Lithuania offers coronavirus assistance to Estonia

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Prime Minister of Lithuania Ingrida Simonyte. Source: The Office of the Government of the Republic of Lithuania.

Lithuania has offered its assistance to Estonia, as the country is in a dire coronavirus situation, and is awaiting a response on how it could help, Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte said on Wednesday.

"We have said that we stand ready to assist, and we are now just waiting for our Estonian colleagues to indicate any specific needs we could help with," she told journalists at parliament.

In her words, Lithuania would send a team of medics to Estonia but is now awaiting a response on how it could help. Simonyte also confirmed that Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis had left for Estonia.

"Perhaps we could send a team of medics or take any other steps but, first of all, we need to learn from the Estonians what they would need the most from us. We have informed them and we are ready to provide assistance," the head of government said.

Later on Wednesday afternoon, Simonyte tweeted: "We are now working on specific means and measures to provide the best possible assistance to our Estonian friends."

Latvian PM: Latvia could help Estonia deal with COVID-19 crisis

On Tuesday, Latvian Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins also offered help to Estonia.

Speaking during a joint meeting of the government and the Crisis Management Council on Tuesday he urged those present at the meeting to consider offering Estonia assistance in tackling the COVID-19 crisis.

"If Estonia cannot cope with all of that, we could offer them help. We have more COVID-19 beds than patients," said Karins.

He did not elaborate on how exactly Latvia could help Estonia.

ERR News asked the Latvian Prime Minister's Office if the proposal had been made officially and what help could be offered.

A spokesperson said: "Latvia solidarizes with Estonia in its fight against the pandemic and would be ready to support our northern neighbors by providing treatment to Covid-19 patients who would require hospitalization. The possibility to support Estonia, if need arises, has been communicated by Prime Minister, Ministers of Health and Foreign Affairs through appropriate channels."

Urmas Sule, medical chief at the crisis management headquarters of the Estonian Health Board, told Postimees on Tuesday that Estonia did not yet need to send its coronavirus patients to Latvia.

"We're currently handling our practical health care issues locally, but this is a beautiful gesture," he said. "I would like to express my great respect to the Latvian government."

Estonia currently has a 14-day infection rate of 1392.95 per 100,000 inhabitants, which is one of the highest in Europe. In comparison, Latvia's rate is 458 and Lithuania's 238, according to data from the World Health Organization.

Hospitals across the country are reporting to be at, or near, COVID-19 patient limit capacities and many do not have enough staff.

Heath minister: Taking patients to Latvia could be considered if necessary

On Wednesday morning, Minister of Health and Labor Tanel Kiik (Center) said that if Estonia is unable to get the virus under control, the possibility of moving patients to Latvia needs to be considered.

Kiik told newspaper Postimees that at present the Estonian government is focusing on ensuring that Estonian people can be treated at local hospitals.

"For this, the North and South medical headquarters have made big changes to their work, patients have been redistributed between hospitals too," Kiik said.

The minister said that the situation is most critical in North Estonia, where additional medical staff is being sought and the private sector and students involved in the work. 

"As things stand, we do not need the hospitalization of Estonian patients in foreign countries. Of course, this cannot be ruled out in the future if we cannot get the spread of the virus under control. I dare to be so optimistic as to say that the decisions made yesterday combined with the earlier restrictions are sufficient to put infection indicators on a downward path again," Kiik said.

This however means that the need for hospital places will peak in the second half of March and may start declining then after some time.

"When we no longer have such big daily infection indicators anymore, this will gradually begin to have an effect also on the numbers of people needing treatment in hospital," Kiik said.

"The need for hospital treatment will not start declining as fast. If it stabilizes in April, we will manage with our existing healthcare capacity on our own," the minister added.

Editor's note: This article was updated to add quotes from Minister of Health and Labor Tanel Kiik.

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Editor: Helen Wright

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