Scientific council chief: Mandatory Covid testing in schools not needed

Toivo Maimets.
Toivo Maimets. Source: Government Office

Provided no new or more severe Covid strains emerge, there is no cause for concern or need to re-enter lockdown or instigate mandatory testing in schools as the new academic year approaches, head of the government's coronavirus advisory body Toivo Maimets said.

Speaking to Vikerraadio's morning show "Vikerhommik" Monday, Maimets, head of the Scientific Council (Teadusnõukoda), said that the Omicron-5 variant which emerged in spring is now dominant and accounts for around 95 percent of cases, but is a mild strain, meaning the state is moving along the "mild" scenario the Scientific Council proposed in spring.

He said. "Hospitals can handle [Omicron-5] and there is no need for coercive state measures to be applied."

This did not mean that scrutiny need not be applied to risk-groups and areas, he added.

"Attention must be paid to risk groups, which means older people and people with co-morbidities. However, so long as we do not see new and more dangerous strains arising, there is no need to impose any significant government obligations," Maimets went on.

The same rationale applied to schools, where mandatory testing such as that in place last winter is not needed, Maimets added. "It doesn't make sense to have mandatory testing in schools today in this situation. However, it also doesn't make sense to ban it if some school or school administrator wants to do the testing themselves. As is the trend today - we trust people themselves."

Children and young people do not in general suffer from Covid in a severe way, if they contract it, meaning it is sensible to conduct testing only if many pupils are at home due to contracting the virus or quarantining, to establish how widespread an outbreak might be in a school.

Nonetheless, close to 6 percent of the adult populace is Covid-positive, he added, citing data from Professor of Family Medicine Ruth Kalda, and around half of these are contagious, he added, which is information needed to get a clear picture, as is the sequencing of the virus to ascertain if Omicron-5 remains the dominant strain.

"Selective testing of a few thousand people is essential," he said, referring to the University of Tartu monitoring study.

As regards another survey implemented to get a clear picture of the Covid situation in Estonia, that of wastewater, Maimets said that interpreting results was more complex than might seem at first glance.

The survey monitors wastewater – in other words sewage – for traces of coronavirus.

Maimets said: "That the sewage level is quite 'red' says several things. It is red due to the high viral prevalence. But we know that Omicron-5 does not cause serious illness. There are fewer than 100 people in hospitals, with between one and three people in intensive care and on a ventilator. The virus is spreading, but with mild outcomes."

All-in-all, Maimets said, there was no cause for alarm or reason to go to lock-down again, though monitoring should be ongoing and also take place on the basis of international cooperation, not only with neighboring states, but also further afield, in conjunction with Tallinn Airport.

As to vaccinations and booster doses, this was required for at-risk groups, he added.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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