HUS boss calls for clarity on government's Covid decision-making process

On Tuesday the Helsinki and Uusimaa Hospital District (HUS), Finland's largest, raised its preparedness level due to the worsening Covid situation.

File photo of Markku Mäkijärvi taken in February 2021. Image: Matti Myller / Yle

The Acting Managing Director of the Helsinki and Uusimaa Hospital District (HUS), Markku Mäkijärvi, said the government needs to clarify how it makes decisions about Covid-related restrictions.

"I would like to see more clarity about the roles and responsibilities of ministries and regional decision-makers," he told Yle TV1's breakfast show on Wednesday.

He made the comments a day after the hospital district announced that it was raising its preparedness levels in order to deal with increasing numbers of Covid patients needing hospital care.

In early September, the government rolled out a new, hybrid Covid strategy, a move that among other things, shifted the responsibilities of tackling the epidemic to local and regional bodies. Mäkijärvi said the strategy needs refinement.

"We have to look at what the government outlined [in its strategy] so that we are able to make decisions. There is too much grey area for decision making," Mäkijärvi said.

The government is scheduled to meet on Wednesday afternoon to discuss the possibility of reinstating or extending coronavirus restrictions due to the deteriorating epidemic situation.

HUS raises preparedness level to second-highest

On Tuesday HUS, announced that Mäkijärvi decided to raise the district's preparedness level to the second tier, due to the strain of increasing numbers of Covid patients needing hospital treatment.

HUS serves the most residents in the country and continues to see the largest number of new coronavirus cases.

HUS has three levels of preparedness levels. The level is raised to the second tier, according to the guidelines, when a hospital district is faced with exceptionally serious or long-term disturbances that threaten its ability to provide services in one or more hospital districts.

The hospital district said that in light of the worsening epidemic across the country, it would be also necessary to raise crisis management capacities at the national level.

Under the heightened preparedness level, the district will need to implement exceptional solutions for the continuation of operations at several hospitals and clinics, including possible reassignments or reorganisation of staffing resources.

In light of the deteriorating epidemic situation, on Tuesday the Helsinki Metropolitan Area Coronavirus Coordination Group proposed that the government should increase restrictions on restaurants, a move which would further curtail opening hours and shut down alcohol sales earlier, for example.

The coordination group said the reasons behind its proposal were the increase in new Covid cases, a slowdown in vaccination coverage and the increased burden of specialist health care workers.

Emergency brake

During the autumn, the government has been preparing a so-called emergency brake mechanism that could be implemented if the epidemic situation takes a severe turn for the worse.

Once in place, the mechanism would enable regional and local authorities to introduce more coronavirus-related restrictions.

The government is also scheduled to discuss details surrounding the emergency brake on Wednesday, and Mäkijärvi said he wants the criteria for the mechanism to be clearly defined.

He added that he does not want Finland to react too late to the worsening situation, suggesting that was the case with Estonia, which has recently seen a spike in new Covid cases, hospitalisations and related deaths.