Deputy head of the steering group on COVID-19 vaccination Doctor Arkadi Popov says a recent government decision to ease coronavirus restrictions had been made prematurely.
Speaking to daily Postimees' webcast, Popov, who is also head of the West-Tallinn Central Hospital (LTKH) said that: "I must admit that the situation is not great at all."
"The infection rate in Ida-Viru County is increasing. Looking at the ratio, the infection rate in Ida-Viru is two times higher than in the country as a whole," he went on, citing figures of 600 cases per 100,000 inhabitants in Ida-Viru over the past 14 days, compared with around 324 per 100,000 nationwide.
Small increases had also already been registered last week among some demographics, particularly the young (5-9 and 15-19 age groups), which, he said, also raised questions on whether Monday's return to in-school learning was happening too hastily.
The "R" rate is above the critical value of 1 in some regions of the country, he added.
Discipline on mask-wearing should not be allowed to lapse, he added.
"If a person who is infected sits next to another person without wearing a mask, this definitely involves a potential threat," he added, noting that outdoor dining at restaurants and cafes – currently permissible – would be one situation where that might happen. From Monday, May 24, dining indoors will also be allowed at catering businesses, until 9 p.m. and following the 50 percent occupancy rule.
Scientific council member: 'R' rate of 1 tolerable if daily case figures lower
University of Tartu statistician and member of the government's coronavirus advisory council Krista Fischer, also appearing on the Postimees webcast, said that the "R" rate needs to be viewed in conjunction with daily figures. An "R" rate of 1 is not a cause for concern if daily case rates are 50 or lower and if the Health Board says it can isolate any outbreaks.
"If we have 300 new infections per day, the R value needs to be significantly below 1. In my opinion, 300 cases is too many; there should be fewer," Fischer said.
The daily new coronavirus case numbers as reported by the Health Board have been below 300 on four days over the past week.
The decision to reopen schools had been one of the toughest ones to discuss within the council, Fischer added, and was made partly because, and not despite, the fact that only a short time remains until the end of the academic year, in order to help those schoolchildren who have been struggling with distance learning.
Arkadi Popov said that growing infections, even on a regional basis, would require potential re-imposition of restrictions, though he also said that the situation was likely to improve by the second half of summer, given the pace of vaccinations.
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Editor: Andrew Whyte