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Finland rolls out updated Covid testing, tracking strategy

The new strategy is aimed at freeing up testing capacity and shifting more resources into diagnosing and treating other diseases.

The new strategy comes into force immediately. Image: Henrietta Hassinen / Yle

Finland's government has approved an updated Covid-19 testing and tracking strategy which is aimed at reducing the volume of tests being carried out as well as improving tracking efforts.

Under the updated strategy, testing will focus on people who have been exposed to the virus as well as unvaccinated symptomatic individuals and those who are vaccinated but at elevated risk from infection.

This means that the government's previous recommendation that people who have received two doses of a coronavirus vaccine should apply for a Covid test is no longer applicable, Minister of Family Affairs and Social Services Krista Kiuru (SDP) confirmed at a press conference on Tuesday afternoon.

"Now the situation has changed. For those with strong vaccine protection, there is no reason to suspect that it will not be enough to keep the [Covid] infection at bay," the minister said.

Instead, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health has a short, two-word recommendation for people who have received both doses and develop symptoms of a respiratory infection.

"Stay home," the ministry's head of department Taneli Puumalainen said.

The new strategy comes into force immediately.

Fully-vaccinated can still be tested

Despite the updated strategy and recommendations, Kiuru emphasised that the government will still allow fully-vaccinated but symptomatic people to get tested if they wish to do so, citing the need for equal access to testing for all.

"This is especially true for children, as there has been a debate about those under the age of 12, whether they should be tested anymore," Kiuru said.

"Gaining access to a test is not intended to be difficult, but to be directed more appropriately," added Chief Physician Mikko Pietilä at Tuesday afternoon's press conference.

Fully vaccinated people will in the future be tested as a lower priority group compared to healthcare workers, patients at elevated risk from infection and patients entering hospital or emergency care, Pietilä explained.

The Ministry of Social Affairs and Health justified the change in strategy on the grounds that current testing and tracing efforts place a significant burden on the healthcare system and may eventually lead to a decline in the availability of certain services in some regions.

Pasi Pohjola of the ministry said that as vaccination coverage increases, the amount of staff and resources dedicated to testing and tracking can be reduced. However, he added that this is unlikely to happen "overnight".

Increased role for home testing

The ministry also recommended that fully-vaccinated people use home tests if they develop respiratory symptoms, although the veracity of these tests is still not clear.

"The big question in the future will be whether people want to use home tests to ensure that they are fit for work, school, hobbies or to attend various gatherings," Kiuri said.

One of the biggest threats associated with a possible rise in infections or a new wave of the pandemic is the potential emergence of new viral variants. Chief Physician Pietilä pointed out that these variants can be detected as soon as possible by testing.

Therefore, although testing capacity will be reduced, the option to increase the levels of both testing and tracing will be maintained.

In addition to the updated strategy, Kiuru also told the press conference that a proposal on the introduction of a Covid passport is expected to come before Parliament in the coming days.