Extensive mass testing is needed to stop the spread of the coronavirus in Tallinn's largest borough. The major undertaking is feasible despite its complexity, while experience of other countries suggests it has the potential to cut infection rates in half, Vladimir Svet writes.
The high Covid case rate of Lasnamäe that has remained at the center of attention for weeks makes one think of various innovative ways of how to bring the spread of the virus under control. I fully support the proposal by University of Tartu professor, member of the COVID-19 advisory council Krista Fischer to carry out a mass testing campaign following the example of Slovakia.
The country tested roughly two-thirds of its adult population as part of a mass testing campaign. Around 5.3 million antigen rapid tests were used to identify 50,500 people who had the virus and had to isolate with their families. A total of 5,000 testing sites were opened all over the country, with the military lending medics a hand. The case rate dropped by more than 60 percent as a result.
We can hear of new COVID-19 cases from Lasnamäe every day, while statistics fails to provide the full picture. Mass testing on the other hand would allow us to quickly identify Covid-positive people and allow people aware of their status to isolate.
It also makes more financial sense now as the city of Tallinn compensates people for sick leave starting on the first day. I believe we are all interested in bringing the virus under control to be able to return to close to normal life in the summer.
Where else if not Lasnamäe
Lasnamäe is the perfect place for mass testing. Despite having a lot of residents, the district is quite compact. Accessibility of temporary testing sites needs to be considered.
Supermarkets make for a suitable attraction center during the weekend. We could also make use of city infrastructure. Lasnamäe has 14 general education schools and 28 kindergartens, plus other municipal institutions. Making use of these possibilities could help ensure most every Lasnamäe resident finds a testing site close to home.
Lasnamäe also has a number of large companies where the nature of work makes it impossible to work remotely and where it is more difficult to limit contacts than in a regular office. They could also adopt rapid tests. The labor inspectorate is currently working on guidelines for adopting rapid tests in companies.
Mass testing in Lasnamäe could serve as an example for all of Estonia
The mass testing campaign in Slovakia was voluntary, while most working-age residents participated. Those who refused to get tested had to stay home for ten days. The preparedness of a clear majority to get tested shows that people are willing to make the effort to see restrictions eased.
Would the residents of Lasnamäe be prepared to participate in mass testing? The vaccination drive for the elderly carried out at the Medicum clinic in Lasnamäe a few weeks ago showed that people are prepared to take part if it helps slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Nationwide testing was carried out over two days in Slovakia and we could use the same timeframe. It took 40,000 people, including 15,000 medical workers to man 5,000 testing sites, which suggests we could make do with 50 sites, 150 medics and a few hundred assistants. That hardly sounds impossible.
Should the Lasnamäe pilot project prove successful, mass testing could be carried out in the rest of the country. The people of Estonia have shown, through major events such as the "Let's Do It" cleanup campaign, that people are capable of working together on a massive and complex scale. Common efforts by state and local government agencies, companies, medical workers and citizens have great potential.
I urge all sides to consider and discuss mass testing everywhere in Estonia and propose starting in Lasnamäe. If we find it an effective way of stopping the virus, let's do it!
Editor: Marcus Turovski