Covid self-isolation requirement likely to be cut to five days

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Coronavirus testing signage.
Coronavirus testing signage. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

The Health Board (Terviseamet) may halve the quarantine period for Covid close family contacts, from its current 10 days, to five. Extra precautions will be in place including a recommendation to rapid test at the end of a quarantine period, before returning to the workplace.

The announcement was made at a press conference featuring Health Board acting chief Mari-Anne Härma, health minister Tanel Kiik (Center), after public administration minister Jaak Aab (Center) had said earlier on Wednesday that the government was due to discuss the issue, and amid a surge in infection rates as the Christmas and New Year's break ends for children and adults alike.

Kiik (Center) said the decision would be made at the government's regular Thursday cabinet meeting.

"There will be a formal decision tomorrow," Kiik said, adding that the current ten-day requirement for self-isolation is unreasonable.

Over half of new infections now arise within the family circle, with Tartu County in particular seeing a spike in outbreaks, arising from Christmas and New Year parties. 

Many Omicron cases have also been "imported", ERR reports, not so much from the original, high-risk list of states, primarily in southern hemisphere Africa, but primarily now from the U.K.

Mari-Anne Härma also stated that a five-day quarantine period would be likely.

She said: "Close family contacts should remain in isolation for five days, to ensure that the infection does not pass beyond the family circle."

Härma also said that before returning to work after this period, it was recommended to take a rapid Covid test, as the risk of spreading the virus at work is high, and the current growth in infection rates is not forecast to slow up.

Härm: new infection record is coming

A new infection record is forecast for January, Härma said, while the number of people infected this week could rise by 50 percent.

She said: "Children will return to school next week, and people will be back from their Christmas holidays."

"This will lead to an increase in infection from next week, until the end of January, though the situation may not be a cause for alarm yet. The rapid increase in infection we are currently seeing was expected," Härma went on.

Härma said the board will also monitor the need for scheduled hospital treatments, adding that there were no plans to step up measures if there had been no surge in infection rates, or the viral infections falling unexpectedly hard on the elderly.

Both Härma and Tanel Kiik stressed the importance of getting a booster dose.

Härma said: "People who have received a booster dose are the least likely to get infected, with Kiik adding that "The risk of unvaccinated people being hospitalized is ten times higher."

Aab: Should be no need for 10-day isolation period

Earlier on Thursday, Jaak Aab had said : "The Ministry of Social Affairs has been given a task to analyze what we should do with the isolation requirement. Considering that the initial expert assessment was that the Omicron variant's symptoms appear earlier, there should be no need for a long isolation period," Aab said.

Minister of Public Administration Jaak Aab (Center) at a cabinet meeting. Source: Office of the Government of the Republic of Estonia.

"There can be a large number of infected people that have to remain home and cannot go to work. That is in addition to all the close contacts that have to stay and isolate. If this takes place for a longer period, there can be an issue of just not having enough employees in certain sectors, companies, social care and healthcare. And that is a serious issue," the minister noted.

As of the current restrictions, those who live with a person who has COVID-19 or who have come in contact with them have to stay in self-isolation for ten days. Self-isolation is not obligatory for close contacts who have been completely vaccinated against the coronavirus, have recovered from the coronavirus within the past six months and have been declared health by a doctor and for those that are considered to be equal to vaccinated.

The final decision is to be made on Thursday.

This article was updated to include comments from Mari-Anne Härma and Tanel Kiik.


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Editor: Kristjan Kallaste, Andrew Whyte

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