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Coronavirus latest: 23 cases at Defence Forces, crisis creates dental care backlog

This article brings you the latest updates on the novel coronavirus pandemic in Finland.

Katsojia kasvomaskit päällä desinfioimassa ennen jääkiekon Liigan ottelua HIFK vs Kärpät Helsingissä 9. lokakuuta.
Hockey fans wearing protective face masks and using hand disinfectant at the HIFK vs Kärpät match in Helsinki on 9 October. Image: Jussi Nukari / Lehtikuva
  • 13,555 lab-confirmed infections as of Monday 19.10 (up by 131 since Sunday)
  • 351 deaths linked to coronavirus as of Friday 16.10 (up by five since 12.10)
  • 62 people in hospital, 7 of whom in intensive care as of Monday 19.10
  • Hospital districts report on deaths and hospitalised patients on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays

19.10 19:20 Helsinki and Uusimaa still in 'acceleration phase'

Director of diagnostic services at the Helsinki University Hospital district (HUS), Lasse Lehtonen, said he sees a slight glimmer of hope regarding the region's current coronavirus situation.

The infection rate has remained fairly stable over the past two weeks, he explained, saying that while the HUS region is in an acceleration phase, it has not met all the criteria to be considered to be in the more severe spreading phase.

Read more here.

19.10 17:54 Defence Forces reports more than 20 corona cases over 2 weeks

Twenty conscripts and three staff members from the Finnish Defence Forces have been diagnosed with coronavirus infections in just under the past two weeks, the Defence Command confirmed on Monday.

The command said that most of the conscripts had fallen ill while on holiday leave and in many cases did not expose others at their respective garrisons.

Read more here.

19.10 12:30 131 new infections in Finland

Finland reported 131 lab-confirmed Covid-19 cases on Monday, according to the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare, THL, bringing the total number of infections to 13,555.

The Helsinki University Hospital District reported the highest number of new cases, 98, followed by hospital authorities in Southwest Finland and Vaasa, with 14 and 4 new cases respectively.

19.10 10:04 Crisis creates dental care backlog

Restrictions imposed to curb the spread of coronavirus has caused municipal dental care services to rack up a backlog of 1.3 million visits that have not taken place as originally scheduled.

Merja Auero, a medical counsellor with the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, told regional newspaper group Lännen Media that municipalities are now attempting to clear the dental care bottleneck caused by the coronavirus crisis. Read more on that story here.

18.10 16:43 Helsinki dance party draws condemnation

Critics are piling on over an electronic dance music event that took place in Helsinki last Friday for its apparent indifference to coronavirus safety rules. Video clips of the event show hundreds of young people partying without maintaining the recommended safe distances. Few can be seen wearing masks. Read more about the story here.

18.10 16:29 Nearly all residents test positive for corona at Vaasa senior care home

Eight out of nine residents living at the Kårkulla elder care facility in Sundom, Vaasa, have tested positive for Covid-19, according to the local paper Ilkka-Pohjalainen. Nine of 18 staff members at the home have also tested positive for the disease, making the total number of infections at the facility 17. According to the local paper, the first tests were confirmed on Tuesday, when the entire unit was placed in quarantine.

18.10 14:45 Protracted crisis weighs on debtors

Mortgage and consumer credit holders are becoming increasingly concerned about how they will manage their loan repayments if they are furloughed or lose their jobs as the coronavirus crisis persists, a debt counselling organisation has said. Read the full story here.

18.10 12:05 131 new Covid cases in Finland

Finland reported 131 new lab-confirmed coronavirus cases on Sunday, according to the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare, THL, bringing the total number of infections to 13,424. The Helsinki University Hospital District (HUS) recorded the highest number of new cases, 106, followed by the Southwest Finland and Vaasa Hospital Districts with five and four diagnoses respectively.

17.10 17:55 Partner swapping event draws complaint

A large private event scheduled to take place this weekend at a holiday resort in Jämsä, central Finland is raising eyebrows in the region, according to tabloid daily Iltalehti. The paper reported that a partner swapping event involving between 100 and 200 people is due to take place at Himos Areena. Public health authorities consider the coronavirus epidemic to be in an accelerating phase.

IL wrote that a complaint about the event has been lodged with the medical chief in Jämsä. Read the full story here.

Edit: Updated on 18 October to clarify location of the event.

17.10 17:20 Foreign Minister cleared after Covid scare

Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto has tested negative for coronavirus twice since returning from an EU foreign ministers’ meeting where one participant tested positive for the disease. Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg revealed that he was infected but speculated that he might have contracted the virus before the meeting, which took place on Monday. On Saturday the Finnish Foreign Ministry tweeted that Haavisto had been in quarantine for 72 hours after returning from Brussels and had received two negative test results.

17.10 16:35 Corona affects Night of the Homeless commemoration

Finland observes the Night of the Homeless on Saturday as part of the UN's anti-poverty goals. The theme of this year’s commemoration is Home Sweet Home. Because of the coronavirus epidemic, some events will be held online.

The National Museum in Helsinki will host a panel discussion that will be streamed online. Meanwhile NGOs will organise free meals, clothing and health checks for homeless people in different parts of the capital. Read more about the observance here.

17.10 15:22 PM Marin tests negative after hasty retreat from Brussels

Prime Minister Sanna Marin (SDP) tested negative for Covid-19 upon returning to Finland from Brussels. Marin left a European Council meeting early as a precaution after learning Finns Party MP Tom Packalén had contracted the disease. The Prime Minister’s office said on Saturday that the PM is in voluntary quarantine and will be tested once more on Monday. If the second test is also negative, she will be clear to end her quarantine.

17.10 14:40 20 exposed to Covid-19 in Parliament

Roughly 20 Parliamentary employees have been exposed to coronavirus, according to news agency STT. Parliamentary administrative director Pertti Rauhio told the agency that most of the exposed persons are MPs but it is not yet known if that number includes government ministers.

Rauhio added that the exposed persons are in voluntary quarantine. On Thursday Finns Party MP Tom Packalén announced that he had tested positive for the disease.

17.10 12:12 Pandemic exacerbates school dropout problem

Distance learning during the coronavirus epidemic last spring increased the number of school dropouts, according to Education Minister Li Andersson (Left). Speaking on Yle’s Ykkösaamu discussion programme on Saturday, Andersson said that every year there are about 4,000 students who rack up recurring long-term school absences.

"Coronavirus and spring’s long period of distance learning has probably affected this group worst and unfortunately it has also made it larger. I am very worried about school dropouts," she added. Read the full story here.

17.10 12:05 160 new Covid-19 cases in Finland

Finland reported 160 new lab-confirmed coronavirus cases on Saturday, bringing the total number of infections to 13,293. The largest number of new cases were diagnosed in the Helsinki University Hospital District, at 128. The Southwest Finland and Vaasa Hospital Districts reported eight and six new infections respectively.

16.10 17:34 MP's coronavirus infection leads to postponing of Haavisto hearing

Finns Party MP Tom Packalén's confirmed coronavirus diagnosis, which earlier on Friday led to Prime Minister Sanna Marin (SDP) leaving a European Council meeting in Brussels as a precautionary measure, has also caused the postponement of Parliament's Constitutional Law Committee's hearing into the actions of Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto (Green) regarding the repatriation of Finnish people from the al-Hol refugee camp in Syria.

Read more on this story here.

16.10 16:28 Covid crisis hits Elisa's profits, share price and revenue

Finnish telecom firm Elisa announced its Q3 results on Friday, revealing the extent to which the economic effects of the coronavirus has impacted the telecoms sector.

There is more on this story here.

16.10 15:30 Majority of Covid-positive Skopje arrivals tested negative before departure

Five out of seven passengers on a flight last week from Skopje, North Macedonia, to Turku who tested positive for the coronavirus when they arrived had a negative test result before departure.

The results are now being seen as an indication of the problems involved in country of origin testing. One major issue is variation in the types of tests used, not all of which are considered as accurate as those performed in Finland.

Read the whole story here.

16.10 14:09 Disposable masks can withstand up to 10 washes

A study by the Technical Research Centre of Finland VTT has found that a disposable surgical mask washed up to 10 times is at least as effective as a cloth mask.

Read more on this story here.

16.10 12:56 PM Marin leaves Brussels meeting amid infection concern

Finland's Prime Minister Sanna Marin (SDP) left Brussels as a precautionary measure on Friday, where she was attending a two-day European Council meeting after a member of the Finnish parliament announced he had tested positive for the coronavirus.

Read more here.

16.10 12:12 Finland sees 189 new cases on Friday

THL reported on Friday there were 189 new confirmed coronavirus cases recorded over the past day, bringing the overall total of infections to 13,133. Most of the infections were seen in the Helsinki and Uusimaa hospital district (112). There were 2,889 new coronavirus cases diagnosed over the past two weeks, which is 1,503 more cases than the previous two weeks.

16.10 9:42 MP diagnosed with a coronavirus infection

Finns Party member of parliament Tom Packalén has been diagnosed with a coronavirus infection. The 51 year-old, third-term MP from Helsinki has reported mild symptoms and has gone into home quarantine. Parliament reports that THL started tracing exposures related to Packalén's case yesterday, Thursday.

16.10 9:31 How can people in face masks prove ID in shops?

Does a protective face mask have to be removed when making a purchase in an alcohol retail shop? What about at the post office?

A reader of the Helsinki tabloid Iltalehti posed these questions about mask usage recommendations and the paper asked both the state retailer Alko and the postal service Posti what their policy is now.

Read more on this and other stories found in Friday's press review.

15.10 17:20 APN Podcast: Sote, remote work, Kiuru and yet more face masks

This week's All Points North podcast tried to untangle the threads from a messy week in coronavirus politics.

Read more here.

15.10 16:41 Finland urges people to work from home until 2021 as Covid cases spike

Finland is recommending people work from home if possible until at least the end of the year, among a host of measures unveiled on Thursday that are aimed at curbing the further spread of coronavirus.

Read more here.

15.10 12:43 Covid hospitalisations doubled over 2 weeks

Coronavirus cases have significantly increased over the past month, the Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) said in its latest report issued on Thursday. The institute also said the number of patients requiring hospital treatment for the disease in Finland has doubled since the end of September.

Read more here.

15.10 12:16 Finland reports 241 new cases on Thursday

THL reported on Thursday there were 241 new confirmed coronavirus cases recorded over the past day, bringing the overall total of infections to 12,944. Most of the infections were seen in the Helsinki and Uusimaa hospital district (121). The second most, 39, were found in the health care district of Central Finland, followed by the Vaasa Hospital District (35).

15.10 9:40 Government adjusting Infectious Diseases Act

The Finnish government is looking at legislative amendments that would give increased powers to municipalities and regional administrative authorities to independently take steps to deal with infectious diseases like Covid-19 without the central government having to rely on its own emergency powers.

Tabloid Ilta-Sanomat writes that if approved, amended legislation would empower regional authorities to close shopping malls, quarantine residents, and transfer patients infected with the coronavirus to neighboring municipalities.

Read this and more in Thursday's press review.

14.10 18:27 Opposition wary of pandemic-related legal changes

Opposition parties have said that they are worried that potential legal changes to Finland's infections diseases laws could limit fundamental freedoms. Their concerns came as government and opposition parties convened from 4pm on Wednesday to discuss possible changes to the laws that would give local authorities more wiggle room to combat the coronavirus epidemic. Read more about the proposed amendments here.

14.10 17:01 Four new Covid deaths

Finland reported four additional deaths due to Covid-19 on Wednesday, the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare said, bringing the total number of fatalities to 350. Forty-eight people are currently receiving hospital treatment for the disease, four of them in intensive care units.

14.10 16:56 Minister bests confidence vote over mask guidelines fiasco

Family Affairs and Social Services Minister Krista Kiuru survived a confidence vote in Parliament on Wednesday that ended 106 - 79 in her favour. Thirteen MPs were absent for the vote and one abstained.

As expected, government parties voted to support the embattled minister after the opposition National Coalition Party (NCP) tabled the confidence vote when conflicting accounts emerged of health officials' positions on mask use to tamp down the spread of coronavirus last spring. Read the full story here.

14.10 15:25 Answers to 7 questions about coronavirus vaccines

Laboratories are scrambling to create a safe and effective vaccine against Covid-19, a disease which has already caused more than one million deaths around the world. The director of the Vaccine Research Center at Tampere University, Mika Rämet, tackles seven key questions about the possible efficacy and safety of two potential Covid-19 vaccines in development. Read more here.

14.10 14:13 Helsinki region authorities recommend mask use in workplaces

Residents of Helsinki region being advised to use face masks at all workplaces, Helsinki mayor Jan Vapaavuori announced at a press conference on Wednesday.

The use of a mask is especially recommended in work situations where safe distancing cannot be implemented, such as in meetings and during breaks, according to a capital region Coronavirus Coordination group.

Read more here.

14.10 13:09 204 new infections in Finland

Finland reported 204 lab-confirmed coronavirus cases on Wednesday, according to the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare, THL. The highest number of new cases, 102, was diagnosed in the Helsinki University Hospital District (HUS), followed by the Vaasa Hospital District at 47 and the Southwest Finland Hospital District, where 13 new cases were recorded.

14.10 12:15 Health authorities: No grounds for suspending Skopje flights

There are no grounds for suspending flights between Turku and Skopje, health authorities have told Finnish Transport and Communications Agency Traficom.

On Friday, seven Covid-19 cases were detected on a flight from Northern Macedonia to Turku. According to the City of Turku, 43 out of 49 passengers were tested. All passengers were instructed to go into voluntary quarantine.

Health authorities said that keeping the route open would be better, as suspending flights could lead to visitors entering Finland through different routes that are under less scrutiny. Read more here.

14.10 09:56 Mask rules tighten in retail stores

The Finnish Commerce Federation has said it will instruct operators of retail stores to use face masks based on health authorities’ three-phase action plan, aimed at preventing the spread of coronavirus.

According to tabloid Iltalehti, the trade union has said that retail staff in regions that are in the acceleration phase of the epidemic are recommended to wear face masks if they are not behind a plexiglass shield or using face visors.. In regions that are in the spreading phase, everyone working in a store's retail premises are recommended to wear face coverings.

Read more about this and other stories in our daily paper review.

13.10 20:27 Agency: Ministry did not influence removal of face mask recommendations in April

There is a debate in Finland surrounding the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health's role in not issuing official guidelines on the use of face masks by the general public as the coronavirus epidemic tightened its grip in the spring.

Last week, the opposition National Coalition Party's parliamentary group chair, Kai Mykkänen called for a confidence vote for social affairs and health minister, Krista Kiuru, (SDP) regarding her role in the matter.

On Monday the ministry said its guidelines on face masks were issued via the Institute of Occupational Health (FIOH) at the beginning of April.

However, FIOH ended up changing the information posted on its website as the ministry and THL announced that they were not issuing official recommendations on the use of face masks by the public.

FIOH's director general, Antti Koivula, said the ministry did not instruct the agency to remove guidance on the use of cloth masks.

Read more about this story here.

13.10 18:17 Mask guidelines tightened at Finland's airports

Airport operations firm Finavia announced new guidelines for face mask usage at the country's airports. Going forward, the company said that passengers and others will be required to wear face masks at all times, according to news service STT.

Meanwhile, face mask recommendations are also expanding in Parliament, according to the institution's communications department.

Read more here.

13.10 12:07 287 new coronavirus cases in Finland

Finland reported 287 lab-confirmed coronavirus infections on Tuesday, according to the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare, THL. Tuesday’s case count brings the running total to 12,499. The highest number of new infections was recorded in Vaasa with 98 cases. The Helsinki University Hospital District, HUS, reported 83 cases on Tuesday.

13.10 10:44 Immunity lasts up to four months, says study

Coronavirus antibodies remain in the body for at least four months after infection and confer and possible immunity to the virus during that time, according to a new Finnish study.

Read our story here.

13.10 09:40 Dailies peer behind the scenes of mask guidelines

Finland's journey towards mass face mask-wearing has not been straightforward. In the spring the country did not offer a recommendation to wear masks to slow the spread of coronavirus, and Ilta-Sanomat on Tuesday reports that this was not a unanimous decision by health authorities. Read more about the mask debate and other leading stories in our handy newspaper roundup.

12.10 19:23 Corona concerns prompt thousands to quit smoking

Thousands of people in Finland quit their smoking habits this year directly due to coronavirus concerns, according to a survey commissioned by the tobacco policy and public health group ASH Finland.

The survey found that 15 percent of respondents quit smoking directly because of coronavirus-related health concerns. According to the Institute for Health and Welfare (THL), as well as other health authorities, being a smoker increases a person's risk of health complications following a coronavirus infection.

Read more here.

12.10 17:52 Crisis deepens Finland's poverty problem

The coronavirus crisis has made weaknesses in Finland's welfare state more visible as the number of people in need of food aid has grown rapidly during the continuing epidemic. The food supply of thousands of people remains dependent on the work of volunteer groups and the food banks they run.

The crisis caused by the epidemic has seriously impacted the finances of a wide range of people - families with children, entrepreneurs, students, those laid off or who have lost their jobs. An explosive growth in the number people in queues at food banks shows how almost anyone can find themselves in need.

Read the whole article here.

12.10 16:44 Tampere Workers' Theatre plans furloughs

One of Tampere's most active theatres, Tampere Workers' Theatre, has plans to furlough its entire staff, due to impacts of the coronavirus situation, according to the theatre.

The decision will affect a total of 120 workers.

Personnel members will be temporarily laid off for four weeks in stages, mostly in December, according to a theatre press release issued Monday.

The theatre said the furloughs are being planned so that their impact on current and future production schedules would be minimal.

Negotiations between employer and employee organisations regarding the temporary arrangement began in August.

The theatre's autumn season has been a critical success, and would have meant financial successes as well, under normal circumstances, but audience restrictions of 60 percent of its normal capacity hurt the productions' potential, according to the theatre's director Otso Kautto.

12.10 16:00 Jyväskylä: 700 in quarantine following infections at religious event

Around 700 people in Jyväskylä have been placed in quarantine following a broad coronavirus exposure incident at a private religious gathering of 100 people late last month, city officials have announced.

Everyone who attended the event has since been in contact with health authorities and taken coronavirus tests, with 50 testing positive for the illness.

Read more here.

Blog continues after photo.

Kuvassa henkilö työskentelee laboratoriossa.
Medical experts in Finland say the country may receive its first batch of a Covid vaccine early next year. Image: Joel Saget / AFP

12.10 13:50 230 from Espoo begin autumn break in quarantine

More than 200 people from five schools in Espoo have been placed in quarantine from Monday, the start of the autumn school holiday in parts of Finland. The decision came after people who had tested positive for Covid-19 were found to have visited the schools. As a result, 230 were exposed to the disease at schools in Saunalahti, Lähderanta, Kalajärvi, Kilonpuisto and Lahnus. Their quarantines will end between 20 and 22 October.

12.10 12:10 214 new coronavirus cases in Finland

Finland reported 214 lab-confirmed coronavirus cases on Monday, according to the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare, THL. Monday’s cases bring the overall number of infections to 12, 212.

Infections have increased most in the Helsinki University Hospital District, HUS, which recorded 121 new cases on Monday. Meanwhile 60 new infections were diagnosed in Vaasa, western Finland.

12.10 9:24 Corona crisis' impact on food habits, business confidence

Monday's newspapers run stories about how the coronavirus crisis has affected people's food and shopping habits and suggests those changes may be here to stay. Dailies also report on failing business confidence in the government's handling of the coronavirus epidemic. Read all this and other stories in our press roundup.

Previous updates here.

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