Health board, government experts oppose Lasnamäe mass COVID-19 testing

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The district of Lasnamäe seen from Tallinn's Old Town. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

Spokespeople both for the Health Board (Terviseamet) and government's coronavirus advisory council oppose calls for mass, rapid coronavirus testing in the residential Tallinn district of Lasnamäe, mainly on logistical grounds and in terms of the timing, rather than in principle.

Professor Irja Lutsar, head of the government's scientific council, opposed mass testing, saying that if this were to go ahead it should take place within just a few days.

"It is certainly not right to get people to congregate together. In that case there would be specific ways of carrying out testing, and the most important moment of that is what we do with people with these positive tests," Lutsar said.

There would also be no exceptions for the mass testing, by definition, to go ahead.

Mari-Anne Härma, deputy director of the Health Board, objected on the grounds of timing. Mass testing should take place at the beginning of, not during, an outbreak, she said.

She said: "In general, when such large-scale testing has been carried out in other countries, it has proven more sensible to do so at the beginning of an outbreak, when the first cases are being identified and there is a fear of covert spread, then such larger testing should be carried out. We may be able to think about it next autumn."

Härma: Nationwide mechanism for mass testing can be put in place given time

While Estonia's coronavirus rate has started to fall recently, the start of the current wave can be dated to the early part of this year, while the second wave of the virus began in late autumn last year.

"We are already waiting for the next wave(s). By that time, a national mechanism will be in place whereby such things could be organized quickly in a day or two," said Härma.

The proposal to mass test in Lasnamäe came from deputy mayor Vladimir Svet, who cited the examples of the Czech Republic and neighboring Slovakia, where he said mass testing had been effective, though difficult.

Lasnamäe is the most populous district of Tallinn, the capital, whose surrounding Harju County is both the most populous region of the country and one of the worst affected in the current coronavirus wave.

Experts: Resources better directed towards vaccinations at the moment

Svet also thought that Lasnamäe could be a test bed for the rest of the country, while its relatively high density housing provides more suitable conditions both for mass testing and for the spread of the virus in the first place.

The testing would be financed by the state, while both local government (i.e. Tallinn City Government) and the private sector would help with the logistical details.

Schools, workplaces, social welfare institutions and even shopping centers and other areas where people congregate could be venues for testing, he said.

A further objection Mari-Anne Härma raised was that given the difficulties experienced in persuading the public to stay home unless absolutely essential, before mass testing were introduced, going ahead with it would reintroduce that problem just as the public was getting used to it.

Both Härma and Lutsar conclude that at present, resources would better be used in pressing on with the vaccination process, and other key areas, rather than rapid testing.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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