Experts have been warning about the potential spread of the new, more contagious strain of the coronavirus since it appeared in the United Kingdom at the end of 2020. Later, in the second half of January, Jurijs Perevoščikovs, epidemiologist of the Disease Prevention and Control Center (SPKC), stressed that the experience of Britain, Portugal and Ireland has already shown that the third wave can be serious.
The more contagious variant said to originate in the UK is allegedly even 50% more infectious and became almost entirely dominant in the United Kingdom in a short period of time. In Estonia, too, the deterioration of the situation is linked to the new type of virus, as well as to an early relaxation of restrictions.
The SPKC forecasts that if the situation develops like in Estonia, the number of patients in hospitals will be approaching 2,000 at the beginning of April. If it develops like it did in the UK, the numbers will be higher. This would be another challenge for the Emergency Medical Service (NMPD).
NMPD Chief Liene Cipule said: “When we started drafting these forecasts in January, looking at events in Portugal, Britain, there was no talk about Denmark yet, there were also problems in the Czech Republic, we put these forecasts in the model. And those numbers, compared with autumn, seem the next mission impossible. Because they are very large numbers. They can be even two and three times larger than we were able to imagine in the autumn.”
NMPD and hospitals are more prepared because investments have been made to accommodate more beds, to provide the necessary equipment, but in any case there is a ceiling.
“No, we are not prepared for it and we cannot be, because developing all things in such a short time to ensure very complicated treatment is not possible, and mainly because of staff [shortages and overload],” Cipule said.
The health sector therefore strongly insists on limits to control the virus. The way the new type of virus came to us shows that there has been a lack of caution in certain directions. This can be concluded from a study of the gene structure of the virus, which allows virus mutations to be detected. The Latvian-specific variants have disappeared while new ones have been brought from foreign countries.
As regards preparations for the wider spread of this type (or other new types), the Ministry of Health also stresses the role of the public.
“It is unfortunate that this number of vaccinated people is not so large. Restrictive measures, I would say, are a first step and only then hospital capacity. Everything works on the principle of communicating vessels,” said Sanita Janka, head of the Ministry's Health Quality Division.
She said that preparations are also taking place to strengthen resources. More testing, oxygen treatment at home, if needed, more equipment of hospitals. It is true that it will not be possible to do much about it in the near future.
Previous experience has already taught that early relaxation of restrictions can prove reckless. At the end of last summer and at the beginning of autumn, Latvia was shown as an example of combating the virus. But shortly afterwards, Latvia had one of the highest levels of virus spread in Europe. And what is currently happening in Estonia is a similar example.