Ministries: Test arrivals from countries where Omicron variant has been found, avoid travel to southern Africa

Regional authorities have ordered Vantaa to immediately organise Covid tests for all passengers arriving at Helsinki Airport who have recently been in countries where Omicron has been found. 

Helsinki Airport is beginning compulsory testing of passengers arriving via connecting flights from southern Africa (file photo from March 2021). Image: Jorge Gonzalez / Yle

On Saturday, Finland's Ministry of Social Affairs and Health issued a recommendation regarding travellers who have been in countries where the B.1.1.529 coronavirus variant, dubbed Omicron, has been detected.

The ministry said that the new variant "poses a significant threat to the risk to the health and wellbeing of the population" and the adequacy of vaccination protection, adding that it could lead to "a significant deterioration of the epidemic" situation.

Health authorities said that all passengers who have been in countries where Omicron has been detected within the past 14 days should be required to undergo compulsory health exams and quarantined until they can be certified infection-free.

As of Saturday, the variant had been detected in several southern African countries as well as at least Hong Kong, Israel and Belgium, via a traveller who had been in Egypt and Turkey. Germany, the Czech Republic and the UK also reported suspected cases on Saturday.

In practice, the order must be implemented by Regional State Administrative (Avi) agencies around the country to formally take effect.

Mandatory testing at Helsinki Airport

At noon on Saturday, the Avi for Southern Finland ordered the city of Vantaa to immediately organise health checks and Covid tests for all passengers arriving at Helsinki Airport who have been in countries where Omicron has been found within the past two weeks. Other Avi agencies imposed similar orders for other border crossing points.

The preliminary list includes South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Eswatini (formerly Swaziland), Mozambique and Malawi. It will be updated as new information becomes available from the National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL), the Avi said. The order does not apply to children under 6 years of age.

Earlier on Saturday, Vantaa authorities had already said that Helsinki Airport would begin mandatory testing and quarantines for all passengers arriving via connecting flights from southern Africa. There are no direct flights from the region to Finland.

The move was announced on Twitter by Timo Aronkytö, Deputy Mayor of Vantaa, where the airport is located. He said that passengers arriving from Frankfurt and Munich, Germany, will be checked.

Foreign Ministry: Avoid southern Africa

Late Friday Finnish time, the World Health Organisation (WHO) described B.1.1.529 a "variant of concern" and named it Omicron.

Also late Friday, the Ministry for Foreign Affairs recommended avoiding all travel to South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Lesotho and Eswatini.

"A new variant of Covid-19, known as B.1.1.529, which has numerous mutations to the spike protein, has been detected in South Africa and Botswana. Due to the mutations, it is feared that the variant may spread effectively," the ministry said in a statement (siirryt toiseen palveluun).

15.43: Updated with Avi order.

17.43: Updated with UK cases.