Health minister: We will ease restrictions in late April, early May
Although infection indicators show signs of stabilization and the infection rate - known as the R rate (link in Estonian) - has fallen below one, it is still premature to speak about easing restrictions the day after the current ones expire, Minister of Health Tanel Kiik (Center) said on Monday.
In a situation where the daily number of new infections has shown signs of stabilizing, the assessment is that the government needs to be more careful easing restrictions than it was establishing them because the achieved success can turn quickly as many countries globally have experienced, Kiik said at a government press conference on Monday.
"What is the infection rate, burden on hospital treatment, trends and vaccination rate - those will be important. I hope that late April, early May is when we can ease restrictions, promising them from April 12 is premature. There will likely be a debate on how we will organize our social life in the end of April and May," Kiik said.
The minister noted that May should also mark the beginning of mass vaccinations as the majority of risk groups should be vaccinated by then. Kiik added that a quarter of the Estonian population is currently immune: 10 percent have had the virus in addition to the 15 percent that have received at least one vaccine dose.
This means 75 percent of the population is still vulnerable. "Greater freedom can therefore come a little later. We are pretty far from herd immunity - it is realistically achievable in the summer months but not now," Kiik said.
The infection rate needs to fall some more
Infection rates have been stable in Estonia for a few weeks now and the first signs of downward trends can be noted, Health Board deputy director Mari-Anne Härma added.
The coronavirus infection rate - also known as the R rate - has fallen to 0.9, which means that on average, one person will transmit the coronavirus to less than one person. During the recent hike in coronavirus spread, the R rate at one point climbed to 1.25. If the current trend continues, daily new cases can fall to an average of 500-600 in the near future, similar to the holiday period in the end of 2020, Härma noted.
"The number of workplace outbreaks has increased, however. This points to group infections converging and the epidemic spread packing up and becoming measurable. Infections are happening within families who are already isolating - the infection will not proceed from there," the Health Board official said.
At the same time, Härma said, it is too early to speak about the burden easing on the shoulders of hospitals. "As expected, we are still moving in an upward trend when it comes to hospital treatment. it will be some two weeks before the number of hospitalized patients will stabilize. We will hopefully talk about it next week," she said.
Härma said the situation might be most dire when it comes to intensive care places, but the situation is aided by transporting patients from northern hospitals to those in southern Estonia. Still, a drop in hospital workload needs to be achieved as soon as possible.
The Health Board deputy director noted that signs of the virus pulling back can also be seen in Harju County and Tallinn. "The state's chosen course is working, infections are going down," she said.
Tanel Kiik noted that the number of infections last week went down drastically from the week prior.
Vaccinations have started in all Estonian care homes
Kiik said that as of Monday, 27.1 percent of people in the 50+ age group have been vaccinated - a total of close to 142,000. 21.7 percent of people aged 50-69 are vaccinated to go with 36.7 percent of people aged 70 and up.
After a vaccination drive in eastern Estonia over the weekend, vaccinations have now been conducted in all Estonian care homes, Külli Friedemann, head of primary services at the Health Insurance Fund, noted.
Friedemann said 31 percent of the 370,000 people in risk groups in Estonia are vaccinated as of Monday. 90.7 percent of school staff who expressed a desire to get vaccinated have received at least one dose and the respective indicator for social workers is 67.9 percent, she added.
Mari-Anne Härma noted that the Health Board can once again begin informing close contacts via telephone, likely to kick back off next week.
Results of the vaccination drive in eastern Estonia over the weekend
The Health Insurance Fund called people aged 70 and up to get vaccinated in Narva, Sillamäe and Narva-Jõesuu last weekend with a plan to administer close to 2,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine in the aforementioned locations.
434 people showed up for vaccines in Narva-Jõesuu and Sillamäe, 68 short of the 500-person goal. The Narva family medicine center vaccinated 320 people of the planned 400. Narva Hospital administered vaccines to 514 people of a planned 800.
The vaccination drive will continue on Monday and Tuesday with times already booked up.
Narva-Jõesuu Care Home became the last care home in Estonia to have its workers and residents vaccinated. A total of 132 people were vaccinated in the establishment with clients making up 60 percent (88 people) of the total vaccinated people. Five workers were vaccinated from earlier, 44 of the staff also received a vaccine dose.
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Editor: Kristjan Kallaste