Hospitals are very anxious as the Omicron variant of the coronavirus seems set to bring forth an increased wave of infections, but it is still uncertain if the need for hospitalizations will increase much, said Health Board emergency medicine chief Urmas Sule.
"The hospital situation has luckily remained rather stable in terms of coronavirus patients. But we are anxious, because we can see that the general infection trend is growing very fast," Sule told ERR on Monday. "In that sense, the situation is worrying, because none of us really know what wide-spread Omicron strain infections actually mean, since older people will also be infected more."
Even as other countries have seen increased Omicron infections, their hospitalization rates have not gone up significantly. Sule said elderly infection trends should be monitored. "Yes, that has been the recent trend. Our infection rates have also gone up, but the need for hospitalizations remains stable and even dropped some for a moment," the emergency medicine chief said.
"But I would emphasize once more that most of our infected are young people. But this virus will certainly spread among the elderly and we will see the actual hospitalization need once the elderly infection rates begin to increase. Only then will we see what it means to hospitalizations and how the new strain will affect those with weaker immune systems," Sule added.
At the same time, he said it makes no difference what strain the person is infected with when it comes to hospital treatment. "It is not too important for hospitals to make that distinction, because the most important criteria to provide adequate treatment and to predict our capacities is the potential percentage of infected people requiring treatment in hospitals."
He noted that while coronavirus infections are monitored heavily, other infectious diseases have also begun to spread and there are patients hospitalized for reasons other than the coronavirus as well.
Responding to a question about how it can be ensured that patients hospitalized for other illnesses do not get infected with the coronavirus, the former Pärnu Hospital chief admitted that it is made more complicated by the fact that people infected with COVID-19 are most infectious two days before symptoms are developed.
"This means we cannot implement too many measures to avoid infections coming in. We would have to implement rather drastic measures, which are unacceptable for people and the percentage would still not be zero. But we will certainly try to consider earlier experience and establish and restrict movement even more in hospitals," Sule said.
He said that the Omicron strain's risk is that since the virus spreads across Estonia, it will eventually affect hospital workers, patients and their loved ones, which only amplifies risk of spread.
"The honest answer is that we have gotten used to working in such an infectious environment. And we are also working on administering booster doses and motivating people to do so. Because there is one thing for certain if we want to keep this infection wave under control: booster doses offer the best protection for those that have recovered from the virus and for those that have received two vaccine doses already. The risk of infection among those people is considerably lower than for others," Sule said.
As of Monday, 846,580 people have been vaccinated against COVID-19 in Estonia, with 820,596 of them having already received their second dose. There have been 316,481 booster doses administered in Estonia. 61.7 percent of the Estonian population have completed their vaccination process.
Editor: Kristjan Kallaste