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Helsinki area enters community transmission phase, travel restrictions extended to mid-December

The situation has worsened in Helsinki, Vantaa, Espoo and Kauniainen, which are to announce new restrictions on Friday.

Taking a Covid-19 test in Rovaniemi, Finnish Lapland. Image: Raimo Torikka / Yle

The coronavirus epidemic in the main cities of the Helsinki region has progressed to the community transmission phase, public health officials said early Thursday evening.

The situation has worsened significantly in the four core municipalities of the region – Helsinki, Vantaa, Espoo and Kauniainen, and moved beyond the acceleration phase, said Prof. Lasse Lehtonen, Director of Diagnostic Services at Helsinki University Hospital.

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Prof. Lasse Lehtonen, Director of Diagnostic Services at Helsinki University Hospital Image: Heikki Saukkomaa / Lehtikuva

Lehtonen was speaking after meetings of the coordination groups responsible for overseeing the epidemic situation in the capital region and the larger Uusimaa district. Taking part were representatives of many regional, municipal and private sector bodies as well as the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL).

The cities are to announce their own new restrictions on Friday.

Outlying municipalities in capital region are still in moderate phase

The THL categorises stages of the epidemic in three phases (siirryt toiseen palveluun): baseline, acceleration phase, and community transmission.

In the latter phase, the incidence of infections exceeds 12-25 cases per 100,000 residents in a week and 18-50 cases per 100,000 residents in two weeks.

The daily growth rate of cases is above 10 percent, more than two percent of tests come back positive, and fewer than half of the sources of infection can be traced. In these conditions, the need for hospital care and intensive care grows rapidly.

Lehtonen said that outlying municipalities in the capital region are still in the moderate acceleration phase.

Ostrobothnia no longer in community transmission phase

Earlier on Thursday, the government formally declared that Finland will extend strict border controls through at least 13 December. The current controls, which cover all arrivals, even from within the normally passport-free Schengen area, would have expired in late November. There are some exceptions for residents of close neighbours Estonia, Norway and Sweden.

The only European countries whose residents may travel to Finland without restrictions is the Vatican. Also eligible are residents of Australia, Japan, New Zealand, Rwanda, Singapore, South Korea and Thailand.

On Thursday, before the declaration that the Helsinki region had entered the community transmission phase, the government said that restaurants, bars and cafes must continue to follow tighter restrictions in the five regions where the epidemic was in the acceleration phase: Uusimaa, Southwest Finland, Pirkanmaa, Kanta-Häme and Ostrobothnia.

In a statement, the cabinet noted that “the epidemic has calmed down in Ostrobothnia, and at the moment, the region is no longer in the community transmission phase but in the acceleration phase.”

Businesses in these regions must halt alcohol sales at by 10pm. Premises that primarily serve alcoholic beverages must close by 11pm, while food-oriented restaurants may stay open until midnight.