AK: Valga County seeing higher coronavirus rates than average

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Valga Hospital. Source: ERR

While coronavirus rates nationwide have been steadily falling recently, including in Ida-Viru County, which had been one of the most affected of Estonia's fifteen counties, the rate of change has not been even in all cases. Valga County, which borders Latvia, has had a noticeably higher rate recently, ETV news show 'Aktuaalne kaamera' (AK) reported Wednesday evening.

The county, population less than 30,000, is second-highest by 14-day infection rate per 100,000 inhabitants at 354, while neighboring Põlva County, comparable in population size and density, has posted a 14-day rate of less than half Valga's, at 166, AK reported.

The reported national rate is a little over 137 per 100,000 as of Thursday morning. The town which gives Valga County its name lies right on the border with Latvia and is adjacent to Valka, effectively the same conurbation. Latvia's 14-day coronavirus rate was 366 per 100,000 as of last Friday, according to Estonian foreign ministry figures.

Possible explanations are hard to pin down, AK reported, though differing local restrictions and vaccination rates may be in part behind the disparities.

Mayor of Valga town, Monika Rogenbaum, told AK that: "Valga municipality has not taken it upon itself to put all schools on distance learning and not to prevent anyone from going to school," adding that local government thought the measure inappropriate except in particular cases with individual schools.

Some kindergartens have also been on intermittent remote learning – or more likely sent home altogether – according to the municipality's website, AK reported.

The national Health Board (Terviseamet) also says that no additional restrictions are required right now.

Valga County's vaccination rate is also lower than the national average, while appointments at the single major hospital get rapidly snapped up, leaving only Tartu, nearly 90km from Valga town, or a private clinic in the town of Tõrva, as relatively local alternative options.

Valga town's population comprises close to half the total for the county and sees movement between it and the much larger Valka, on the Latvian side of the border. Residents of the twin towns cross the border, which reopens today, Thursday, for work and other purposes, while at certain times during the pandemic the border has also been open for work and other essential purposes, often pending negative COVID-19 test results and other prerequisites.

Marek Seer, head of the government's coronavirus vaccine task force and former Valga Hospital chief, told AK that availability of vaccines was not the issue, but rather public information and an understanding of the necessity to get inoculated.

Tiia Luht, head of the Health Board's southern district, said that morbidity rates also rose in early May, plateauing mid-month, with the current picture involving outbreaks connected to one health care institution and one family gathering, AK reported.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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