THL chief: Omicron spread in Finland "inevitable," but no need to panic

Finnish authorities are currently investigating whether two cases of coronavirus detected in Finland last week are the Omicron variant, with confirmation expected in the coming days.

Mika Salminen, the Director of Health Security at the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare, appeared on Yle's Ykkösaamu show on Tuesday morning. Image: Silja Viitala / Yle

The spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant in Finland is "inevitable," according to Mika Salminen, the Director of Health Security at the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare.

"The world is connected by various air, ship and land connections. It is very difficult to prevent the spread of virus variants. It has always been known that these will emerge and will gradually spread. We may be able to slow down their progress a bit and gain some time," Salminen told Yle's Ykkösaamu show on Tuesday morning.

Finnish authorities are currently investigating whether two cases of coronavirus detected in Finland last week are the Omicron variant, with confirmation expected in the coming days once the samples are genetically sequenced.

THL said on Monday that both of the cases involved individuals who had arrived in the country from abroad. The two patients in question have been placed in isolation and efforts have begun to trace their contacts.

"We are not yet talking about a spread, but only about individual cases. It is possible that there are more cases, because we can't know when the variant was born and how long it has been spreading around the world," Salminen said.

"No need for panic"

However, Salminen added that he also wanted to reassure people living in Finland about the Omicron variant, saying the infectivity and severity of the new variant is not yet determined, even though several countries have already imposed travel restrictions.

The emergence of different variants and mutations was expected, he said, and there is no reason to panic.

"Emergency brakes have been heavily pressed around the world based on relatively little information. If there are variants that would avoid the efficacy of vaccines, then the vaccines will be changed. Just like with flu vaccines," Salminen said.

He added that there is also a risk in applying the emergency brake, as countries may decide to hide information about new variants if it leads to their isolation.

"It's not in anyone's interests. We should come up with a better way than isolating areas for a long period of time as a reflexive reaction," Salminen said.