Health Board: No rush to re-classify Covid as common infectious disease

Mari-Anne Härma
Mari-Anne Härma Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

The Health Board has no intention of treating the coronavirus as a common infectious disease anytime soon. At the same time, it has no plans to recommend the introduction of new restrictions for time either, said Mari-Anne Härma, deputy director general of the Health Board.

According to the Health Board's forecast for this fall coronavirus rates in Estonia will continue to rise. "Although during these last few weeks, coronavirus levels have been stable, the omicron sub strain BF.7 has increased slightly, reaching 15 percent. If this strain is now spreading faster, we can predict that should it become dominant, coronavirus cases will start to increase again," said Härma.

"However, according to current data at least, the new strains that are circulating are sub-strains of omicron and are no more severe in any way. In that sense, the picture when it comes to hospital treatment could still be quite similar in the future to what we are seeing now," Härma explained.

According to Härma, the new strain of the coronavirus may be able to spread more quickly, either because people no longer have such high levels of immunity to the virus in general, are not immune at all to this particular strain, or are a bit less healthy than before.

While an advisory council to the Finnish government ruled on Tuesday that the coronavirus no longer meets the criteria to be considered a dangerous infectious disease, and will recommend its reclassification by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, the Estonian Health Board has no such plans.

"For us, the coronavirus remains under surveillance at the moment because, as I said, the new strain is still likely to lead to an increase in cases," said Härma. "In terms of hospital care, we are seeing (the need for) hospitalization, although the number of extremely severe cases is indeed significantly lower than, for example, a year ago. However, we do not have full confidence at the moment that (all) strains are mutating to milder forms. So, we are still treating the coronavirus a bit more specifically [than other infectious diseases]. However, for individual citizens, this [disease classification] does not really change much. This is more related to the activities of the Health Board and what we have to do in order to monitor what the virus is doing," Härma said.

Health Board does not see need for restrictions at the moment.

"Different countries are still using different measures and deciding for themselves. However, as we are still currently monitoring the coronavirus, reclassifying it into the so-called second risk category would have no major impact, so we don't think it is necessary to go ahead with that so quickly," Härma said. "At the moment, we are treating coronavirus as (just) one of the seasonal viruses, and that means that we are not putting any restrictions in place (specifically) to prevent the spread," she said.

"The quarantine for (coronavirus) patients and close contacts was already removed at the start of the summer. In this sense, the Health Board has not treated coronavirus as a dangerous contagious disease since then. However, we do consider that the situation (still) needs to be monitored," said Härma.

Flu season starts soon

According to Härma, in addition to the coronavirus, the most contagious diseases at the moment are the rhinovirus and parainfluenza viruses. "The numbers are increasing every week. There are indeed only a few cases of influenza, but the flu season is about to start, so we will see those increase in the coming weeks. Fortunately, the flu vaccines have arrived in Estonia and hopefully next week we will be able to start vaccinating against influenza on a larger scale," said Härma.

Härma also explained, that the number of young children in Estonia receiving vaccinations against infectious diseases continues to drop. "This has been the case for years, but that does not only apply to Estonia. In fact, low vaccination uptake among young children is a common trend across Europe. At the same time, vaccination rates have not yet fallen so low as to significantly increase the risk of large outbreaks of infectious diseases among children. However, in the longer term, to protect their health, it is very important that young children are vaccinated against life-threatening infectious diseases," said Härma.

Vitamin injections up to individuals

In recent weeks, media attention has been drawn to various vitamin injections, which, according to family doctor Karmen Joller, are unnecessary and, unless administered by a trained medical professional, may be dangerous.

Härma believes, that such invasive or injectable beauty treatments, including vitamin and Botox injections as well as various other fillers, are health services, the provision of which is very well-regulated in Estonia.

"The provision of health services requires authorization and a license. If somebody knows that injections are being offered by, for example, a beauty parlor or a beautician (without a license), this is a serious offence and the Health Board must be informed. We will react immediately," he added.

Härma also stressed that injection procedures carried out under non-sterile conditions come with a high risk of infection. "In Estonia, diseases such as HIV and hepatitis C are spreading and can be contracted from these kinds of injections, which are not administered correctly," she said.

Härma believes, that whether or not to have vitamin injections should be left up to individuals to decide. "As far as I know, there is no research on whether these vitamin injections are worthwhile, whether people actually get any benefit from them, or whether there are any indirect health risks. For the time being, we have to listen to what the experts have to say, and if the experts see a risk at the moment, then it is down to the individual to decide whether they really need (the injections)," said Härma.


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Editor: Michael Cole

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