Maimets invited several former council members to new line-up

Toivo Maimets (center, standing) presenting the new scientific council to members of the government.
Toivo Maimets (center, standing) presenting the new scientific council to members of the government. Source: Flickr/Stenbock House

According to the new chief of the government's advisory scientific council Toivo Maimets, he would have liked to see at least a few previous council members join his new line-up, but they all refused and said they have not been able to deal with their regular activities over the past two years.

University of Tartu cell biology professor Toivo Maimets announced the new members of the scientific council on Thursday, which now consists of a completely fresh set of researchers and public health experts.

Maimets said a completely new line-up was not his wish. "I thought it would be good to have some consistency, a connection with previous people. Truly, I asked several previous scientific council members if they would come join the new team," the new council chief said, adding that all the previous members said they had delayed their projects over the past two years.

When putting together a new team, Maimets spoke with several top researchers, doctors and scientists. "We primarily spoke about the disciplines, which should be represented in the scientific council and also who they would recommend. These meaningful conversation led to a long list of people and I chose the disciplines which seemed necessary and reasonable: immunologists, virologists, primary care professionals, social scientists and the like," Maimets said.

He added that if someone was recommended by several people, he tried hard to get that person on the new team.

There were some researchers that refused an invite, but Maimets said that everyone he spoke to promised to help the scientific council, even if they are not a permanent member. "The strong support of the Estonian scientific community was a pleasant feeling."

The new members of the council are: Head of the Infection Control Department of the North Estonian Regional Hospital (PERH) and Senior Physician Mait Altmes, professor of psychophysiology Jaanus Harro, professor of family medicine and the head of Institute of Family Medicine and Public Health Ruth Kalda, professor of molecular immunology at the University of Tartu and Head of the Department of Biomedicine, Institute of Biomedical and Transplant Medicine Pärt Peterson, Tartu co-professor of virology Margus Varjak and professor of communication research at the University of Tartu Triin Vihalemm.

Statistician Krista Fischer is also set to continue supporting the scientific council. "We have a concrete deal with Krista Fischer, whose knowledge and skills are quite unique in Estonia and it was clear from the start that we would not get far without her. We have a deal that she would continue her research under the Health Board and she has promised to participate in all our meetings to provide us with information.

Fischer has modelled the spread of the coronavirus throughout the pandemic.

Prime minister: Previous scientific council needed a break

Prime Minister Kaja Kallas announced on December 23 that the scientific council has done a good job working the pandemic's frontline, but they deserve a vacation, which will allow them to focus on their regular research.

Kallas announced University of Tartu (UT) cell biology professor Toivo Maimets as the new council head, taking over from virologist Irja Lutsar, who held the position ever since the council was created at the start of the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020.  

The previous council was criticized for speaking too openly to the media, telling outlets their recommendations to the government. Outgoing council members rejected claims of fatigue and also noted that their role was never intended primarily for media liaison.

Auditor General Janar Holm has also criticized the practice of the scientific council's recommendations appearing in the media before reaching the government.

The council collects and analyzes data and gives recommendations on restrictions and other viral spread measures.

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Editor: Kristjan Kallaste

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