Coronavirus infection rates in Tartu County are considerable higher, at over a thousand per 100,000 inhabitants, compared with fewer than 650 in Harju County. At the same time, one doctor says, hospitalization rates in South Estonia remain stable, though this is in danger of changing with the spread of the Omicron variant, and should be controlled rather via vaccinations instead of restrictions.
Hospitalization rates in Tartu County are not significantly higher than elsewhere, with 40 people currently in beds at the Tartu University Clinic.
To what extend the Omicron variant is to blame for hospitalizations is not yet clear, Doctor Joel Starkopf, research and development manager at the hospital, told ERR Tuesday, though the overall situation has remained static since early December.
Starkopf said: "The situation in the clinic has not changed in the last two or three weeks. As of Tuesday, we have 40 Covid patients needing to be in an isolated ward, which is similar figure to the past two to three weeks. The number of additional patients per day is modest; two yesterday, five the day before that, two the day before that, then seven [the day before that, i.e. last Friday]. It is a stable situation, without significant developments."
At the same time, Starkopf said the Health Board (Terviseamet) data, which showed an explosive growth of omicron variant infections in Tartu County, was a matter for concern and could translate to a massive surge in hospitalizations in due course.
He said: "If we can deduce from looking at the data that five percent ... need hospital treatment, while the omicron strain has been spreading quickly over two weeks, we can extrapolate that 3,000 people would require hospital treatment in two weeks, which is 200 people a day," adding that this was double the worst-case scenario figure during the peak of the third wave, in autumn.
This will become clearer later, since people usually present at hospitals between 10 and 14 days of contracting the virus.
Other mitigating factors include demographics, however, he said, since the bulk of infections are in people aged under 32, while hospitalizations of teenagers are rare.
At the same time, the effects of the Omicron strain on unvaccinated over-60s is still not known, and is a cause for concern, Starkopf said.
The university clinic itself has a total of 60 Covid-designated beds, plus five intensive care places, but this capacity will need boosting in the next two weeks, Starkopf went on.
Vaccination was also key, he said. "The data so far demonstrates that vaccination significantly reduces the need for hospital treatment, both with the omicron and delta strains. Vaccination is the solution; the effectiveness of the restrictions is modest. Vaccination must be the main focus;" adding that this was particularly of concern given the temporary easing of restrictions over the New Year holiday.
Viljandi Hospital, which is experiencing an internal outbreak of Covid, is also in a worse situation than much of the rest of South Estonia, Starkopf continued.
"Bed spaces in Põlva, Võru and Valga hospitals have been reduced, but there is a readiness to hospitalize Covidi patients should the need arise," Starkopf went on.
In eastern Estonia: "Ida-Viru Central Hospital and Narva Hospital have been operating at a standard pace for the past two to three weeks, reporting neither a fall in patients nor an explosion in the need for hospital care," Starkopf said.
Editor: Andrew Whyte