Kersna: Restrictions cannot be lifted due to slowdown in infection trend

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Liina Kersna. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

The government made no decision about easing coronavirus restrictions on Tuesday due to a slowing of the downward coronavirus infection rate trend. Discussions will continue next week.

Speaking to Vikerraadio's program Uuudis+ on Tuesday after a cabinet meeting, Minister of Education and Research Liina Kersna (Reform) said the infection rate is no longer falling as fast as in previous weeks.

"Today's numbers show the downward trend has slowed down. For example, the infection rates has fallen by 19 percent, but last week it was by 25 percent, and it has even been 30 percent. But today we see that this decline is no longer so fast," Kersna said.

"The infection rate R is in the range of 0.86-0.91 and has been lower in the meantime than it is today," she added.

She said the government would return to the issue of easing restrictions next week.

In a statement, Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform) said: "We do not want to keep the restrictions [in place] for a day longer than necessary, but in order to ease the restrictions, we need to be sure that the current decline in infection rates is permanent. Only in this way can we ensure that the reopening of society is safe. We have to keep in mind that the current level of infection is actually comparable to the middle of February, where the situation became difficult and we started to tighten restrictions," Kallas said after a cabinet meeting.

She added, "we cannot take unnecessary risks" which would undo all the work done in the last six weeks.

"We will ease the restrictions gradually. As the danger is not over, we must also be careful as the weather warms. Active vaccination also plays an important role in reopening society." Kallas said.

If the infection rate continues to fall, then the government's priority is to open schools and to gradually relax restrictions on outdoor sports, training and hobby education.

Kersna said opening schools could lead to a rise in the infection rate and must be done "step by step".

Speaking about the approaching school holidays, she said the risks of traveling must be taken into account.

"The school break is coming. Please spend the school holidays with family and enjoying spring outdoors. It is a very bad idea to go on a family trip now. In this case, 10 days of self-isolation must be considered. If the downward trend in coronavirus infection continues, we hope to get at least young school children back to contact education after the school holidays," she said. 

The current restrictions are in place until April 25.

What is R?

The reproduction number (R) is the average number of secondary infections produced by a single infected person.

An R value of 1 means that on average every person who is infected will infect 1 other person, meaning the total number of infections is stable.

If R is 2, on average, each infected person infects 2 more people. If R is 0.5 then on average for each 2 infected people, there will be only 1 new infection.

If R is greater than 1 the epidemic is growing, if R is less than 1 the epidemic is shrinking. The higher R is above 1, the more people 1 infected person infects and so the faster the epidemic grows.

R can change over time. For example, it falls when there is a reduction in the number of contacts between people, which reduces transmission. R increases when the numbers of contacts between people rise, leading to a rise in viral transmission.

Source: UK government website

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Editor: Helen Wright

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