Scientific council: All arrivals from Southern Africa should be tested

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

Head of the government's scientific council Irja Lutsar said the experts do not support easing restrictions in Estonia. They recommended the government start testing travelers arriving from Southern African countries.

"Right now is likely not the time to ease restrictions," Lutsar told ERR. "Estonia's situation has calmed down for now, but this does not mean there are no new cases each day."

She noted that while new restrictions are not necessary domestically, the scientific council made a recommendation to the government to begin testing all people arriving from Southern Africa due to the spread of the Omicron variant of COVID-19.

"We do not know what will become of this Omicron strain, there is very little knowledge of it," Lutsar said, adding that the world needs to be alert in monitoring spread.

The virologist could not say how serious the cases of the Omicron variant can be, because information from Southern Africa does not provide a complete picture.

"While the rate of hospitalizations in Southern Africa has increased, it is not known if the people hospitalized are there because of the Omicron strain - there are other strains in circulation there," Lutsar said.

Months before new vaccines are developed

The virologist pointed out that more than two thirds of hospitalized vaccinated patients in Estonia had their last vaccine dose more than six months ago, which is why booster vaccinations must be conducted with the existing vaccines.

"It is very-very unlikely that these vaccines do not work on the new strain, regardless of it having several mutations," Lutsar said.

Although Pfizer announced on Monday evening that it will begin working on a vaccine for the Omicron strain, the scientific council head said that a new vaccine is unlikely to be completed in less than six months. "Pfizer says they can finish the vaccine in six weeks, but you must then conduct studies, regulators must issue permits and the vaccine must then go into mass production," Lutsar said.

Moderna and Johnson&Johnson have also announced that they have begun working on a new vaccine.


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Editor: Kristjan Kallaste

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