Lutsar: Infection rate growing would not see schools, kindergartens closed

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Irja Lutsar, chief of the government's coronavirus advisory council. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

The Delta or so-called Indian strain of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19 has become prevalent in Estonia in July, while other strains keep spreading elsewhere in the world. The Gamma mutation that originated from Brazil has reached Russia, while the Lambda variant was diagnosed in Houston, USA.

Professor of applied virology Andres Merits said that recent research suggests coronavirus mutations tend to favor more rapid spread, while recovering from and vaccination against the virus are effective against all strains.

The Gamma strain that has now reached Russia became known last fall when it caused a serious outbreak in the capital of the State of Amazonas in Brazil. Merits said that while the Gamma variant is better at overcoming the body's immune defense, it is much less infectious than the Delta strain. A total of nine cases of the Gamma strain have been diagnosed in Estonia.

"It seems the Gamma variant is limited also in South America. The Lambda strain is likely to take over. The Gamma mutation also never gained a serious foothold in Estonia as it was outperformed by the Alfa variant," Merits said.

It is believed that the Lambda variant that has now reached South America could spread as effectively as the currently prevalent Delta strain. Vaccines are effective against the Lambda strain. No cases have been diagnosed in Estonia.

Head of the COVID-19 scientific council Irja Lutsar and Andres Merits agree that Estonians remain susceptible to all variants until level vaccination coverage is achieved.

"There are groups where the level of immunization remains very low. Strains that spread effectively, such as the Delta variant, have shown they can spread from child to child for whom no suitable vaccines exist," Merits said.

Lutsar said that the virus being transmitted from children to adults has not been studied, while teenagers and young adults remain a problem.

"We can immunize every single student, but if teachers refuse to get vaccinated, schools will be forced to close eventually as they will have no one to teach classes," Lutsar said.

Estonia could have between 500 and 1,000 daily cases in August should the infection rate continue to climb, while it shouldn't affect schools and kindergartens opening, Lutsar offered.

"We want to make sure our medial system can handle it. In a situation where parts of the population more at risk from the virus are largely vaccinated, I see no reason to close kindergartens or schools," the professor said.

Lutsar hopes that Estonia can vaccinate 70 percent of the population by the end of September if active vaccination efforts are retained.

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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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