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Monday's papers: Time for emergency brake, presidential poll, playing the ponies

Health officials are reported to be urging increasingly tough measures to deal with the surge in coronavirus infections in Finland.

Horse racing has overtaken both hockey and football in betting popularity. Image: Juho Hämäläinen / Suomen Hippos

The tabloid Iltalehti reports (siirryt toiseen palveluun) that Pasi Pohjola, Strategy Director of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, says that the key criteria have already been met for the government to impose new stringent measures to fight the spread of coronavirus, measures being referred to as an "emergency brake".

"Yes, the key criteria have already been met, but at least for the next week we should monitor the impact of the stricter restrictive measures recently imposed in different regions," Pohjola told Iltalehti by email on Sunday.

Simply put, the use of an emergency brake would mean further tightening restrictive measures to the extent the law allows.

According to Pohjola, these measures could include even tighter restrictions on public events as well as limits on the number of passengers on public transport and the closure of some facilities.

He also pointed out that in some cases, not even the requirement for a Covid pass would allow for the organisation of gatherings.

The paper notes that Minister of Family Affairs and Social Services Krista Kiuru (SDP) said at a press conference on Friday that vaccinations, testing and tracing must be intensified in order to manage the situation.

Lasse Lehtonen, Director of Diagnostic Services at Helsinki University Hospital (HUS) considered the plan presented at the press conference unrealistic. According to Lehtonen, increasing testing and tracing capacity is "beautiful as an idea," but since only about 30 percent of coronavirus-positive cases can be traced, investing resources in tracing at this stage will no longer change the course of the pandemic.

Pasi Pohjola was unable to tell Iltalehti whether or not restrictions will be tightened before Christmas.

"It is still to be seen what actions will be taken and when, and whether the restrictive measures already taken are working well enough," Pohjola said.

Students' mental health

The daily Helsingin Sanomat (siirryt toiseen palveluun) is among the papers reporting a new study by the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) showing that one out of three university student suffers from symptoms of anxiety or depression.

These symptoms were found to be more prevalent among female students than in men. As many as 40 percent of women said they were suffering from the effects of stress.

More than 6,000 students from universities and colleges responded to the survey conducted last spring.

The coronavirus pandemic alone cannot be blamed for the results though as, according to THL research professor Jaana Suvisaari, similar studies carried out every 4–5 years have show an upward trend in mental health issues since the start of the 2000s.

The majority of higher education institutions are still in part using distance learning. Loneliness combined with independent study can increase anxiety and depression.

Suvisaari speculates that some of these symptoms will fade as the coronavirus situation eases over time and everyday life returns to normal. On the other hand, some students may have underlying mental health issues that if prolonged, may lead to loss of ability to focus on their studies.

Olli Rehn leads presidential poll

The Governor of the Bank of Finland, Olli Rehn (Cen), is the most popular potential candidate for Finland's next president, according to a poll commissioned and published by the farmers' union paper Maadeudun Tulevaisuus (siirryt toiseen palveluun).

Rehn, who polled 19 percent in the survey would be the most popular candidate among both National Coalition and Centre Party voters.

The second most popular figure is Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto (Green) with 14 percent support. His backing was found to be strongest among voters who support the Greens, the SDP and the Left Alliance.

Support for Prime Minister Sanna Marin (SDP) was pegged at 9 percent, most of it coming from members of her own Social Democratic Party. The paper notes, however, that the poll was carried out early this month when Marin was at the centre of a media storm related to a social outing after possible exposure to the coronavirus.

The poll which collected 1,001 responses was conducted by Kantar TNS Agri and has a three percentage point margin of error.

Playing the ponies

Jyväskylä's Keskisuomalainen (siirryt toiseen palveluun) carries a syndicated report that horse racing has become a bigger sport for gamblers in Finland than either football or ice hockey.

The popularity of "Toto" betting on trotting races was in decline before the start of the coronavirus pandemic, but got a new lease of life when neighbouring Sweden continued to hold horse races even while other sporting events had been canceled.

Juha-Matti Mäkilä, betting director of the Finnish national gaming agency Veikkaus told the paper that horse racing has shot up in the number of bets placed, as well as the total value of bets.

The majority of sports gaming in Finland today, around 80 percent, takes place online.