Confusion around who is eligible to receive Finland’s infectious disease sickness allowance has been burdening already overworked healthcare professionals.
Finland’s national benefits agency Kela said last week that it will pay a sickness allowance on account of infectious diseases to employees who have been asked to go into quarantine. According to Kela's website, (siirryt toiseen palveluun) the allowance provides full compensation for the loss of income suffered during a period of absence from work, isolation or quarantine.
However, Jutta Peltoniemi, an infectious disease doctor from Turku, says he has received dozens of queries per day from those who are confused about their eligibility for the allowance.
"There is clearly a lot of uncertainty. This is a foreign matter in Finland. The last time there were quarantine regulations, it was mainly for measles exposure," Peltoniemi said.
To receive this particular sickness allowance, an individual must receive a quarantine order by an infectious disease doctor employed by a municipality or hospital district. The order is issued only to those who are reasonably suspected of suffering from a major communicable disease. This could mean close relatives or colleagues of those confirmed to be infected with the novel coronavirus.
However, those in "quarantine-like conditions" — for instance, Finns returning from abroad who have been instructed by the government to stay at home for two weeks after entry — are not entitled to the allowance.
Need for a clearer definition
According to Peltoniemi, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health should clearly outline whether those in quarantine-like conditions are entitled to the benefit.
"It makes no sense for healthcare workers across the country to respond to unnecessary queries. We need to eliminate those queries so we can focus on treating the sick," Peltoniemi said.
Yle reached out to Director General at Ministry of Social Affairs and Health Päivi Sillanaukee for a clear definition.
"This is legally unambiguous. Only those who have been ordered to be in quarantine by a doctor will receive the daily allowance," Sillanaukee explained.
This rules out everyone else who has been asked to stay home to slow the spread of the virus.
However, parliament is currently considering alternative ways to offset the loss of revenue caused by the novel coronavirus outbreak.
"The state is now looking to see how much can people who have been asked to stay at home be compensated," Sillanaukee added.
Low number of applications
According to Kela’s figures from 2019, 120 persons received a daily sickness allowance on account of infectious diseases —320 such applications are pending in Kela as of 18 March 2020.
The low numbers are partly explained by the fact that obtaining a quarantine order is not easy. Due to resource constraints, novel coronavirus testing has been limited, and infectious disease doctors have their hands too full to write up quarantine orders.
This means that those who stay home for exhibiting Covid-19-like symptoms will not receive an allowance because they have not been tested and have not received an official order from a doctor to go into quarantine.
Jutta Peltoniemi, however, is not worried about citizens leaving their homes to avoid loss of income.
"I think people understand the gravity of the situation and are staying at home. At least, that’s what I really hope. Fighting the virus is everyone’s concern now."
Peltoniemi points out that individuals who are worried about the loss of income could still be eligible for other benefits like sickness allowance or basic income support
According to the Confederation of Finnish Industries, the employer is obliged to pay the salary of the employee who has been ordered to stay home even if there is no formal quarantine order.