In short, Estonia’s preparedness for an outbreak of the novel coronavirus means that medical professionals can recognize the virus, know to notify the Health Board and isolate the patient. Next, test results will be analyzed by a laboratory and the patient asked who they have had contact with. The Health Board has guidelines for how to handle patients during an outbreak. Similar guidelines are in effect in Finland and have helped contain the virus there – Finland still only has one diagnosed case of the new virus.
Head of the Health Board’s extraordinary medicine department Martin Kadai says that there is no cause for coronavirus panic either in Estonia or the world. “When a person from China sneezes in the street, it is no reason to run for cover. They are not a danger to anyone,” Kadai says.
“Not every person with a fever or who hails from China carries the virus,” said Pilleriin Soodla from the infection control service of the Tartu University Hospital.
Some hospitals are even reluctant to describe measures to avoid the virus in order to avoid panic. Pharmacies were emptied of masks and respirators last week, with one Tallinn pharmacy saying that elderly people are scared.
The Health Board’s instructions for handling coronavirus patients do not include anything out of the ordinary and consist of everyday practices of hospitals. No protective suits or transport bags other countries use when transporting people with the virus. A patient suspected of having the virus will have to wear a mask during transport.
Are we ready?
Should an epidemic break out, the state will declare an emergency. The actual situation will then dictate whether new rules are in order, for example, boosting available medical staff or procuring special equipment. Estonian medical institutions stand ready for an epidemic in theory, while their practical preparedness remains a mystery simply because the country has luckily not seen an epidemic for a long time.
A member of the board of an Estonian hospital who wished to remain anonymous said that emergency medical teams do not have enough transport capsules for patients and protective suits and that by the time more can be brought in from other countries, spring will have arrived and the epidemic passed. They gave the example of the time of the bird flu pandemic and SARS.
“We were touring Tartu schools in 2010, handing out masks procured for the bird flu panic in 2005 to shop teachers. The masks had a use before period of five years,” they recall.