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Tuesday's papers: Covid now common, eastern excursions and foreign-owned flats

THL now says you can return to work after two days of no Covid-19 symptoms.

THL said that wearing a mask is a personal choice, but guidelines should still be followed when visiting a care facility or hospital. Image: Silja Viitala / Yle

Helsingin Sanomat (siirryt toiseen palveluun) wrote that based on new THL recommendations, Covid-19 is now seen as just one virus-caused illness in a sea of many others.

"Each disease has its own specific characteristics, but in principle we have returned to normal everyday life," Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) chief physician Tuula Hannila-Handelberg said.

For some time now, the majority of infected or mildly symptomatic people only take home tests, and their positive results are not included in official infection registries. Approximately 1.3 million positive test results have been reported in Finland since the epidemic broke out in early 2020.

THL's previous Covid-19 recommendations are now considered obsolete.

For example, workplaces were instructed that employees with Covid could not return to work for at least five days after their symptoms subsided. Now such individuals are advised to return to work after just two days without symptoms.

"You should be able to return to work when your symptoms have clearly subsided and your fever is gone. Usually, one day without symptoms is enough to know that the symptoms are receding," Hannila-Handelberg said.

The chief physician emphasised that wearing a mask is a personal decision. However, when visiting places like hospitals, the facilities' recommendations should be followed.

The chief physician also urged individuals to stay up to date on their vaccines, especially those over the age of 65.

"It is a good idea to take the flu vaccine at the same time as the new Covid variant booster," said Hannila-Handelberg.

Finnish travel agency plans Russia trips

Finnish tabloid Iltalehti (siirryt toiseen palveluun) carried a story on a renegade travel agency based in Turku which continues to arrange tours to Russia.

As Finland prepares to clamp down on Russian tourist visas, there are still a few in Finland attempting to visit the country that is increasingly cut off from the rest of the Western world.

Neva Tours Oy started organising tours to Russia again in August, after Russia lifted Covid restrictions in mid-July.

Raimo Kaisanlahti, managing director of the tour firm, told IL that its current trips to Russia are a small-scale operation.

"I have two trips planned for this autumn. The first one had only eight people. Maybe the same number will come on the second," Kaisanlahti said.

Kaisanlahti has organised trips to Russia for 31 years. Before Covid and Russia's invasion of Ukraine, his travel agency took between 3,000 and 5,000 tourists across the border every year, but now business has dried up.

"For two-and-a-half years we didn't make a single trip. Of course it makes you question the organisation of trips. But I have to make a living," Kaisanlahti said.

Kaisanlahti noted that his travel firm is miniscule compared to Estonian tour operators offering trips to Russia.

"For example, the Estonian company Lux Express and Ecolines organise many trips to Russia. I would say that the bus companies sell close to 500 bus tickets a day. I am talking about one or two trips," Kaisanlahti explained to IL.

Foreign investors buying up Finnish properties

International investors have bought up more than 700 million euros in Finnish real estate, according to business daily Kauppalehti (siirryt toiseen palveluun).

Real estate consulting firm Newsec revealed that in the first half of this year, international investors accounted for more than half (52 percent) of the 1.4 billion euros of real estate transactions in Finland.

Rental apartments in the Helsinki area are particularly attractive to these investors, but rising rents in cities including Tampere and Turku are also attracting foreign buyers.

Valtteri Vuorio, Research Director at Newsec, told KL that he believes large housing portfolios will continue to garner widespread interest.

"Demand for housing portfolios is strong as investors come to Finland looking for attractive returns. They are very competitive compared to other Nordic countries or Central Europe," Vuorio pointed out.

Investors from the Netherlands, Sweden, Germany and the USA, among others, have bought rental apartments in Finland in recent years. The share of foreign investors in residential real estate transactions has increased, at least so far.

This year, large residential portfolio deals have been made by companies such as Orange Capital Partners and Singapore's sovereign wealth fund, GIC, which together bought a portfolio of 37 properties in Finland. Swedish property management firm Heimstaden Bostad also bought a portfolio of 64 properties from Sato.

Overall, activity in the real estate market was strong in January-June, even though financing costs are rising in line with interest rates. This, combined with inflation, is cooling investment appetite.

"We have been in a grey area for a while, but housing portfolios are starting to find their prices. This is how sellers and buyers eventually meet," Vuorio said.

Adding to this uncertainty is that the euro area, and Finland, are likely heading towards recession.

"In a difficult economic climate, the real estate investment market may have to pump the brakes," Vuorio concluded.

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