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Finland not screening for coronavirus at border: "No cause for alarm"

Health officials say it is "extremely unlikely" that the Wuhan strain of the coronavirus has arrived in Finland.

Inarin kunnan johtava terveyskeskuslääkäri Outi Liisanantti.
Ivalo Health Centre chief physician Outi Liisanantti said it is "extremely unlikely" that the patients have the Wuhan variation of the coronavirus. Image: Vesa Toppari / Yle

In response to reports of two Chinese tourists in Finnish Lapland who were tested for coronavirus overnight on Thursday, national health officials on Friday said there was no cause for alarm.

Taneli Puumalainen, head of Infectious Diseases Control and Vaccines Unit at the National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) said that this time of year, several common illnesses like influenza have caused false alarms of coronavirus infections across the world.

Puumalainen emphasised that none of the travel-related coronavirus cases found outside China have spread further.

The samples were sent to Helsinki for testing, with preliminary results expected around 7pm on Friday, Ivalo Health Centre's chief physician Outi Liisanantti said on Friday afternoon.

At a press conference in Ivalo, she stressed that the two patients, a father and son who arrived by land from Norway, have mild symptoms.

She said that it is "not a serious suspicion" that they have the Wuhan variation of the coronavirus, adding that it is "extremely unlikely" and "a one in a million chance".

No entry checks: They don't work

If and when the coronavirus was ever to be confirmed in the country, Puumalainen said health authorities would take appropriate measures to control the infection.

"We will monitor the situation. If the patients are in good condition, the aim is to treat them at home unless hospitalisation is needed."

According to Puumalainen, Finland is well prepared for potential virus threats through health emergency drills.

As of now, Finland is not conducting entry checks at the country's borders to screen for coronavirus, he said.

"The World Health Organisation (WHO) and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) do not favour the introduction of such [entry checks] because they have been shown not to work. They do not pick up potential patients in any way," Puumalainen said.

He added that a large number of people with respiratory tract infection but no coronavirus could be trapped in such checks, making it difficult to investigate authentic cases.

Lapland hotels stock up on hand disinfectant

Hotel managers around Finnish Lapland's popular tourist destination of Inari said they are taking the virus threat seriously but noted they are not worried.

"You have to be serious and sensitive. It's not time to panic yet. There is no information yet on whether this is really a coronavirus case," said Tapani Lappalainen, director of Hotel Inari.

Some hotels have doubled up their disinfection efforts as a precaution.

"We have added hand sanitisation points at multiple locations in the hotels and have stepped up our room cleaning," said Kaisu Nikula, hotel manager at Inari Kultahovi.

The news of the possible coronavirus case has not caused panic among other tourists in Lapland, according to hotel staff.

"A few guests have asked about it. We are monitoring the situation and working closely with international tour operators, " said Eeva-Marja Jokinen, hotel manager at Santa's Hotel Tunturi in Saariselkä.

Municipal officials have asked all Wuhan tourists or tour operators to call 112 if a tour member has a fever of more than 38 degrees and has respiratory symptoms.

5.20pm: Updated time of expected announcement.

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