Health Board: Omicron variant spreading in Estonia

Vaccination. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

The new Omicron strain of the coronavirus is spreading rapidly inside Estonia, the Health Board said on Sunday.

As of Sunday morning, the new Omicron variant of the coronavirus is suspected in 329 cases in Estonia, with local infections responsible for 80 percent. In other words, the Omicron strain is spreading domestically and at a rapid pace, the Health Board said.

"The situation in Estonia and the world is changing rapidly. Initial data suggests the number of Omicron cases could explode in mere days, which trend is also visible in Estonia. While the rate of infection is still average in Estonia, number of infections records have fallen in several other countries," Deputy Director of the Health Board Mari-Anne Härma said in a press release.

The Omicron variant is at least three times more contagious than the Delta strain based on preliminary information and also more likely to infect people who have recovered from or been vaccinated against the coronavirus. Data from the UK suggests people who have received a booster dose of vaccine are far better protected, with so-called third shots able to prevent symptomatic illness in 80 percent of cases. Vaccines continue to offer excellent protection against severe Covid.

"Countries where the Omicron strain is spreading rapidly are seeing an uptick in hospitalizations. It is too early to confirm a link between severe cases and Omicron as hospitals are mostly treating unvaccinated people. The Health Board continues to monitor the situation, while we cannot yet conclude that the illness is less severe in the case of the Omicron strain. People who have not been vaccinated should not expect the new variant to go easier on them," Härma explained.

The board recommends everyone who has not been vaccinated against COVID-19 to get their initial or booster shots. People are urged to get the shot immediately as vaccination offers effective protection against severe illness.

People are also urged to carefully observe preventive measures: maintain distance from others, wear a medical mask, air out indoor premises, avoid crowded venues, regularly disinfect and wash hands. People coming from abroad should get tested and closely monitor their condition for at least ten days after arrival in Estonia.

The Health Board emphasizes that masks need to cover the wearer's mouth and nose. "The point of a mask is to obstruct airborne particles, including the virus, that are exhaled from spreading," Härma said, adding that wearing a mask is useless if the person's nose is uncovered.

The National Immunoprophylactic Committee will convene to discuss organization of the vaccine booster doses campaign organization in Estonia next week. The government is closely monitoring the situation.

Health Board recommendations for the holidays:

- If you are infected or a close contact of an infected person – stay in. If a family member is diagnosed, all other family members should stay home, including those who are vaccinated.

- Celebrate Christmas with your immediate family. Make sure everyone is healthy before meeting relatives. If you are not yet vaccinated, give your loved ones a Christmas present by doing it now! If you have been vaccinated but have gone six months from your second shot, get a booster shot during the holiday season. Booster doses are available five months after the initial cycle in the case of AstraZeneca and Janssen vaccines. Get a rapid test before meeting elderly relatives.

- We recommend postponing company Christmas parties or holding smaller celebrations on the level of departments in controlled conditions. Check COVID-19 certificates and get tested immediately before parties.

- School Christmas parties should be limited to the class level. Major gatherings should be avoided.

- Kindergarten Christmas parties should be limited to the class level.

- Prefer outdoor activity in fresh air to indoor activities.

- Organize a Christmas hike with your loved ones or enjoy holiday light shows in parks. Prepare hot tea or mulled wine to take with you.

- Christmas sermons are likely to draw bigger crowds. Wear a mask and keep your distance from others. Observe the instructions of the minister and congregation.

- Plan your routes. Use e-service where possible. Most services are available online in the modern world.

- Try to do your Christmas shopping when there are fewer people in the store. Contactless shopping is available online.

- Think about what you want to prepare before going grocery shopping. This way, you spend less time in the shops and reduce the risk of being infected. Buy what you need online if possible and have it delivered to your doorstep – it is also more convenient!


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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