Health Board chief: Estonia has run out of coronavirus vaccines

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Üllar Lanno (left) and health minister Tanel Kiik, at a recent press conference. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

Coronavirus vaccine stocks have run out, the Health Board (Terviseamet) director Üllar Lanno said Friday.

Speaking at a press conference Friday, Lanno said that: "Vaccines stocks with the Health Board are now at zero. There is no reason to suggest that they are being held up somewhere. The Health Board is not delaying things, there is zero in storage."

Estonia is part of the much-criticized EU-wide vaccine procurement program, and has so far received stocks primarily from U.S.-German firm Pfizer/BioNTech, as well as U.S. firm Moderna, together with supplies from heavily-criticized vaccine from U.K.-Swedish company AstraZeneca.

The emptying of the cabinets comes at a time when the island of Saaremaa is seeing a 14-day coronavirus rate of 1,500 per 100,000 inhabitants, while Estonia's rate as a whole is second-highest in Europe.

Lanno: Virus spreading in various parts of Estonia

Lanno said: "We're also seeing very rapid [viral] growth in Ida-Viru, Harju, Ida-Viru and Võru counties. It raises the question as to whether we have learned anything from the past year."

The strain on hospitals is nearly at breaking point as well, he said.

"The situation in hospitals has lately remained relatively unchanged, but the number of people in intensive care is growing, and hospitals have been pushed to the limit. More COVID-19 bed places are to be created in the hospital network via today's [government] order, and the total number of general COVID-19 bed places is to total 852."

"Seventy-four more places are to be created in intensive care, bringing the overall number of bed spaces for COVID-19 patients to 926," Lanno went on, according to BNS.

One Tallinn hospital, the East-Tallinn Central Hospital (ITKH) is opening a third coronavirus ward, to be up and running on Monday, BNS reports.

The crisis should not and must not be taken as a signal to give up, however, Lanno added.

He said: "There is no point in burying our heads in the sand at this point. We are all tired but we need to acknowledge our responsibility. Now that the number of infections is growing inexorably, we no longer have any reserves to continue in the same way. Close to 90 percent of the measures enabling to suppress contagion are those we can implement ourselves."

Record figures of new COVID-19 cases posted both Thursday and Friday

The latest round of restrictions enters in force Monday and will see schools on remote learning through March, cultural institutions closed, bars and other entertainment outlets having to close at 6 p.m. and a stepping-up in the monitoring of mask-wearing, at least in shopping malls.

Lanno noted that stockpiles of the AstraZeneca vaccines have been exhausted while one percent of the original remains in stock of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, plus a few thousand doses of the Moderna vaccine.

Reiterating his words, Lanno the situation in Estonia is extremely critical.

"We had 1,204 positive coronavirus test results today (a record figure, breaking the previous maximum set just one day before – ed.). What is regrettable is that the share of positive tests exceeds 18 percent of all tests. This means that every fifth person may be carrying the infection," he said.

Lanno urged all those who can work remotely to do so, noting that the Health Board itself practices what it preaches and has all its staff working from home where humanly possible.

"All contacts that can be cut today must be canceled," Lanno said.

Health minister: Effects of recent surge on hospitals will be clear in a few days' time

Health Minister Tanel Kiik (Center) noted that Saturday marks one year since the first COVID-19 case was detected in Estonia.

Kiik, who was minister when the virus arrives, said that potential meltdown of the healthcare system will not manifest itself for a few days from now, echoing Lanno's remarks that the situation was critical.

Kiik said: "Current numbers won't be reflected in hospitalization figures until the start of March. Resolving the COVID-19 crisis requires reducing other health care services. We simply don't have any more free resources. We need to make a serious effort if we want for scheduled treatment to resume as soon as possible. We've seen how quickly these numbers can grow."

The current measures are proven to work, he added, noting support measures were discussed Friday as well.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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