The new Omicron coronavirus strain is spreading fastest in the southern university town of Tartu, daily newspaper Postimees reported on Tuesday. There are more than 30 COVID-19 outbreaks in the county.
"Tartu is indeed a concern of ours at the moment," Imre Kaas, head of communications at the Health Board, said. "Over 40 cases of the omicron strain were detected in the western region in the last 24 hours, but the situation is significantly more critical in South Estonia."
Head of the southern regional department of the Health Board Tiia Luht said 889 cases of the omicron strain have been found: "Which is almost half of all cases related to the new strain in the country."
The highest incidence is in Tartu County and the highest rates of infection are among 10-19-year-olds. The average age of coronavirus patients in the region has dropped to 29 years, she said.
Kaas said, in addition to Tartu County, the omicron strain is also spreading in Tallinn and West Estonia.
"There is still very little of the new strain in the eastern region," he added. The newcomer is vigorously replacing the Delta strain, as it is several times more contagious than the latter.
"Omicron currently accounts for approximately 40 percent of all positive coronavirus samples," Kaas said.
The Omicron strain differs from the Delta strain by infecting faster than before and the virus attaches to the upper respiratory tract.
"First, dizziness, vomiting, and abdominal pain," Luht said, listing the symptoms of the new strain, which are often confused with viruses that cause stomach upset or the consequence of eating unwashed mandarins.
She said the disease is not limited to these symptoms, a sore throat, cough and runny nose often follow. However, coughing inevitably releases a lot of virus particles into the air, which allow them to reach the lungs.
At least initially, however, fewer people are admitted to hospital with the omicron strain than feared. But one reason for this is that the new strain is rarely diagnosed in the elderly.
"The older the age group, the fewer cases: five cases have been detected in those over 80 and 43 cases in the 60-69-year-olds," Kaas said, adding that no final conclusions can be drawn yet because the new strain has spread in Estonia for too short a time. "When the disease reaches the elderly, only then will it become clear what the consequences of omicron will be."
On Sunday, it was reported more than 1,500 cases of the Omicron variant have been diagnosed in Estonia. The number almost double over the Christmas weekend.
More than 30 outbreaks in Tartu County
"There are currently 31 active coronavirus outbreaks in Tartu County, ten of which emerged during the past week," Tiia Luht said, adding that this is a lot more than in other regions.
More than half of the cases are registered in the city of Tartu. Young people bring the disease to the family, older family members become ill.
"Fortunately, care homes are still untouched by omicron," she said.
The coronavirus outbreaks start at school, dance training, choir practice, as well as at the festive work lunches and private parties.
Editor: Helen Wright