Health Board ends pandemic phase, returns to normal service

Officials from the Health Board monitoring coronavirus restriction compliance.
Officials from the Health Board monitoring coronavirus restriction compliance. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

The Health Board on Tuesday announced it has ended its coronavirus pandemic operations after three years and will now continue to operate as usual.

This will remove additional burdens on hospitals, which were required to be prepared for a sudden rise in infections. There are no longer any signs that coronavirus will affect hospitals and their work, the agency's spokesperson Imre Kaas told ERR.

Deputy Director General of the Health Board Ragnar Vaiknemets said the epidemiological situation has been calm for some time and a large number of people are not suddenly expected to need hospital treatment in the near future.

"That's why the Health Board has decided to end emergency protocol," Vaiknemets said in a statement.

The agency said that since 2020 an extensive understanding of coronavirus, its trends, and the tools needed to fight it, have been developed.

Health Board's head of emergency unit Ragnar Vaiknemets. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

Vaiknemets said these are reasons to end crisis preparedness.

Other reasons include working vaccinations, the possibility to monitor new strains and implement restrictions in a timely fashion if needed, the monitoring surveys do not show the virus is spreading and causing severe illness, and the population has developed a level of immunity.

The rest of society has also moved on. Earlier this week, the government agreed to reverse the sick pay compensation scheme developed for the pandemic and all restrictions were lifted last summer.

Additionally, the government or Health Board did not have to implement additional measures this winter as all healthcare providers have been able to work as normal.

However, Vaiknemets said this does not mean the pandemic is completely over and highlighted that the World Health Organization (WHO) has not said so.

A mask on the street in Tallinn's Old Town on March 27, 2021. Source: Helen Wright/ ERR

"However, we can confirm that COVID-19 is no longer a new disease for us and we have learned to cope with it. Hospitals do not need state intervention, where health services are being reorganized to a significant extent, for example in terms of quality of services or reduction of access to care," he said.

Kärt Sõber, head of the Health Board's Department of Epidemiology of Infectious Diseases, said monitoring will continue.

"Our current knowledge of the coronavirus, supported by surveillance activities and international cooperation, will give us enough information to sound the alarm again if necessary," said Sõber.

Several mild strains of the virus are currently circulating but they have not led to an upsurge in hospitalizations.

People's sense of danger has also fallen and symptoms connected to coronavirus are no longer a cause for concern. But it is still advisable to follow common sense rules.

"If in doubt, it is advisable to get tested, and the general rule is still to stay at home when sick. This also fits in with the prevention of other infectious diseases," said Sõber.


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Editor: Mait Ots, Helen Wright

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