Lutsar: Mask-wearing obligation extension justified by increased numbers

Irja Lutsar.
Irja Lutsar. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

Head of the government's advisory scientific council Irja Lutsar told ERR that extending the mask-wearing obligation is justified by a rise in coronavirus figures.

How do you comment the government's fresh decision to extend the mask-wearing obligation to all public indoor spaces where COVID-19 certificates are not checked and also that all service providers must now request coronavirus [vaccination or recovery] certificates?

It is a government decision, the government imposes these restrictions. The government likely took into consideration that infection indicators are increasing and that this infection cannot be slowed down.

Did you and the scientific council recommend these restrictions?

Yes, we recommended that these certificates were asked from all persons, it will likely make everyone's lives simpler. And a recommendation to make masks compulsory was given by the council last week.

Even vaccinated people must now wear masks?

Yes, because it is very difficult to differentiate in stores who is vaccinated and who is not vaccinated. This is a path many other countries have also taken.

Can this perhaps cause certain confusion among vaccinated people? How is the mask-wearing obligation justified for vaccinated people?

This information is based on recent research in the U.S. and U.K., which showed that the coronavirus burden is quite similar for vaccinated and unvaccinated people and the burden with this Delta variant is great. The other justification is that it is hard to check who is vaccinated and who is not in shopping malls. And third, our vaccination numbers are not too high.

As of Friday, 704,038 people have received at least one vaccine dose - ed.

How long will this new regime last?

Infection indicators and hospitalization indicators are in an upward trend. It will likely have to last as long as these turn downward and another factor is how much of the population we can get vaccinated. The more there are vaccinated people, the easier it is to protect society.

If infection numbers will not begin to go down as rapidly as hoped for, then what are the possible restrictions the scientific council can recommend to the government?

The scientific council has tried to keep society open as much as possible this time. And our priority is for our healthcare system to manage. The number of hospitalized people has increased significantly over the last few weeks. We will see what the new restrictions will do. These coronavirus passports, for example - there are not too many good studies in scientific literature. I believe Estonia can see how these [restrictions] will work and then decide how to proceed.

Which restrictions are even possible in a situation where entertainment venues ask for coronavirus certificates to manage and remain open and people wear masks in shopping malls?

There are no soft variants available now. But if we want to keep society open, we must see how these restrictions will do and what are the infection numbers we can live with going forward. Our goal is never to take these infection indicators to a zero, it is likely impossible. We have to see what restrictions can be done, how necessary they are.

Does the current situation show Estonia's failure with vaccinations?

Absolutely not.

Or is the vaccination process not as effecient as we thought?

Vaccinations are very good and vaccines are doing what they were supposed to do. Vaccines help avoid serious illness, death and hospitalization. And the vaccines do that very well. So, my words are to vaccinate, vaccinate, vaccinate.

Last year, people were recommended to stay at home. What is your current recommendation to people, including those who are vaccinated.

My recommendation is for people to behave reasonably. We have been at home for so long and I do not see this passing too fast. But reasonable behavior... There is no need to go where people are gathering. But if we act reasonably - I think now is not the time we should sit at home. We can still go out. No venues were closed and it is also possible to show coronavirus certificates. It is also possible to get tested and show that you do not have the virus.


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Editor: Kristjan Kallaste

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