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130 in Helsinki face quarantine following exposure to coronavirus

Officials believe that a young patient may have exposed a total of 130 people to infection.

Huslab Tullinpuomin kyltti Helsingissä.
Finnish health officials have so far tested 90 samples for novel coronavirus, six of which came back positive. Image: Heikki Saukkomaa / Lehtikuva

A total of 130 people, including students at Helsinki University’s Viikki teacher training school, face immediate quarantine following exposure last week to a pupil diagnosed with novel coronavirus.

Health officials said at a press conference on Sunday evening that the infected youngster was one of two new novel coronavirus infections reported by Finnish public health authorities on Sunday morning.

The other was an elderly man whom officials said had also come into contact with a woman diagnosed with the disease last Friday. The woman had reportedly returned from northern Italy two days earlier on 26 February.

Helsinki and Uusimaa hospital district medical chief Asko Järvinen said that the woman had come into close contact with 15 people, all of whom had been contacted. The elderly man had no close contacts, while the child is believed to have had close contact with about 130 others.

He had reportedly gone to school while exhibiting mild symptoms. He had also attended football practice with the Helsinki team HJK in the city’s Töölö district.

"Most of the names of the persons exposed are known to health authorities and they will all be contacted," Järvinen told reporters, according to daily Helsingin Sanomat.

Schooling during quarantine

School principal Tapio Lahtero said that school authorities had mapped the child’s movement at school during the past week and determined that students and teachers from classes 6A, 6B, 6C and 4B were exposed to the disease and should be placed in quarantine.

The quarantine period began immediately from their most recent contact with the young child, Lahtero noted.

"The quarantine should end around 11 March," he added.

Health officials stressed that persons placed under quarantine should not leave their homes and should not come into contact with others. They said family members however could go about their daily business as usual.

The school principal said that the institution would ensure that students received some form of schooling during the 14-day quarantine period. This would take the form of distance learning as well as independent study exercises.

The school said that all teachers and parents had been informed of the situation and that teachers and parents of students who came into contact with the infected child had been contacted separately and advised how to proceed.

Mayor: Helsinki "well prepared"

Meanwhile Helsinki mayor Jan Vapaavuori said that city officials have been monitoring the situation and that a special coordinating team had been established for the purpose. He declared that Helsinki is well prepared for the situation, even for a wider pandemic.

Vapaavuori said that Helsinki has no plans to begin measuring the temperature of incoming cruise ship passengers, a measure announced by neighbouring Estonia on Sunday. Medical chief of staff Järvinen added that measuring temperature is not effective and that Finland is focusing on more effective methods.

Taneli Puumalainen, medical chief with the National Institute for Health and Welfare, THL, said that it’s more important to ensure that tourists are well-informed.

Health officials said that a novel coronavirus advisory hotline will begin operating from Monday morning to provide information and guidance to people who think they are affected or have been exposed. The hotline will be in service from 7am until 8pm daily.

Puumalainen said that health officials had tested 90 samples and confirmed infections with the new coronavirus strain in six of them.

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