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THL: Use your judgement on masks, schools 'low-risk'

Covid-19 case numbers have started to rise again after a downward trend in recent weeks.

Kasvomaskeihin puetut Lyhdynkantaja-veistokset Helsingin päärautatieaseman pääovella.
Face coverings have been a common sight in Finland during the pandemic. Image: Tiina Jutila / Yle
Yle News

The Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) has further relaxed recommendations to use face coverings to emphasise differing risk levels and individuals' own judgement.

In its weekly Covid briefing on Thursday, the THL announced that the new recommendations suggest people consider using masks in high-risk situations, especially if they are unvaccinated.

In practice that means using a mask in enclosed public spaces where people are close to each other, and especially on public transport.

The recommendation applies to those aged 12 and above. An earlier version of this story said the age limit was 16, but THL Chief Physician Otto Helve later clarified his comments. THL says that the risk of transmission in schools is very small.

Small rise in case numbers last week

At Thursday's briefing, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health and the THL said that the decline in case numbers had stopped.

"The long downward trend has come to an end and there was a small rise," said Pasi Pohjola,director of Covid-19 issues at the ministry.

The positivity rate for Covid test samples was 3.4 percent last week, up from 2.9 percent the week before. The numbers are not comparable though because of changes in the testing strategy, with mild cases among vaccinated people now unlikely to lead to tests.

Waste-water testing has also revealed an increase in Covid cases in Espoo, Helsinki and Kuopio.

Covid wards were treating 81 people last week, of whom 25 were in intensive care. By Thursday evening, the register of Covid-related deaths had recorded 1,072 fatalities linked to the pandemic.

The majority of those in hospital with Covid are completely unvaccinated.

"Please get the vaccinations that are on offer, and make sure you get both doses," urged Helve.

Pohjola said it was likely that hospitals would continue to treat similar numbers of Covid patients for a while yet. Reducing the workload for healthcare providers would require much higher vaccine coverage and a decline in case numbers.

70 percent vaccinated

More than 70.2 percent of the over-12s in Finland have now received both doses of an approved Covid vaccine.

"Vaccine coverage rose over 70 percent today, but that's still far from the target," said Helve.

Helve said it would not be possible to remove the remaining Covid restrictions yet.

"It is good to remember that there is still a burden on hospitals and there are lots of unvaccinated people," said the doctor. "If the disease spreads, a large part of the population is unprotected. Guidance to wash your hands and stay home if sick cannot be quickly removed."

Mask recommendations will be re-evaluated when 80 percent of those aged 12 or over have been fully vaccinated. Restrictions on bars and restaurants, however, are decided by the government.

EDIT An earlier version of this story stated that the THL mask recommendation applied to over-16s. Otto Helve clarified later that he had misspoke, and the recommendation actually applies to those aged twelve and over.

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