Coronavirus appears in Baltic states

The first confirmed case of the coronavirus has been confirmed in the Baltic states, with Estonia's ERR News saying that the country's social affairs minister Tanel Kiik stating Thursday morning that a case had been detected Wednesday evening.

"I have to say that this morning information that the first infected individual has just been found in Estonia," Kiik told ETV magazine show "Terevisioon".

Kiik said the affected individual is an Iranian national resident in Estonia, who had not recently arrived in the country either by plane or by sea, but instead had arrived in Estonia by bus from Riga, Latvia.

According to the Latvian Center for Disease Prevention and Control (SPKC), the individual is believed to have spent around 2.5 hours in Rīga, during which time he took a minibus from the airport to the bus station, raising the possibility that he may have spread the infection.

"The passengers on the [Tallinn] bus are currently being identified and contacted," Kiik said, though was unable to say how many people had been on the bus and had had contact with the infected person.

The individual is currently in isolation in hospital, which Kiik said should prevent the further transmission of the virus, and work was ongoing to identify those who the victim had come into contact with.

Kiik declined to say which town or which hospital the individual was currently under care in. However, the Health Board says that they are in the infections clinic at the West Tallinn Central Hospital (Lääne-Tallinna keskhaigla).

LTV reported that the Iranian citizen had been travelling from Rīga Airport after taking a flight from Turkey and that he had called the authorities himself upon reaching Tallinn bus station.

The first person to test positive traveled to Tallinn with bus company Lux Express from Rīga, the bus company said on Thursday. Lux Express is now working with the Estonian Health Board (Terviseamet), taking additional safety measures, and has removed the bus used from service.

Janno Ritsberg, CEO of Lux Express, said: "We received information that the passenger travelled with us today at 9.30 a.m. We immediately convened a crisis team, which contacted the Health Board and with whom we have implemented a set of measures to ensure safety."

Lux Express said the virus carrier traveled from Riga to Tallinn, departing Wednesday, February 26 at 2 p.m., and arriving in Tallinn at 6.30 p.m. Twenty-four tickets had been sold for the service and Lux Express has forwarded the details of all passengers to the Health Board, who will contact them individually. Lux Express has also informed the bus driver and attendant, and will give them time off for quarantine purposes.

The same bus was cleaned while in Tallinn and then traveled onward to St. Petersburg at 9:30 p.m. Thursday. The Health Board has confirmed that it is unlikely the bus will be infected with the virus, but nevertheless it has been taken out of service and thoroughly disinfected, reported ERR News.

Lux Express has confirmed it is ready to refund tickets if people want to cancel any trips in the coming days.

Lithuania, meanwhile, has on Wednesday declared a state of emergency as a preventative measure to stem the spread of the coronavirus from elsewhere in Europe, reported LRT's English language service. There have not yet been any confirmed cases in Lithuania or Latvia.

As previously reported by LSM, Latvia's government held an emergency meeting earlier this week to ensure preparations for the likely appearance of the coronavirus were in place. More information on the virus and the methods of stopping its spread is available at the website of the World Health Organization.

 

At an afternoon briefing at the Latvian Health Ministry, officials repeated advice that anyone who had visited the infection hotspots of Iran, China, Singapore, South Korea and parts of northern Italy should place themselves into 14 day quarantine and monitor their body temperature twice per day. If flu-like symptoms emerge, they should call the emergency medical service number 113, and NOT visit their family doctor.

A three-strong testing team with full protection and disinfectant equipment has been assembled to carry out tests at people's homes if necessary, Health Minister Ilze Viņķele and other senior officials said.

Efforts are being made to trace passengers who were aboard the same flight from Turkey to Latvia as the Iranian who tested positive in Estonia, they said, and invited people to come forward who were on the 124-strong flight or might have shared public transport with the infected individual between the airport and bus terminal.

Viņķele also stressed the importance of media keeping the public informed and promised a bulletin would be provided by her ministry each day.

In an apparent dig at China's initial handling of the virus, she added:

"We see that the virus is no respecter of political boundaries, of authoritarian regimes, of ideologies, or dictatorships," and said that "full transparency" would be Latvia's policy with regard to public information about the virus and its status. 

 

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