COVID-19 reaches Estonia from Iran through Riga

PPA Tammsaare teenindus suleti, kuna sinna tulnud välismaalast kahtlustati koroonaviirusesse nakatumises.

PHOTO: Madis Veltman

Thursday morning brought the first positive case of the COVID-19 virus in Estonia when an Iranian citizen who lives in Estonia returned from a business trip to Iran.

The 34-year-old and his child arrived in Tallinn on a Lux Express coach from Riga where they had flown from Istanbul. Apparently, the man did not complain to the bus driver but called emergency response himself after arriving in Tallinn.

“He learned from relatives that someone had been diagnosed with the virus. After getting a sore throat, the man contacted emergency services. He was isolated practically immediately,” Director General of the Health Board Merike Jürilo said yesterday, adding that the agency contacted colleagues in Latvia to pass on the information. The patient apparently used public transport in Riga.

Minister of Social Affairs Tanel Kiik, who notified the public of the first COVID-19 case on Thursday morning, said the Iranian citizen did not have a fever. The minister said the man and his child were taken to the infectious diseases clinic of the West Tallinn Central Hospital.

Home observation

Hospital staff are equipped with protective gear, including masks, coats, gloves hats and goggles, for when they need to come into contact with patients. “Decisions pertaining to the patient’s health are up to their physician,” the clinic said.

Because there is no treatment for the coronavirus, the patient’s symptoms are alleviated as needed. The patient’s daughter has not exhibited symptoms but remains under observation and will be tested should symptoms manifest.

The Health Board said that 11 other people tested negative for the virus on Thursday.

Lux Express said they learned of the patient from the news, after which they contacted the Health Board and asked for a name. The coach operator confirmed the man had been a passenger at around 9.30 a.m.

Lux Express also sent the board a list of passengers. A total of 24 tickets were bought for the Riga-Tallinn trip, while not everyone turned up on time. The board contacted the remaining 19 passengers and the bus driver.

Head of the board’s emergency medicine department Martin Kadai said the passengers will be tested if they exhibit symptoms. “It is standard procedure for localizing outbreaks. The first thing is to find people the patient might have been in contact with who are then monitored and tested should they manifest symptoms,” Kadai explained.

Seven Lux Express passengers were from Latvia and returned home by car to avoid using public transportation. They were welcomed by officials from the Latvian Health Inspectorate. The rest were residents of Estonia. Because none exhibited symptoms, they will be monitored at home for two weeks. “If symptoms manifest, the person will be tested and taken to hospital to receive treatment,” press representative for the Health Board Simmo Saar said.

The bus driver took another bus to Riga where he was contacted by Lux Express’ executive manager Janno Ritsberg. “We agreed he would go on vacation for a few weeks,” Ritsberg said. The bus driver will get two weeks paid leave and will remain in touch with the Health Board. The coach operator said the driver took a car home from Riga after experts deemed him not contagious.

The bus that brought the COVID-19 patient to Estonia left for Saint Petersburg on Wednesday evening, while the board maintains that new passengers were in no danger of catching the virus. Lux Express nevertheless decided to ground the bus and thoroughly disinfect it.

Service bureau closed

A suspected case of the virus caused the Tammsaare service bureau of the Police and Border Guard to be closed on Thursday. A foreigner was taken to the hospital for tests, with the PPA ready to find persons who they might have had contact with should they test positive for COVID-19.

Efforts to disinfect the service bureau were completed by 8 p.m. on Thursday and it will open from 9 a.m. on Friday.

Minister of the Interior Mart Helme said during yesterday’s government press conference that Estonia does not have an emergency, while the government is taking measures to stop the virus from spreading, including random health checks and not issuing tourist visas for Chinese citizens.