The head of the government's scientific council Professor Irja Lutsar stressed that schools should not lightly send children to distance learning when coronavirus infections are detected. She agreed with the idea of removing coronavirus restrictions in Hiiu County, which has a high level of vaccination.
"We agreed that we would no longer send close contacts to distance learning, but that children who were ill and had symptoms and who were PCR-positive would stay home from school - as with any other illness," Lutsar said on Tuesday.
"To date, there is enough evidence that this virus is relatively mild among children, there are only a few serious cases, and therefore we can take the risk that children who are not directly ill can go to school," Lutsar said.
She said the vast majority of teachers are vaccinated and so are not exposed to a higher risk, although there are also a few ill teachers.
"We have to live with this virus, but in schools, we still have to think very clearly whether it really makes sense to send the whole school home in this case," Lutsar said.
"Every single case needs to be considered, but we already know that vaccines do not completely protect us from all infections. We see that vaccinated people become infected, but when we look at people coming to hospital 80 percent of them are unvaccinated. Among people who have died from the virus, almost all are unvaccinated. So what I say every week is that vaccination really helps against serious illness and hospitalization, but it may not completely prevent minor cases," Lutsar said.
Research council supports lifting restrictions in Hiiu County
Lutsar also discussed an idea raised by Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform) to remove the coronavirus restrictions on Hiiu County, an island, which has the highest vaccination level in Estonia.
"The scientific council has previously said that we could have a society without restrictions when 70 percent of the total population is fully vaccinated and 85 percent are vaccinated from risk groups. If these criteria are met in Hiiu County, the council will undoubtedly support it," Lutsar said.
"The council said this should not mean that Hiiu County becomes a place for organizing large events, but it is probably not very realistic either, it's is far enough away and the rural municipality leaders and the Health Board are probably responsible," the professor added.
However, Lutsar remained skeptical about lifting restrictions in other areas.
"It has to be discussed. Estonia is a very small country, and last winter we saw when the restrictions were only implemented in Harju and Ida-Viru County, then people traveled around and the virus was spread to other counties as well," Lutsar said.
Commenting on Lithuania's policy, where the country is using strict restrictions to speed up vaccination, Lutsar said she is not in favor of compulsory vaccination.
"I have never been in favor of compulsory vaccination. I think with that we are simply pushing aside those people who may have doubted at first, but have now decided to vaccinate," she said.
"I believe that we can still move forward with informing people and with the current certificate requirement. Yes, this movement is very slow, but I believe that people can now see that, indeed, people who have vaccinated themselves have greatly reduced their risk of serious illness."
Editor: Roberta Vaino