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Report: Football fan Covid case surge scuttles plans to lighten face mask advisory

Until last week, Finland's epidemic situation had been steadily improving.

Ihmisiä Helsingin päärautatieasemalla.
People at Helsinki Central Railway Station, file photo. Image: Otso Ritonummi / Yle
Yle News

Preparations by Finland's health authority to loosen coronavirus face mask recommendations were already underway before hundreds of infected football fans returned from Russia last week, according to news group Uutissuomalainen.

The Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) did not have time to move forward with the preparations before the number of new Covid cases quickly began to rise. The football tourists went to Russia to watch Finland play Belgium in the European Championship tournament in St. Petersburg on 21 June.

Finland's epidemic situation had steadily improved over the past several weeks, and the country's daily tally of new coronavirus infections was relatively low, often in the double digits.

But, a large number of those tourists were allowed across the border by Finnish authorities without being tested for Covid-19, a process which is currently mandatory.

More than 380 coronavirus infections have been confirmed among the football tourists since they returned to Finland, and around 800 people were ordered into quarantine in the Helsinki and Uusimaa Hospital District (HUS). Several infection clusters have been detected in Finland since the fans' return.

"Right now, there is no great urgency to lift the face mask recommendation," THL's director general Markku Tervahauta told Uutissuomalainen.

Delta threat

The epidemic situation in Russia is deteriorating and the more contagious Delta variant is currently common there.

Taneli Puumalainen, head of THL's infectious diseases unit, said there is a chance Finland could tighten coronavirus restrictions again, if the situation warrants.

"We are now living in precarious times and we need to see if larger chains of infections are taking place," he said, adding that the epidemic situations of other countries need to be monitored before mitigation measures should be implemented in Finland.

"Although vaccination coverage is advancing at a good pace, it is unlikely to prevent a [new wave] of the epidemic from rising," Puumalainen said.

THL's Tervahauta said that adjusting the institute's face mask recommendation might be addressed in the late summer, if new case rates begin to decline within a few weeks.

The national health institute issued a public advisory on Thursday for people to avoid travelling to Russia.

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