The return of schools from the Christmas and New Year's break has seen a surge in the number of Covid cases revealed by in-school rapid testing. The figure for the past week, 1,224 positive cases, is the highest since the regular, weekly testing commenced, at the start of last November.
Most schools nationwide take part in not only testing, but an accompanying survey, where they report their results to the education ministry. The survey is the first since the Omicron strain became widespread in Estonia.
Of the total 1,224 positive cases, 985 pupils and 147 staff tested positive, higher than in any previous testing week. A total of 73 students and 19 employees tested positive in vocational schools, which are numerically far smaller than general education schools.
New Covid cases of a few thousand per a day, has become a daily statistic this week, while forecasts state that the level might reach 6,000 cases per day, ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK) reported Friday.
Minister of Education and Research Liina Kersna (Reform) said the epidemiological situation is such that this bi-weekly testing should continued.
She said: "At the end of last year, we saw that testing helped keep schools open safely, and the overall infection in society also fell."
A total of 251 schools reported no positive test results, though several larger schools in Tallinn identified coronavirus cases in the double figures, as a result of the testing
More than 90 percent of general education schools and three-quarters of vocational schools conducted testing twice a week, and more than 90 percent of schools tested all students and staff, while 96 percent of general education schools (just under 500) and nearly all the 32 vocational schools reported they conducted testing at all.
56 per cent of respondents tested students at school, 16 per cent at home and 27 per cent both at school and at home.
Schoolchildren can test at home with parental supervision where needed, while a positive rapid test result requires confirmation via a test conducted by a health professional.
Among vocational schools, these proportions were 71 per cent, 13 per cent and 16 percent respectively.
Overall, 145,000 students and more than 24,000 staff were tested.
Rapid testing in schools started on November 1 last year, and a total of 3,630 positive test results were found in schools between then and the Christmas break.
The past week's testing was also the first in schools since the Omicron strain starting propagating, at the end of last year.
The Health Board (Terviseamet) says if this trend continues, relaxation of the isolation rules could be considered in vital services, to keep them functioning.
Vaccination helps with this, and no major disruption is expected, health minister Tanel Kiik (Center) says.
"If we observe the spread of the virus continuing to grow very rapidly, these rules need to be reviewed, but my first priority is to avoid that," Kiik said.
In some cases this policy has already been followed – the quarantine period of close contacts has already been shortened, from 10 days to seven days.
Additionally, those who contract the Omicron strain generally have less severe symptoms, or often no symptoms at all, than is the case with the Delta strain, which can prompt doctors to close a case file earlier, at their discretion.
The Health Board's infectious diseases head Hanna Sepp said this was perfectly acceptable.
"It depends on the patient's medical history. If these symptoms do not occur and do not occur, the GP has the right to discontinue the illness," she said.
In the meantime, discussions at present are on how to ensure the continuation of normal societal functioning, Sepp said, though Kiik said caution was needed here.
In one concrete example of the recent Omicron spread hitting business and staffing numbers, ERR reported how a branch of supermarket Selver in Laagri, on the outskirts of Tallinn, had had to close for a few days last week, with the bulk o fits staff quarantining or off sick.
"This can be quite simply done in Tallinn, as we have a lot of outlets, we can re-route staff. It's more complicated in areas where there are no other stores within a close radius of one outlet," Selver spokesperson Rivo Veski told AK.
Editor: Andrew Whyte