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Finland confirms 100 coronavirus variant cases

Authorities said more will be known about the severity of the mutated virus' spread in the next two to three weeks.

STM:n strategiajohtaja Liisa-Maria Voipio-Pulkki ja THL:n ylilääkäri Taneli Puumalainen saapuvat hybridistrategian toimintasuunnitelman täydennystä koskevaan tiedotustilaisuuteen.
Taneli Puumalainen, chief physician at the Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) on right, and Liisa-Maria Voipio-Pulkki, the Ministry for Social Affairs and Health strategy director. Image: Roni rekomaa / lehtikuva

A total of 100 mutated coronavirus cases have been detected in Finland, Taneli Puumalainen, chief physician at the Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) cofirmed at a joint press conference on Tuesday.

However, Puumalainen noted that cases of the coronavirus variants do not appear to be spreading uncontrollably in the country and that transmission chains had been traced to their origins. He said compared to the rest of Europe, Finland has good chances of tracking down the mutated strains.

Puumalainen made the comments alongside Liisa-Maria Voipio-Pulkki, the Ministry for Social Affairs and Health strategy director at Tuesday's press conference, offering an update on the coronavirus situation and the government's hybrid strategy in fighting the epidemic.

The response plan announced by the government is based on a system of three response tiers, with the third being most severe. As of Tuesday, Finland remained at the first tier.

The office of the prime minister has published an explanation of the three-tier action plan in English.

Three tiers

In order for second-tier actions to be taken--such as capping permitted numbers of people at gatherings and mandating the use of face masks--government needs the consent of the THL as well as MPs, Voipio-Pulkki explained.

"The idea is that local decision-makers should be able to take action within the framework of existing laws," she said. Currently, Finland's coronavirus strategy is being done on a regional basis, depending on the severity of local outbreaks.

Raising the response action to the third tier would be an extreme measure, according to Voipio-Pulkki, adding that it would mean that health care services were not functional and require the implementation of the Emergency Powers Act, which would also need parliamentary approval.

Switching Finland's schools to distance learning classrooms would be the "very last option," according to Voipio-Pulkki.

"The situation is particularly worrying for children and young people," she said, adding that further coming restrictions will mostly affect adults and that their effects on kids need to be minimised.

Border rules change on Wednesday

A reporter asked how close or far Finland was to raising the response tier to two.

"Depending on how widespread the mutated virus variants are, we don't yet know, for sure," Voipio-Pulkki said.

As the government noted on Monday, Voipio-Pulkki said there was no reason to relax current recommendations and restrictions, as the mutated versions of the virus continue to pose a threat.

"In the next two to three weeks we will be wiser regarding the question of how close we are to tier two," Voipio-Pulkki said.

The most urgent matter at hand, Voipio-Pulkki said, was to continue addressing the risks at the country's borders. Last Friday the government announced a decision to ban all but essential international travel, as many of the variant cases of the virus have been traced coming from abroad.

The tightened border restrictions are scheduled to go into force on Wednesday.

"The temporary restrictions regarding restaurants and bars expire in February but now new regulations are expected," she added.

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