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Crowded parks may lead to rise in infections, HUS physician says

The numbers of new cases have not decreased since May Day and large chains of infection are still in evidence, Ulander said.

Ihmisiä Roihuvuoren kirsikkapuistossa.
Parks have been popular destinations this week as Finland has enjoyed temperatures of 25 degrees and above. Image: Vesa Moilanen / Lehtikuva

Many people across Finland have descended on their local park to enjoy drinks and snacks outdoors as the country has basked in a late spring mini-heatwave this week. The popularity of the parks has been further enhanced by the fact that coronavirus-related restrictions on bars and restaurants were still in effect, although they are being relaxed from Thursday.

However, Veli-Matti Ulander, chief administrative physician of the Helsinki and Uusimaa hospital district, told Yle he is concerned that overcrowding in the parks will lead to an increase in coronavirus infections.

"Large crowds are a risk, even if they are outdoors," Ulander said, further noting that infection rates have not decreased since May Day and large chains of infection are still in evidence.

Police have had to intervene in some places after large groups of people gathered together, in contravention of regional restrictions on the size of crowds.

Lukko's first ice hockey Championship Series victory since 1963 sparked jubilant scenes of celebration on the streets of Rauma on Tuesday, while police in Helsinki were called to reports of disturbances and drug use by minors at parks across the city on Wednesday evening.

This led to police urging people to disperse from the parks at midnight in order to maintain public safety.

"The role of the police is to monitor safety in public places," Helsinki Police Inspector Riku Korpela said in a press release. "When it got dark, the police could no longer intervene in all of the individual disturbances, so in order to maintain public order and safety, it was decided to clear the parks."

Ulander said that while the sunny weather can and should be enjoyed, it is important to remember safety guidelines.

"However, people should also take into account safety distances and good hygiene. Large groups in parks will lead to infections if there are safety distances are not maintained," he said.

"Autumn's big question will be virus variants"

Although restrictions on bars and restaurants are being eased, there are still strict measures in place in areas considered to be in the epidemic's community transmission phase, which includes the regions of Uusimaa, Southwest Finland, Päijät-Häme and South Karelia.

In these regions, restaurants must stop selling alcohol at 7pm and shut down at 8pm, while bars and pubs will need to close at 7pm and stop alcohol sales an hour earlier.

Ulander added that vaccinations are now progressing throughout the country, with just over two million people receiving at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine.

However, he warned that virus variants may still pose a danger to public health later this year.

"The big question for the autumn will be what kind of protection the vaccines give against the different virus variants," Ulander said.

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