Virologist: Covid should be redefined before new restrictions ordered

Irja Lutsar.
Irja Lutsar. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

Covid should be redefined from a dangerous infectious disease to a seasonal viral disease before ordering new restrictions in the next coronavirus wave, such as has been done in Sweden, virologist Irja Lutsar said on the "Otse uudistemajast" webcast.

Lutsar, who used to head the government's COVID-19 scientific advisory council, said that the coronavirus needs to be classified before new restrictions can be laid down as the definition has bearing on the legality of measures.

Lutsar gave the example of Denmark the health authority of which redefined Covid before the country last lifted its restrictions. While it used to be a rapidly spreading disease for which there were no medicines or prophylactic measures, we have drugs, prophylactic measures, medical know-how and vaccines today.

"The Health Board will have to classify the disease first. I do not consider it an acutely dangerous infectious disease," Lutsar said, adding that there is enough data to suggest we are dealing with a seasonal viral infection as per the definition in Sweden.

The virologist said there will always be a minute chance of a new variant of the virus getting all the malicious genes of previous strains as well as the ability to bypass immunity. "But it is quite unlikely," she remarked.

Masks could remain recommended

Lutsar said that restrictions are easy to lay down, while lifting them is tied to risks people are not always keen on taking.

"Our measures were lifted two days too late rather than too early. A number of them could have been ended sooner," the virologist said, giving the example of the Covid certificate rule not being lifted until Estonia had fewer than 25 symptomatic hospitalizations per day.

While the certificate requirement created quite a lot of bad blood in society, the obligation to wear a mask in public merited a lesser reaction despite being a controversial topic, Lutsar suggested. While modelling studies have demonstrated the usefulness of masks, human studies have not confirmed it.

"I would not make masks obligatory, they could be recommended. If there is widespread infection, FFP2 masks should be recommended," Lutsar said.

She also said that the organization of treatment in hospitals should be reviewed before the next wave. For example, it is not necessary to isolate Covid patients in all units, and employees who have tested positive but have no symptoms could be allowed to work.

The media should avoid sending negative messages about hospitals' workload or Covid deaths, especially if COVID-19 cannot be definitively given as the cause of death.

Lutsar said that she hopes restrictions will not be reintroduced come fall. "I wrote in 2020 that we need to learn to live with the virus. That is the strategy of the Estonian state as we have not been keen on a zero-tolerance policy," he said.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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