PM's positive Covid outlook surprises regional state agencies

Regional authorities say upbeat Covid messaging may lead some residents to believe they don't need the vaccine.

A Covid patient receiving care at Turku University Hospital (Tyks) earlier this week. Image: Arash Matin / Yle

Heikki Mäki, head of Southwestern Finland's Regional State Administrative Agency (Avi), told Yle he's been surprised by politicians' recent statements in light of Finland's current coronavirus situation. Regional state agencies are tasked with managing local Covid containment measures.

The pace of vaccinations has slowed in recent weeks, while hospitals are increasingly burdened by Covid patients.

Earlier this month Prime Minister Sanna Marin (SDP) said in an Yle interview how nice it was to once again visit cafés and restaurants. Tabloid Ilta-Sanomat also quoted the premier saying she hoped "all Finns could now feel that they can go out, do things and spend time with friends and family."

"From where we are sitting, this is a surprising message," Mäki told Yle.

He said that while he understood politicians want to paint a bright picture, this type of messaging has caused parts of the population to believe they don't need the Covid vaccine, and that it's not important to protect themselves or others from the virus.

The government began relaxing Covid restrictions on bars and restaurants at the end of September. Around this time public health institute THL also said individuals should exercise their own judgement about using face masks.

The Regional State Administrative Agency for Southern Finland told Yle that there's a risk many citizens are misinterpreting recent Covid recommendations.

"Bans on public gatherings were lifted and so were most restaurant restrictions. When mask guidelines changed and with remote work recommendations now ending, people can easily draw the conclusion that the situation is over," said Riku-Matti Lehikoinen of the Regional State Administrative Agency for Southern Finland.

Regional authorities mull new restrictions

Finland's network of regional state agencies are now trying to find a way of convincing residents to get vaccinated against Covid. Agencies in regions with the highest incidence of new cases are also considering whether to reintroduce some Covid mitigation measures.

Southwestern Finland's Avi said it's asking experts to offer their assessments of the current Covid situation to help the agency formulate a position on new restrictions.

The number of hospitalised Covid patients has risen sharply since the summer, even though 75.3 percent of people over the age of 12 were fully vaccinated against coronavirus as of Saturday.

Local governments are now working to mitigate the spread of new infections. Marin's cabinet is, however, not instructing regional and local officials to take stricter measures to control the spread of new cases.

Pasi Pohjola, a director at the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, said "hitting the emergency brake" by asking local governments to introduce measures was far off at this point.

"That would be a last resort. We'll do many other things before we start considering the 'emergency brake'," Pohjola told Yle's Ykkösaamu show on Friday.