No fresh coronavirus restrictions are going to be introduced this week, the government has confirmed, as indicators including hospitalizations, the R rate of infection and the overall infection numbers have all shown a downward trend over the past few days.
Health minister Tanel Kiik (Center) is highlighting vaccination as the key to getting beyond the current situation, saying Wednesday that: "Vaccination is the only sustainable way to overcome this pandemic. It will save lives and bring the end of the pandemic nearer."
Kiik noted that the four EU countries with the lowest infection rates are also the countries with the highest vaccination rates, while the reverse is true of states with the lowest vaccination rates.
Existing restrictions introduced at the start of last week will not yet be eased, Kiik added, and the cabinet is set to discuss on Thursday measures focused on the holiday season, to allow parties over Christmas and New Year to go ahead without significant curfew, but at a trade-off of capped numbers of participants; the current set of restrictions cannot be lifted wholesale ahead of holiday season in any case.
As a rule of thumb, Kiik suggested postponing the parties to a quieter time in terms of Covid rates, and spending the holidays in a small family circle, a line echoed by Health Board (Terviseamet) acting chief Marin-Anne Härma, while restrictions easing would require hospitalization rates of around 200, not the well-over 500 currently the case.
Hospitals, too, will be able to return to scheduled treatment around New Year's, if the downward trend continues, Härma said Wednesday.
She said: "The downward trend for illnesses has reversed, which brings hope that in six or seven weeks, by the new year, the situation in hospitals will be better."
As many as 35,000 postponed scheduled treatments (which may not affect as high a number of people given some patients are due multiple treatments) were forecast to have built up by year end, according to one leading doctor.
At the same time, the R rate has slowed to 1.0 (from 1.2) in a matter of days, and in the past seven days, there have been 3,600 fewer Covid infections reported than in the previous week.
These falling figures are the result of a combination of increased awareness, reduced contacts with unvaccinated people, remote learning is some places, such as Pärnu, and increased vaccination rates – particularly with regard to booster doses – as well as better adherence to mask-wearing and social distancing requirements.
"The number of patients in hospital is stable at around 600, which should turn into a clear downward trend from next week," Härma, added, noting that the trends in infection rates tend to not make themselves known in terms of hospitalizations until about two weeks later.
Extrapolating from this, an optimistic scenario sees rates low enough to consider lifting restrictions in about six weeks' time, but since this is more-or-less Christmas time, the need would be to wait another week or two before doing so.
Additionally, the most populous region of Estonia, Harju County, is displaying the largest decline in infection and hospitalization rates, though Ida-Viru County, also one of the more populous regions, is seeing a lower rate of fall on these indicators.
A week ago, the government and the Health Board had been talking about a potential new raft of restrictions, depending on how effective the measures introduced on November 1 turned out to be and at a time when the head of state, President Alar Karis, had been quite pointed in his criticism of the Center/Reform coalition's handling of the pandemic.
The government did not have adequate data at that time to make a call either way; now it says the indicators being on a downward trend mean further restrictions are not needed.
The current restrictions are here.
Editor: Andrew Whyte