The small town of Maardu near Tallinn has become Estonia's coronavirus capital in recent weeks. While the city has attempted to get the virus under control by closing schools, the infection rate is currently 2,900 per 100,000 residents in the town of 15,500 – four times the Estonian average.
The virus got out from under control in Maardu in late January, a week after schools were opened. "Infections exploded after schools were opened and forced us to take additional measures without waiting for decisions from the central government," said Maardu Mayor Vladimir Arhipov.
While elementary school and 12th grade students were allowed to continue contact study at first, students of two of Maardu's three schools were put on remote learning two weeks ago. The mayor said that the third school – Maardu Basic School – has so far managed to avoid infection and will switch to remote learning after the February school break, just like other Estonian schools.
Individual hobby activities were permitted at first but the local art school had to be closed soon too. One of the town's kindergartens switched to only having on-call classes and asked parents to keep children at home if possible.
"Today is the first day we can see any kind of stabilization. If we used to get 45-50 daily cases, today's figure is just 26," Arhipov said, adding that it is nevertheless too soon to open the champagne.
While symptoms have mirrored the common cold in children, two of Maardu's teachers have required mechanical ventilation, while a mother of a small child is currently fighting for her life in hospital. Maardu was forced to close a family medicine center because of COVID-19 earlier this week. Arhipov said that the Health Board acted quickly and moved patients to the Lasnamäe Medicum.
The city has completed its teachers' vaccination list, with inoculation to be handled by Medicum. Arhipov said that local family doctors have complained of receiving too much vaccine. "We are sent more doses than we can process in the six hours they keep after being opened. Smaller deliveries would have allowed us to start vaccinating people already, while our family doctors are not ready yet," the mayor said.
Arhipov said that the city has little choice but to close its offices in an outbreak like this. Masks can be recommended, while there is no realistic way to monitor compliance.
"We are handing out masks in bus stops and shopping malls in the morning and people gladly accept them, while we can still see a lot of people without masks," he said. A few patrols to monitor compliance is all Maardu needs right now, Arhipov finds.
Local shop employee Regina is not worried about herself but is concerned for her children. Her child's kindergarten class has had two cases, while Regina's family has been spared so far. "The virus has been bad for me as my salary is smaller after spending time in isolation with my children," she said. The woman wears a mask indoors and has stopped seeing friends, keeping in touch over the phone. Regina said that Maardu has quite a few people who observe rules, while it also has those who care nothing for them.
Mrs. Ljubov bursts into laughter after hearing the journalist's question, saying that the virus does nothing to affect her life. "There is nothing to be afraid of, nothing at all," she says. The pensioner still wears a mask because she is a law-abiding citizen.
The mayor considers new nationwide restrictions to enter into force next week to be sensible and emphasizes that people need to observe them. "Based on past experience (Maardu had a smaller outbreak in fall – ed.), I can say that we will have to suffer for at least another two weeks. And that is what I urge people to do as there is no alternative to things being bad or very bad," he added.
Arhipov said that messages communicated by the government, Health Board and scientists should be clearer and better coordinated and that decisions should be made more quickly. "I can tell people right now that two weeks will not be enough in terms of restrictions," the mayor said, adding that measures will yield effect three weeks after they are laid down.
Editor: Marcus Turovski