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Thursday's papers: Contact tracing breaking point, train danger and Belarus border

The papers track the impact of the summer reopening had on the pandemic and ask whether VR is keeping passengers safe on its commuter trains. 

Kasvomaskin käyttäjä lähijunassa.
Image: Petteri Bülow / Yle
Yle News

As Covid case numbers dropped, bars and restaurants reopened and summer festivals went ahead, many people felt free to enjoy something more like a normal summer.

But now, as a feature in Thursday's Helsingin Sanomat reports, the chains of coronavirus infection arising from the return of social life are threatening the contact tracing process.

"Where there are a lot of people, a stranger cannot name another stranger as an exposed person," Eeva Ruotsalainen, from the Helsinki and Uusimaa Hospital District (HUS), told HS.

Local officials in Vantaa told the paper their resources were at breaking point. Timo Aronkytö, the city's deputy mayor in charge of social and health care told the paper that tracing now requires resources "that are not available".

"Now the queue is so long that we can no longer contact the exposed in time. Now we contact them in 5-8 days — and by then those who are infected are already sick," he said.

The Communicable Diseases Act obliges municipalities to trace people potentially exposed to coronavirus, but Vantaa's Aronkytö told HS that at current volumes procedures would have to be changed — in future he would like to shift more responsibility to individuals.

"When people get sick, they would tell people at work and elsewhere. The individual needs support from the bureaucracy, but the responsibility for containing the disease would go to the individual," he said.

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Finnish guards on the Belarusian border

Tabloid Ilta-Sanomat reports from Lithuania, where Finnish border guards are taking part in a so-called "rapid border intervention" along the EU's frontier with Belarus.

Finland is taking part along with 17 other countries as "unauthorised" border crossings have risen in recent months - due, the paper alleges, to a deliberate policy by Belarus' leader Alexander Lukashenko to "weaponise" undocumented migration.

In response, Lithuania has introduced a controversial new law that sees authorities "fast track" migrants back into Belarus. Usually, asylum seekers are allowed to make their case before facing potential removal from the country.

This puts the Finnish representatives in a difficult position, IS reported. "We cannot participate in the implementation of this new law. We can only watch from the sidelines and report what we see, but fast-tracking is not part of Frontex's mandate," a border guard named Ahonen told the paper.

In response, the EU's border agency Frontex told IS that it was not responsible for the political decisions made by member states.

Commuter campaign over train safety

Pirkanmaa local Aamulehti reports on a tweet by a regular train commuter that sparked debate over safety on board VR services that do not always have staff on hand to help.

In July, Julia Sangervo, a regular passenger on the R commuter train that plies the Helsinki-Tampere route, tweeted about an incident on board an evening service.

"VR's trains feel unsafe. Just today, a drunken, unmasked man tried to touch me and behaved threateningly all the way. There was no conductor anywhere or any way to contact them," she said.

According to Aamulehti, she was joined by others who had experienced similar situations on the R train, which covers the distance between the two cities in around two hours.

In response to Aamulehti's questions, VR manager Topi Simola told the paper that he understood reports of late-night incidents had been decreasing.

"This does not mean that every single journey will be without disruption to passengers. I'm certainly not saying that," he told the paper.

Simola also told Aamulehti that while the company did not place staff on trains at all times of day, it had decided to roster conductors on the R train an hour earlier than previously.

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