A recommendation made by the government's coronavirus advisory board that proof of negative Covid antigen rapid test results should not be restored as a means of gaining access to restaurants and other venues alongside the existing proof of vaccination is just that – a recommendation and one of several opinions on the issue, and not binding on the government, the Center Party's Riigikogu group chair Jaanus Karilaid says.
Referring to "some politicians", Karilaid hit out at the use of the recommendation, announced by health minister Tanel Kiik (Center) on Tuesday on behalf of the advisory board – dubbed the Scientific Council - as a way of prolonging indecision on the easing of restrictions.
Karilaid told ERR that: "We do not fully agree with the conclusion of our Scientific Council, and we see that here, actually, there is still the opportunity for politicians to take some steps towards easing the current restrictions."
Restrictions, which have remained in place largely unchanged for nearly three months, nonetheless affect public mental well-being, as well as the economy, Karilaid said.
"Naturally, our restrictions are intended to protect public health and the economy, but we must constantly monitor the process so that these restrictions do not reach too far," he said.
The recommendation does not stop the government from reinstating rapid test results' proof as a way of gaining entry to restaurants and cafes, and also sports facilities, he said.
"Plus it is elementary that you can get to the skating rinks and the ski slopes via a rapid test," he said.
"I don't think it is worth paying politicians to sneak up behind some scientists and try to postpone their indecision. This pandemic has been going on for over two years. It is time to start removing restrictions in society step by step," Karilaid added.
Karilaid also pointed to the view of the council's former head, Professor Irja Lutsar, who said that allowing rapid tests is viable.
Former Scientific Council member: Rapid testing would help control outbreaks at events
Another member of the last Covid Scientific Council's composition, Professor Andres Merits, said that he does not agree with the council's current assessment that reinstating rapid test and negative results arising from them on a par with vaccination certification will lead to a surge in people attending events, and with it a possible further rise in infections.
"The fall in attendance at events or venues requiring a Covid 'passport' is probably not so much the result of the requirement for passports but of the caution of the public - passport holders are not involved in the widespread spread of the virus," he said.
"It is not logical to assume that enabling rapid testing would lead to a large increase in attendance at such events," Merits added, noting that rapid testing on the spot at events would have the effect of disrupting chains of infection, as it would help with the identification of viral carriers and help limit the participation or attendance of unvaccinated people at events or at venues.
The use of rapid tests also would not affect the decision of unvaccinated individuals to remain so, or to get vaccinated, either, he said.
Other factors to take into consideration include the fact that it is not certain whether the predominant Omicron strain actually results in one third the number of hospitalizations as more severe variants, while severe cases involving Omicron are only a quarter of those of the original strains of Covid, still less that of the Delta strain, he said.
Scientific Council: Rapid tests can give false-negative results
Minister of Health and Labor Tanel Kiik (Center) said that Tuesday the scientific council has recommended against restoring antigen rapid test results as a way to gain access to restaurants and entertainment venues.
The council said equating a negative test with a vaccination passport would put unvaccinated people at risk.
Rapid tests can give false-negatives in the early stages of a bout with Covid, the council said.
In addition to the Omicron strain, the Delta strain is also propagating and accounted for 14 percent of cases last week – Delta cases are more likely to require hospitalization.
The Omicron strain has been the predominant Covid variant since the end of 2021, with cases in schools particularly endemic, with the result that nearly half of schools are on remote learning across Estonia, as of Tuesday.
The scientific council's composition changed at the beginning of this year; its original incarnation had been identified more closely with the Center Party rather than its coalition partner Reform, if nothing else than the fact that it was set up by the Center/EKRE/Isamaa coalition when the pandemic first arrived in Estonia in early spring 2020 and at a time when Reform was in opposition.
On Sunday, Riigikogu speaker and Center's leader, Jüri Ratas, argued in favor of equating negative rapid test results with vaccination or proof of recovery certification.
Editor: Andrew Whyte