The imminent arrival of Covid medicines in Estonian pharmacies leaves few arguments to suggest Covid is still a novel and dangerous infectious disease, Ragnar Vaiknemets, head of the Health Board's healthcare organization and resilience department, told ERR.
Estonia has taken delivery of 4,000 boxes of coronavirus drug Paxlovid and the Health Insurance Fund is scrambling to make sure the medicine reaches pharmacies soon.
This should be the last step to no longer treating Covid as a novel and dangerous infectious disease against which special measures, such as restrictions on movement or masks, need to be taken. Finland reclassified the disease on Tuesday. Estonia is still waiting for the position of the World Health Organization that should come in late January.
Ragnar Vaiknemets said that in practice, Covid is no longer seen as a new and dangerous infection.
"Looking at the facts, there is no longer a strong case for classifying Covid as a novel and dangerous infectious disease. Once orally administered Covid medicine becomes widely available, we have run out of arguments, as the disease has been around for years, people have developed a measure of immunity – the recent Covid prevalence monitoring suggests 91 percent of Estonians have antibodies, which is a very good result worldwide. The latest prevalent strain – Omicron – no longer causes mass hospitalizations in terms of ICU capacity," he added.
The Health Board department chief said, however, that the number of cases and hospitalization is on par compared to the same period last year.
"Looking at the infectious diseases season in general, the situation is rather difficult – irrespective of how we classify it, Covid continues to spread and put people in the hospital. We have 323 people hospitalized currently. We must also consider flu cases – the disease is almost as serious and also causes some people to be hospitalized, which adds to the medical system's workload. If we put these two things together, it almost warrants an emergency situation in terms of healthcare resources, which is what we have at the moment," Vaiknemets said.
He said that Estonia will wait for the WHO assessment, which is when experts will convene to make a decision.
"We often look at these things together with the Ministry of Social Affairs and the COVID-19 Scientific Council. These are not the kinds of decisions you take arbitrarily," Vaiknemets suggested, adding that Estonia is on course to follow Finland's example in deciding that Covid needs to be treated like other respiratory system infections for which no special measures are necessary.
He said that the ministry has the final say in terms of whether to reclassify the disease.
The Health Board spokesperson also said that the current spread of the virus in Estonia is not enough to warrant new restrictions.
"Even if we wanted restrictions, their main justification, that Covid is a novel and dangerous disease, is no longer watertight. If we also consider [availability of] treatments and popular immunity, I no longer hold it to be one either."
Editor: Marcus Turovski