TALLINN – The acting director general of the Estonian Health Board, Mari-Anne Harma, on Friday ordered that all residents returning to Estonia can get PCR tested for free regardless of whether they arrive from an at-risk country or a place where the infection level is low.
As of Friday, the Health Board will ensure free testing for all travelers, as a new variant of the coronavirus, B.1.1.529, has been detected in South Africa.
The acting director general of the Health Board said it is important that everyone arriving from other countries undergo PCR testing and positive tests are sent for sequencing.
"This is a precautionary measure, as there is not yet enough information on the new strain to draw fundamental conclusions. However, it is important to identify new variants as soon as possible and isolate cases in order to prevent the extensive spread of new strains," Harma said.
The B.1.1.529 virus strain has not yet been identified in Estonia. There is a constant extensive national spread of the delta variant of the virus in Estonia.
According to the World Health Organization, it will take a few weeks to evaluate the transmission of variant B.1.1.529 and the efficacy of vaccines against this strain. It is crucial to emphasize that existing infection control measures must be maintained to prevent the transmission of the virus, the Health Board said.
In South Africa, a high proportion of the variant B.1.1.529 has been identified. As the level of infections in South Africa is low, no fundamental conclusions can be drawn on the spread of said strain. The abundance of the presence of B.1.1.529 may be due to a few cases related to so-called super-spreaders and it is not known to what extent the strain has a competitive advantage over other strains of the virus.
However, it is suspected that B.1.1.529 may have spread to other regions of Africa.