Experts offer dim forecast on COVID situation on Independence Day ({{contentCtrl.commentsTotal}})

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Krista Fischer Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

If the government does not decide stricter coronavirus measures are needed, it may see the number of new infection cases cross the 1,000 mark by the anniversary of the Republic of Estonia on February 24, scientists have told Postimees.

Krista Fischer, professor of mathematical statistics at the University of Tartu, said the current infection rate multiplier - R - in Estonia is 1.15 and is rapidly approaching 1.2. This means that there will be days very soon when the daily number of new diagnoses is higher than 1,000. 

"This may happen already on the anniversary of the republic. If we manage to bring it lower with the help of restrictions, the situation will be better," Fischer said.

She added that whatever restrictions need time to have an effect. 

Andres Merits, professor of applied virology at the University of Tartu, told Postimees that Estonia may see as many as 1,500 new cases per day as soon as in mid-March.

"We have March and April, which definitely will be very difficult months," Merits said. 

He recalled that last year, things got easier in May and restrictions could be eased.

"In May we should get relief, but it will not come if we let the numbers rise, if we have 2,000 coronavirus positives per day," Merits said.

The professor said that he cannot recall any country in Europe that would have let its infection rate stay in the region of 1,000 for long without declaring an emergency situation.

"The current situation is very bad, and if we do nothing, it will get worse and get to the point where we are compelled to declare an emergency situation," Merits added.

Fischer said she believes Estonia is not far from an emergency situation if the current lax restrictions continue. She said that already in a few weeks people with various diagnoses may start experiencing problems getting a place in hospital when they need it.

"When daily infections start to go above 1,000, also the numbers of patients needing hospital treatment will start to rise," she said.

The head of emergency medicine at the Estonian Health Board Urmas Sule said that while he is concerned, he can see that hospitals possess the necessary capacity.

"It is good that the numbers of people needing intensive care have not started rising, yet since it is a small number compared with the number of new infections added per day, we cannot be sure that there will be no big rise already tomorrow," Sule said.

"Are we thinking about the next step to increase the number of hospital bed places? Yes," Sule said.

Sule said he cannot say exactly by how much the number of hospital bed places is about to be increased as hospitals now are in the process of deciding.

"The capacity of hospitals must be close to where people live, in order for the hospital network to be able to respond quickly when a coronavirus outbreak occurs in some region," the emergency medical chief of the Health Board said.

Postimees said that while the infection is gaining momentum in all age groups, never before has the country witnessed so steep a rise in COVID-19 infections in young people of the age group 0-19. At the end of January, after the end of distance learning in Harju and Ida-Viru counties, fewer than 70 children on the average were diagnosed with the virus per day. In just one week, that number rose to over 110. In Harju County, which includes the capital Tallinn, the indicator climbed from 30 to 70.

The dynamics in the infection in children of school age probably shows an impact of the restrictions. The government put high schools on distance learning at the beginning of December. Where in other age groups an explosion-like spread of the virus took place then, it was not particularly strong in children. A clear decline was registered around Christmas when the school holiday started. A new rise in infections in children could be predicted when distance learning in Harju County and Ida-Viru County ended, and it indeed occurred about five days later, Postimees said. 

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Editor: Helen Wright

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