virus from last spring has worked "so and so". "We have in some manner. We wash our hands. For example, people in stores in Tartu are rarely without a mask. People maintain distance. But on the other hand, there is a lot of ignorance and fear. And decisions are startling. Even self-isolation - if you have made plans and then it becomes clear that you were a close contact just yesterday and all your plans go upside-down today. If you have been once, you do not want to be any more and that generates fear," the head of the government's scientific council said.

Lutsar said the virus is not something to be panically fearful of, but people should also not fall for the other extreme and believe the virus will not stick to them either. "People want to return to their previous lvies, but it will note come today or tomorrow, possibly not even the day after tomorrow. Will it ever - we do not know," Lutsar noted.

Commenting on opening contact learning in schools, she said there were no outbreaks except for one in Pärnu. "There was a school outbreak in Pärnu, whether the city or county, I cannot say. Once schools opened there, infections among those aged 10-19 grew. There was no clear relation between opening schools and infections among young people," Lutsar said.

Vaccines also work for new coronavirus strains

When it comes to the newly discovered COVID-19 strains, such as the British or South African one, Lutsar said scientists' greatest fear is that if the vaccines that have received sales permits are not effective against them.

"It has not been shown that the existing vaccines would not work against the British strain, but the South African strain has shown that Moderna's effectiveness is lower. /.../ There is no fear of vaccines not working currently," Lutsar said.

She added that the mutation of viruses and the generation of new strains is constant and the Wuhan strain and a strain discovered in Estonia last spring has not surfaced anymore.


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Editor: Kristjan Kallaste

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