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Experts urge testing and hygiene vigilance as Finland opens up

From this weekend the 500-person limit on indoor gatherings is removed, under certain conditions.

Yleisöä pesäpallon miesten Superpesiksen ottelussa.
Large events are permissible again in Finland, meaning crowds like this one at a Finnish baseball game in Hyvinkää on 29 July will become more common. Image: Emmi Korhonen / Lehtikuva

As coronavirus restrictions are ease in Finland, the number of contacts between people will increase. With that comes an increased risk of coronavirus transmission.

"You can't predict the levels, but it is probable that we will start to see clusters in different places," said epidemiology professor Pekka Nuorti of Tampere University.

The risk of infection is greatly affected by people's actions in situations where large numbers of people gather.

From 1 August events of 500 or more people can be organised, when approved by local authorities, and the recommendation to work from home if possible is no longer in force.

From mid-August the number of contacts will rise again as schools come back from the summer holiday, and daycare centres start to fill with children.

More people on the move, precautions important

In a short space of time there will be many changes to daily life in Finland. There will soon be many more people on the move than during the spring and summer, says Eeva Ruotsalainen of the Helsinki University Hospital District.

"It is more important than before to understand that lots of people are circulating," said Ruotsalainen. "The disease spreads especially through breathing, but also via touch."

As restrictions are removed, the significance of every individual's behaviour increases. Washing hands, using antibacterial hand gel, cough hygiene and maintaining physical distancing are the most important things, according to the experts.

"We can't ease up on these," said Ruotsalainen.

In the coming weeks it may become impossible to maintain two metres distance from others in all situations.

Although there is no recommendation to wear face coverings in Finland, Ruotsalainen recommends using a mask on public transport and in busy public spaces to reduce the risk of transmission as society opens up and public space gets more congested. She says it will be particularly important if the case count starts to rise in specific areas.

Our All Points North podcast looked at the issue of face masks this week. You can listen to the full podcast via the embedded player here, Yle Areena, Spotify, Apple Podcasts or your usual podcast player using the RSS feed. Be sure to subscribe to the show wherever you get your podcasts and sign up for the APN newsletter.

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Audio: Yle News

Lapland hospital district's chief physician Markku Broas agrees, saying hygiene guidelines are very important to follow.

It's also important that people have a low threshold to get tested, and that they manage to get a test promptly when they need one.

If someone is suffering mild symptoms consistent with coronavirus, they should not mix with other people.

"Even with mild symptoms, people should go for a test," said Broas. "Every Finn should be able to get a test if they have mild symptoms, seven days a week. This is an effective way of catching infections and breaking the chains of further infection."

Testing and tracing key

The number of confirmed cases in Finland has been lower this summer than in many other countries. Even though there has been an uptick in case counts in Europe in recent weeks, authorities are in a better position to control the epidemic than they were when it first started.

"Both the authorities and the doctors treating Covid patients have learnt a lot about coronavirus," said Nuorti. "Our contact tracing works and we have sufficient testing capacity, so we can react more efficiently."

Broas agrees that Finland has a good chance of keeping infection rates low.

"Finland has everything it needs to ensure that, if we have a low threshold for getting tested, if people are able to get tests, if they follow hygiene guidelines and use masks if necessary, we can quite quickly limit onward transmission," said Broas.

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