Government's scientific council contract to run course, future unclear

Heidi Alasepp.
Heidi Alasepp. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

The government's emergency situation committee convened a scientific council to collect and analyze expert information for the cabinet in March 2020. The contract of the council the main task of which has been to advise ministers on the coronavirus will expire this year.

Council members still meet every Tuesday to analyze and collect information, mainly to answer questions the Ministry of Social Affairs and the Health Board put to them. Mari-Anne Härma, deputy head of the latter, said that the council last advised the board on whether to dial back PCR testing also among risk groups and concentrate on sample-based testing instead.

"It is a decision leading out of the pandemic, which kind of de-escalation calls are inevitably difficult to make. The council has definitely been of help in terms of giving us confidence that it is the right thing to do," Härma offered.

The deputy director said that solving the Covid crisis and pandemic are the main topics for which the Health Board asks for scientific input from the council. Ministry of Social Affairs Undersecretary Heidi Alasepp suggested that the Covid crisis team, including the scientific council, still meets almost weekly and members have quite enough work.

"We are monitoring the Covid situation in Estonia, the scientific council provides us with an overview of the global situation, new strains that could also threaten Estonia, and I hold expert assessments to be of crucial importance," Alasepp explained.

"Working with scientists who are dedicated and react very quickly to various situations, whether in terms of potential health emergencies or changes in testing... having this additional scientific opinion is priceless."

Both Härma and Alasepp said that the council has a broader social importance as it provides additional confidence that coronavirus decisions are thorough and wise. Even though there is no certainty in terms of whether the council will continue in the same volume or at all next year, the officials believe it will still be needed in 2023.

"I believe that exiting this pandemic will take a while longer, that we will need to take various steps to de-escalate the situation until spring, and this is where the government can say to what extent the scientific council is of help. They are definitely a great help for us, so I would vote for keeping it," Mari-Anne Härma said.

Heidi Alasepp added that the Ministry of Social Affairs would also retain the council as it and the Estonian people still need it today.

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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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