The Netherlands reported at least 13 cases of the new variant on Sunday evening among 61 passengers who tested positive and were quarantined after returning from South Africa. The passengers are still being tested.
Deputy Director of the Health Board Mari-Anne Härma told Postimees why countries react differently in such situations and what should be done in Estonia.
Because little is known about the new B.1.1.529 strain, it is too soon to draw conclusions concerning its infectious potential, Härma said. “It makes sense for countries operating major international transport hubs to take more serious precautions until we know more about the new variant.” She added that the new strain spreading and causing a local outbreak is a bigger threat for countries where Delta variant infections are on the rise.
People returning from Africa
“Countries are busy sequencing positive tests, looking especially at people coming from Africa whose results are showing an S gene mutation that points to the new strain,” Härma explained. Should these samples yield findings of the new variant, it will become clearer to what extent and in which regions Omicron is spreading in South Africa. “The information we have does not suggest the new strain is more widespread than existing ones,” she added.
“The Health Board will propose additional steps in Estonia later in the week,” Härma said when asked whether the agency plans to propose mandatory testing at the airport.
She said that reactions need to be proportional to the threat and decisive action is needed to identify new strains and isolate infected persons as quickly as possible. “We will also be making proposals in terms of how to manage risks during the school break when people take holiday and ski trips. The Health Board will look into every new case associated with traveling, with suspected new strains sequenced and infected persons and next of kin notified and monitored,” the deputy director said.
The Health Board recommends everyone entering Estonia – both vaccinated and unvaccinated people – to get tested.
“People should stay home until they learn their PCR test result. A positive test result requires both vaccinated and unvaccinated people to isolate at home as per government order 212,” Härma emphasized. The recovery and safety of a person who has tested positive can only be decided by a doctor. “Therefore, being vaccinated does not exempt a person from having to quarantine even if they feel fine,” Härma added.
Molecular virologist Aare Abroi told Postimees that people returning from abroad need to be cautious and get tested immediately. Others are urged to comply with existing Covid rules. “We have no reason to suspect the new strain has reached Estonia at this time. There is no reason to fear Omicron inside Estonia, while it is a different story when it comes to international travelers,” he added.