THL: Finland investigating 2 suspected cases of Covid variant Omicron

The health institute said it will take days to confirm whether or not the new variant has arrived in the country.

Coronavirus-related information greets arriving passengers at Helsinki Airport. Image: Emmi Korhonen / Lehtikuva

The Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) announced on Monday that two suspected cases of the coronavirus variant Omicron were being examined in Finland, adding that both of the cases involved individuals who had arrived in the country from abroad.

Earlier on Monday, Helsinki and Uusimaa hospital district's (HUS) diagnostics director, Lasse Lehtonen, confirmed to Yle that it was very possible the first incidence of the new variant was found in a Covid test carried out in the district last week.

"The sample still needs to be [genetically] sequenced," Lehtonen told Yle. "It will take a couple of weeks."

Sequencing means examining the test sample's genetic makeup.

Omicron is a newly-discovered variant of coronavirus, the virus which causes Covid-19. Researchers have said that it is still unclear exactly how contagious or how much danger the new variant poses, however.

Currently, it is thought that Omicron is more easily transmitted than other variants but on the other hand, people who have been infected with it appear to only have mild Covid symptoms. Omicron was first discovered in South Africa, Botswana and Hong Kong.

Still unclear

Professor of virology, Olli Vapalahti, told Yle on Monday it is quite possible that the sample from HUS actually was a question of Omicron, adding that the matter was still unclear.

He explained that Covid screening carried out at the border used PCR tests, using a technique that makes the Omicron variant give a negative result, which was the case in question. However, Vapalahti added that the same outcome results from the presence of the Alpha variant.

"There is no certainty yet. [The sample] will be sequenced to clarify things. It will take days, maybe a week," Vapalahti explained.

He said it is broadly assumed that the new variant will eventually arrive to Finland, as other variants had.

"At the very beginning of the epidemic, one-third of all cases came from a single case originating in southern Europe," he explained.