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New coronavirus strain seen in UK may already be in Finland, diseases chief says

However there is no reason to tighten restrictions over the holidays, according to the expert.

Helsinki University Hospital district's (HUS) infectious diseases chief Asko Järvinen. Image: Silja Viitala / Yle

A more contagious strain of the coronavirus found in the UK may have already spread to Finland, according to Helsinki University Hospital district's (HUS) infectious diseases chief Asko Järvinen.

"The [strain] was detected in Britain already at the end of September, which means that it has likely been transmitted to Finland by somebody," Järvinen said.

Like many countries, Finland banned passenger flights from the UK on Monday, over concerns about the new strain.

Järvinen said that even though it is likely the new strain had already arrived in Finland, he did not suspect that it was the reason behind the recent increase in infections seen in the country during November and December.

"When cases start to rise, infection chains just begin to emerge. It doesn't necessarily mean it's a question of a new variant of the virus," the infectious diseases chief explained.

Not just UK

Confirmations of the new strain have also been reported in the countries of Denmark, Italy, Gibraltar, the Netherlands and Australia.

Järvinen said more genetic research on the virus should be carried out in Finland, as well.

"It would be important to find out the genome of viruses coming from abroad, especially the strain in Britain," he said, noting that studies on the variant were being carried out at Huslab as well as the University of Helsinki.

Järvinen said it remains difficult to to assess how much of a threat the more contagious variant poses to Finland's relatively calm coronavirus situation, noting that the most likely scenario was that the situation would remain calm.

"The number of cases is currently on the way down, which suggests that there will be [roughly] the current number of cases during the Christmas holidays, or at least there will be no significant increase," Järvinen explained.

"If the more contagious variant starts to spread, the increase in patient numbers will not be seen until a few weeks later," he noted.

No increase in restrictions

The UK's worsening coronavirus situation has prompted local authorities to implement harsh restrictions on gatherings during the Christmas season. UK residents have been advised to observe the holiday with only members of their own household and "support bubbles," they are also not permitted to travel to visit friends and other relatives, according to the BBC.

However, Järvinen said it was not time for Finland to tighten restrictions.

"Quite strict recommendations are already in place [in Finland] over the Christmas period. If they are followed, I think they will do well, but it would be good to follow them," Järvinen said.