Health ministry official: Covid-19 still a hazardous disease

The ministry official's comments come after the THL director suggested Finland abandon quarantine in favour of sick leave.

In the Helsinki metropolitan area, medical care for Covid-19 patients has been prioritised due to increasing hospitalisations. Image: Toni Pitkänen / Yle

There are currently no plans to change the classification of the novel coronavirus responsible for Covid-19 as a hazardous disease, according to Pasi Pohjola, the Director of Strategic Affairs at Finland's Ministry of Social Affairs and Health.

On Tuesday, Mika Salminen, the Director of Health Security at the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) proposed that in light of rapidly increasing infection rates, Finland should abandon the current model of quarantine upheld by health authorities as well as large-scale contact tracing.

Salminen suggested that instead of being quarantined, those infected with the Covid-19 virus could inform their employer about the illness and take sick leave without a doctor's note.

The ministry also criticised local authorities for their approach to pandemic management.

On Monday, the City of Helsinki, along with 11 other municipalities in the Uusimaa region, announced plans to ease quarantine requirements for people exposed to the virus and restrict tracing exposures.

On Tuesday Kirsi Varhila, Undersecretary of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, has criticised the move, stating that the municipalities would not be complying with the requirements of Finland's Communicable Diseases Act.

According to Pohjola, the hospital burden caused by the omicron variant, the number of deaths caused by the disease and the recommendations of international groups such as WHO and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) indicate that Finland does not need to change its coronavirus strategy yet.

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The virus was first included in the generally hazardous communicable diseases category in February 2020. A communicable disease is defined as generally hazardous if it is highly contagious or dangerous and its spread can be prevented by measures such as quarantine or isolation.

The current classification grants doctors the ability to impose quarantine on anyone who has been exposed to Covid-19 in Finland, whether they exhibit symptoms or not.

"The situation has become critical in some areas due to the number of patients and we have to prioritise healthcare tasks for staff. Testing and tracing will go back to playing a more central role when the number of cases is declining again and resources can be allocated differently," Pohjola stated.

He emphasised that regulations will be changed based on the opinions of medical experts only once the coronavirus is no longer classified as a hazardous communicable disease.