Scientific council recommends easing school, outdoor activity restrictions

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Presenter Liisu Lass interviewing Professor Irja Lutsar. Source: ERR

Coronavirus restrictions should start to be eased on schools and then continue step-by-step, the government's scientific advisory council said on Tuesday.

Speaking on ETV's morning show "Terevisioon", Professor Irja Lutsar told presenter Liisu Lass that primary school children should be allowed to return to the classroom and some outdoor activities can restart.

"But this opening should still be carried out in stages. There should be gaps between them. If the previous stage goes awry, the brakes should be applied," she said.

Lutsar said opening schools is expected to increase contacts by about 21 percent so it will have to be seen how much this increases the infection rate. While the number of new cases has been falling the 14-day infection rate is still over 600 per 100,000 inhabitants.

She said the reopening of schools will largely depend on the behavior of people who traveled abroad during the school holidays.

"What we are afraid of is the introduction of new variants of the virus. We do not need to be afraid of the United Kingdom variant, because it is already prevalent in the population. But we have few South African cases and none of the Brazilian at all, and we don't know much about the Indian variant yet," she said, encouraging everybody returning from abroad to get tested at the airport.

"Those who have been vaccinated should also take a test because they are not fully protected. If the test is negative, you can go on with your life. If you return from a trip on Sunday, you should not send a child to school on Monday."

Discussing other restrictions, such as opening outside areas of cafes and restaurants, Lutsar said the council has not made any decisions as these are made by the government.

"Initially, we recommend restarting with outdoor activities in stages. Maybe start with less dangerous activities, such as outdoor training in smaller groups," she said.

Speaking about the reopening of cultural institutions, Lutsar said museums and exhibition are higher up the council's list but should not be carried out at the same time as primary schools.

On Monday, the council discussed their recommendations and said the infection rate - R - remains at 0.83-0.85. The infection rate has been the same for several weeks but nobody wants it to rise above 1 again.

Last week, the government discussed easing the restrictions but did not make a decision. Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform) said the government need to be sure the infection rate was in a permanent state of decline.

Minister of Health and Labor Tanel Kiik (Center) said on Monday is he "optimistic" that some restrictions can be lifted on April 26, when the restrictions are due to expire.

Last week 700 fewer cases of coronavirus were reported in Estonia compared to the week before.

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Editor: Helen Wright

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