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Government backs mask recommendation, telecommuting on a regional basis

Measures announced Thursday include the recommended use of masks on public transport.

Prime Minister Sanna Marin (SDP) announced that Finland is now recommending people use face masks on public transport. Image: Roni Rekomaa / Lehtikuva

The Finnish government has announced it will now recommend that people use face masks in most parts of the country when in confined spaces where social distancing is not possible, including public transport in an effort to slow the spread of coronavirus in the country.

Prime Minister Sanna Marin (SDP) said at a press conference on Thursday that the government backed a recommendation from the National Institute for Health and Welfare THL for the use of face masks in situations where it is not possible to avoid close contact in all regions of Finland except North Karelia, East Savo, and south and central Ostrobothnia.

The recommendation does not apply to children aged under 15 or those who have health reasons for not wearing a mask.

There has been an uptick in the epidemic in recent weeks, with many cases originating in travel outside Finland. On Thursday some 41 cases were confirmed, the highest daily total announced by THL since May.

In its face mask recommendation, THL notes that while evidence of the benefits of masks is still not very strong, even small public health benefits warrant their use. According to the recommendation, the proper use of a face mask can reduce infections by preventing droplets from spreading into the environment and is therefore justified.

Masks should, in principle, be paid for by individuals themselves, but municipalities should ensure that the poorest and most vulnerable receive them free of charge. According to Marin, the state will reimburse municipalities for costs related to providing masks to residents.

This week's All Points North podcast covered the government's coronavirus announcements, among other topics. You can listen to the full podcast via the embedded player here, Yle Areena, Spotify (siirryt toiseen palveluun), Apple Podcasts (siirryt toiseen palveluun) or your usual podcast player using the RSS feed (siirryt toiseen palveluun). Be sure to subscribe to the show wherever you get your podcasts and sign up for the APN newsletter.

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Regional telework recommendation

At the same press conference, Marin said that a recommendation for employees to telecommute when possible is being reissued on a regional basis after it was lifted earlier in the month.

Taking into account the number of confirmed infections, this recommendation will be in force for the time being in the regions of Uusimaa, Southwest Finland and the Länsi-Pohja hospital district in the northwest.

The recommendation applies to both public and private sector jobs, Marin stated.

"Traffic light model" for traveller testing

At the request of the government, the National Institute for Health and Welfare has prepared a "traffic light model" for testing arrivals from high-risk countries.

Individuals arriving in Finland from any of the the high-risk "red light" countries are likely to be extensively tested and may be placed under mandatory quarantined by health officials. Testing may also be mandatory, at the discretion of local health officials, but no blanket political decision has been made on the matter.

Voluntary quarantine is deemed sufficient for arrivals less high-risk "yellow light" countries, while there will be no need for voluntary quarantine for those from countries given a green light. Countries designated as being in the green category are those with fewer than eight infections per 100,000 people, Prime Minister Marin said.