Pandemic worsens in Kemi-Tornio area and Kymenlaakso; health officials call for new restrictions

The Covid situation has taken a turn for the worse near the Swedish border and in the southeast.

Länsi-Pohja Central Hospital, which is operated by private healthcare firm Mehiläinen (file photo). Image: Veeti Lustig / Yle

Health officials in southwest Lapland declared on Wednesday that the Covid situation in the Länsi-Pohja healthcare district has worsened, re-entering the community transmission phase.

The Länsi-Pohja pandemic task force warned of the risk of overloading medical facilities as infections increase. It stressed that a high number of unvaccinated people also increases the risk.

Länsi-Pohja includes the cities of Kemi and Tornio and the surrounding municipalities of Keminmaa, Simo, Tervola and Ylitornio in southwest Finnish Lapland, near the Swedish border and the Bay of Bothnia.

Last week, 84 new coronavirus infections were diagnosed in Länsi-Pohja, and 27 more have been found so far this week.

Vaccination rate near 80%

The incidence rate in the Länsi-Pohja subregion is now at about 220 per 100,000 inhabitants. Breakthrough infections have also been reported among some residents who have received two doses of vaccine.

So far there are only a few Covid patients in hospitals and health centres, though, none of them in intensive care.

THL announced on Wednesday that Finland has achieved 80 percent vaccination coverage for two doses of coronavirus vaccine among those aged 12 and over.

Hospital districts in Finnish Lapland are slightly below the national average. In Länsi-Pohja, 78.8 percent of those 12 and over have received two doses, compared to 79.7 percent in the Lapland hospital district.

Restaurant restrictions up to government

According to the pandemic task force, restaurant-based infection chains have been identified in the Länsi-Pohja subregion, which have also led to hospitalisations.

The pandemic working group recommends that municipalities restrict general meetings and public events.

The working group, which represents the municipalities in the area, is also calling on the central government to impose restaurant restrictions for the entire area. Restaurants and nightclubs would be able to keep operating with fewer restrictions if they ensure that each customer has a valid Covid passport.

Experts say there is no single clear reason for the renewed spread of the illness. Elsewhere in Lapland, only a few isolated infections have been reported recently.

Meanwhile the incidence rate in Norrbotten, on the other side of the Swedish border, is much lower than in Länsi-Pohja, and everyone entering Finland must show a Covid passport.

Cases rising in Kymenlaakso despite 81% coverage

Also on Wednesday, officials said the situation had weakened in the Kymenlaakso region of southeast Finland, where nine patients are receiving hospital treatment for Covid. The largest numbers of new cases are in the cities of Kouvola and Kotka.

Infections are still most prevalent in unvaccinated people, but those affected also include individuals over the age of 60 who received their second dose of vaccination in June or earlier. As a result, the effectiveness of the vaccine has waned.

"It is very important for people over the age of 60 to get the third vaccination six months after the second one," Marja-Liisa Mäntymaa, Chief Medical Officer of Kymsote, the joint municipal authority for Kymenlaakso social and health services, said in a statement on Wednesday.

The double-dose vaccination rate among those aged 12 and over in Kymenlaakso is now 81 percent, in other words slightly higher than the national average.

According to Mäntymaa, the Covid passport has slightly increased the number of younger age groups, such as those in their 20s, getting vaccinated.

"However, the current vaccination coverage is not yet enough to control the epidemic in the area," Mäntymaa said.