In relation to the worldwide spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant, the government cabinet decided on Tuesday to impose a testing requirement on eight Southern African countries, along with Egypt and Turkey.
"We listened to a scientific council overview of what we know of the Omicron variant currently and stemming from the increased spread of the virus and increased risk of infection, we have decided that testing is required for all people arriving from eight Southern African countries and Egypt and Turkey. Those that refuse testing are subject to a mandatory 10-day self-isolation. This regulation is valid for vaccinated and unvaccinated travelers," said Minister of Health and Labor Tanel Kiik (Center).
The 10 countries are South Africa, Botswana, Malawi, Lesotho, Eswatini, Namibia, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Egypt and Turkey.
The entire travel journey and previous destinations will also be considered.
Free testing will be opened for all Estonian citizens on Friday, regardless of their country of departure. "It continues to be reasonable to assess your health just in case, but we have not imposed a testing requirement on EU arrivals. Both the Health Board and the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control do not consider it reasonable in the current situation," Kiik said.
The health minister added that if a person has tested negatively and is vaccinated, that will count as the end of their self-isolation period. If they are unvaccinated, they must remain in self-isolation and go through more testing after six days or stay in isolation for the whole 10 days.
Kiik said the Health Board is responsible for monitoring, also possibly involving the Police and Border Guard Board.
Rapid tests will not be enough to release someone from the self-isolation obligation, PCR testing will have to be conducted, as it also makes it possible to identify the virus strain.
Government scientific council head Irja Lutsar told ERR earlier on Tuesday that there is very little knowledge of the Omicron variant and 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.
The virologist said vaccinations are still key in the battle against the coronavirus and 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.
Lutsar said it is unlikely that new vaccines will be completed in the next months and added that existing vaccines are very likely to work against the Omicron strain, as well.
On Tuesday, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement advising against travel both to South Africa and the southern African region, following a joint decision made by European Union member states in the wake of the Omicron coronavirus strain detected in South Africa late last week.
Editor: Kristjan Kallaste