Scientific council chief: PCR testing in current form is unsustainable

Toivo Maimets.
Toivo Maimets. Source: kuvatõmmis

The head of the government's scientific council Toivo Maimets said the coronavirus PCR testing system should be reviewed because there is no point in continuing in the current system.

"Nor can we do it, and it doesn't make sense today, really," Maimets said, in response to a question asking if Estonia's testing system should continue when every other person is testing positive.

"Another thing is what professor Ruth Kalda's surveillance research has shown [...] almost 60 percent of those infected are asymptomatic. That means you walk around without it, there's nothing wrong with you, but you're infected, you carry it on. The U.S. data says it's could be even 80 percent," the professor added.

Maimets, who was speaking on ETV current affairs show "Esimene stuudio" on Tuesday, said PCR testing should only be continued for risk groups.

"So I'm saying at the moment that we need to review all this testing system and the system for assessing the load of the virus that has been in place so far - for a different virus and in a different situation. And it's not like I'm saying right here how we should do it. But we see a number of different problems that need to be addressed," he said.

"One example is that so far one of the most important numbers in our risk assessments is the number of infections per day. In fact, today we shouldn't look at the whole day's infection anymore, but the risk group 60+ and then, of course, people with other diseases, people with immune problems," Maimets said.

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

"And now that we're getting to the point where we really need to focus on risk groups, we need to actually redesign this testing scheme," he added.

Maimets said almost everyone will catch the virus eventually, the question is simply how someone has prepared for the disease such as whether they have been vaccinated or not.

Finding a balance is important when it comes to rapid testing

In its recommendation to the government on Tuesday, the scientific council did not support the use of rapid tests to access crowded events in addition to the coronavirus certificate.

Maimets said that when it comes to restrictions, it is important to find a balance between entrepreneurs and doctors, and now is not the time to ease restrictions.

"In the ETV news program "Aktuaalne kaamera", Minister of Health and Labor Tanel Kiik (Center) said this whole issue is a balance between the concerns of doctors and the concerns of entrepreneurs. And that is exactly what it is," he said.

"Entrepreneurs are in a very difficult situation right now, especially in restaurants, hotels, cultural events, and there is a great need for relief. On the other hand, we are seeing medical problems. We are seeing a slow but increasing number of hospitalizations," the professor said.

A coronavirus vaccination certificate displayed on a mobile phone. Certificates can also be printed out and carried on paper. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

Maimets stated the coronavirus certificate as it was originally created no longer works.

"The problem is, first of all, that we know that both vaccinated and non-vaccinated people get infected. It means that both groups need to be tested. But imagine that 600 people will come to a show in the Vanemuine Theater. The tests can't be done two or three days before, as before because Omicron spreads quickly. This would mean that before the show, dear organizer, please test all these 600 people, wait for the answer and then let them in," he said.

Omicron is not just a cough and a runny nose

Maimets admitted that the speed of booster shots has stalled in Estonia. He said the reason is that people have the impression Omicron is mild.

"One of the problems we've been discussing in the scientific council is that somehow there is a perception that Omicron is a simple virus with a runny nose that comes and I will suffer from it mildly and then it's gone and I have antibodies and everything is fine," he said.

"Indeed, the chances of being hospitalized due to the Omicron strain are three times lower than with Delta. But it is only three times less likely, not 30 or 300. But if we have 5,100 infected today, 1 percent of them are 51 hospitalized people," Maimets said.

The head of the scientific council said vaccinating against the coronavirus every year cannot be ruled out.

Over the past two days, more than 10,000 cases of the coronavirus have been confirmed in Estonia and more than 24,000 tests have been carried out.


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Editor: Roberta Vaino

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