British and South African COVID-19 strains spreading across Estonia

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A worker cleaning a Tallinn Transport bus. Source: Tallinn Transport.

The Health Board has sequenced 1,182 COVID-19 tests, of which 178 turned out to be the more agressive British and South African strains.

One of the samples with the South African strain has received the virus in Estonia, the others have been cases where the virus has been brought in via travel. 136 of the British strain cases are locally transmitted and 42 have been brought in, according to the Health Board.

The spread of the British strain in Estonia is constant, but the recently increased infection rates do not stem from that strain specifically. "The British strain is turning into the dominant strain in Estonia," Minister of Health and Labour Tanel Kiik (Center) said on Monday.

Researchers are conducting studies to find out the exact share of the variant in all Estonian infections. On Friday, ERR News wrote that a recent study conducted by the University of Tartu and the Health Board showed that the share of the British coronavirus variant among all Estonian infections is 13 percent.

New restrictions to come

In a social media post on Monday, Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform) called for additional restrictions to be implemented in order to stop the more agressive variant of COVID-19 from spreading even further.

"The COVID-19 situation in northern Estonian hospitals is extraordinarily critical. The number of beds for people with COVID-19 is increased, but there will eventually be a limit," the prime minister posted on social media.

Kallas said the British strain of COVID-19 is spreading more extensively than previously thought. The strain's more agressive nature is behind Estonia's recent hike in daily new case numbers, according to the prime minister, who is currently self-isolating after coming into contact with a person who tested positive for coronavirus.

"If the information we checked is true, it means we must lock down our country for the near future. Send every child and young person possible to distance learning and close all places where there is direct contact," Kallas penned.

Infection rate highest in Anija municipality

Over the last week, infections rose most in Saar, Harju, Ida-Viru and Lääne-Viru counties. The largest share of infections has come in the age group of 15-30 and infections tend to start from workplaces and family circles.

Estonia's infection rate per 100,000 people over the last 14 days is 1,335.54 with Anija municipality (3,700 per 100,000 people) now the most infected municipality in Estonia, taking over for Maardu. The outbreak in Maardu is far from over however as the municipality's infection rate is still 3,237 per 100,000 people.

Other municipalities with an infection rate higher than 2,000: Viru-Nigula (2,812), Vormsi (2,591), Lasnamäe (2,488), Raasiku (2,178), Saaremaa municipality (2,032), Kuressaare (2,021).

Most infected people in northern Estonian hospitals

The number of hospitalized patients in the East Tallinn Central Hospital has exceeded 100. A total 626 patients are hospitalized in Estonia, as of Monday morning and healthcare specialists do not see the trend coming to an end yet.

Of the 63 hospitalized patients since Sunday, 46 were taken to a hospital in the northern region. Since northern Estonian hospitals are beginning to get overcrowded, more and more patients are being taken to other regions for treatment. For example, the last nine patients to be admitted to Pärnu Hospital, were all residents of Tallinn.

Hospitals also support other hospitals with equipment. The Estonian Defense Forces has given breathing devices to regular hospitals, so those can open more intensive care beds.

EDF field hospital not in the plans

At a press conference on Monday, Health Board emergency medicine chief Urmas Sule ruled out the possibility of setting up an Estonian Defense Forces field hospital, as was done in Saaremaa in the spring of 2020.

The field hospital would allow for an additional 40 beds, but it does not come with staff, who would have to be involved from other institutions. This makes the solution pricy and ineffective, Urmas Sule told ERR.

"The last time we discussed this was when Narva was in an agressive outbreak in fall-winter. We found it does not grant us additional capacities," Sule said. "Use of the modular hospital is not necessary currently."

Instead, University of Tartu Hospital staff was sent to help manage the situation at Narva Hospital. The specialists are still there.

Health minister Tanel Kiik added: "When we see the need to set up a field hospital, the defense sector will certainly meet us. An additional bed does not automatically mean additional people. We would lack healthcare workers."

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Editor: Kristjan Kallaste

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