Statistician: 'R' rate fall means August COVID-19 forecast needs adjusting

Krista Fischer talking to ERR.
Krista Fischer talking to ERR. Source: ERR

Estonia's 'R' rate of coronavirus infections has fallen to a level on a par with last November, one expert says, a development which means that rates of around 2,500 infections per week which the Health Board forecast for mid-August may not materialize.

The development comes on the back of a growth in vaccinations, themselves coming off the back of a rise in infection rates up until recently.

38,801 vaccine doses were issued last week, of which over two-third (26,106) were first doses (of two, with most manufacturers' products).

Similar numbers of doses arrive in-country this week (37,830, of which 22,230 are Pfizer/BioNTech and 15,600 from Moderna).

May and June saw coronavirus restrictions being lifted in stages and, while a new approach to large-scale events (which require proof of vaccination or recent testing to go ahead) came into effect Monday, in other countries, for instance the U.K., restrictions-lifting was followed by a fall in coronavirus rates.

Krista Fischer, a statistician who is a member of the government's official coronavirus advisory board, says that in these state, "R" rates saw a sharp decline, followed by a shallower curve.

She said: "They are the same as we are, but on a larger scale; first there was rapid growth, which slowed down sharply and then flattened out. It is not as if the 'R' rate immediately goes to zero at that point."

Whereas the "R" rate was as high as 1.6 a few weeks ago, Fischer noted, it has fallen to 1.1-1.2 since then, she said.

This makes the current picture similar to November 2020, when the "R" rate fell steeply to 1.1, where it remained for some time until a sharp rise starting in spring.

The development means that the forecasts, as recently as last week, that weekly infection rates would be around 2,500 and daily figures 300-400 by mid-August (i.e. next week-ed.), are not likely to come to fruition.

The Health Board and the scientific council to which Fischer belongs have not always taken the same outlook, but, Fischer said, in this case: "This scenario was imposed on them with the condition that if nothing is done, the growth would. continue at the same pace and for a long time."

"However, something was done, so that this growth rate went down," she said, referring mainly to the vaccination drive, since infections began to fall ahead of the capacity restrictions – which only came into effect today, though some event organizers may have put the routines into practice ahead of time – and at the same time mask-wearing was reinstated on public transportation, though not rigorously enforced or anything like wholly adhered to, at least in Tallinn.

Going forward, this current drop will flatten out, she reiterated, adding that the mortality rate will likely be as it was in November (when deaths relating to the coronavirus totaled 46, the bulk of them coming in the second half of the month – ed.).

Beyond that stage, an optimistic forecast would be for a continued, albeit slow decline in infections, while the more negative scenario would see their numbers rise even more quickly than in late November, she said, though there is no real scientific reason at this stage to predict the latter outcome, Fischer said, meaning sticking with the more positive picture made sense given that is the direction the curve is heading at present.

In the case of the UK, the fall in infections coincided with the start of the school holidays, during which many parents also took their holidays and were thus away from work; while the infection rate went down, hospitalization rates did not, Fischer said.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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