Researchers: Effects of latest restrictions already visible

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A social distancing sign at Tallinn's Christmas market. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

The effects of the latest round of restrictions to halt the spread of coronavirus are visible, researchers have said, but should be viewed with cautious optimism going forward.

On Friday, it was reported Estonia's infection rate - R - has fallen to 0.9 meaning the rate is no longer increasing. Researchers said this shows there is light at the end of the tunnel, Sunday's episode of current affairs show "Aktuaalne kaamera" reported.

University of Tartu Professor of mathematics Krista Fischer said there is cause for optimism. She said the daily number of new positive cases has fallen, with the figures being approximately 1,400-,1500 on Monday and Tuesday (March 22 and 23), the same as the week before, but falling to 1,100 by the end of last week.

"Now I hope that maybe next week we will see numbers below 1,000. I would really like to hope so," said Fischer, who is also a member of the government's scientific advisory council.

The University of Tartu's wastewater monitoring survey also shows the spread of the virus is declining in Central and Southern Estonia. The overall level of infection is now similar to December, the results suggest.

"We would like it to be the same as it was at the beginning of November, and it certainly isn't yet. The findings are still relatively high and we have fluctuated back and forth here. If we still have such a low level next week, then I dare to say that the matter will be resolved, "said Tanel Tenson, Professor of Antimicrobials at the University of Tartu.

Coronavirus shows up in wastewater samples several weeks before outbreaks are identified with testing.

Results of the wastewater monitoring study March 22-26. Source: University of Tartu.

Researchers said the results need to continue on a downward trend for at least another month.

Fischer said optimistic modeling suggests there will be 200 cases a day at the start of May. "Of course, even more optimistic options are possible. It's also possible that things will not go so well," she said.

But caution is still needed. University of Tartu Professor of Cell Biology Toivo Maimets said: "Under no circumstances should we give in to this optimism at the moment because these numbers are still very high."

Last week the government said the restrictions are likely to be in place until early May and will not be lifted on April 11 as initially planned.

A list of the restrictions in place can be read here.

Estonia's 14-day infection rate is 1416.65 per 100,000 inhabitants, the second-highest in Europe after Hungary.

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Editor: Helen Wright

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