The Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) has announced a recommendation that face masks should be used in indoor and other situations where close contact cannot be avoided across most of Finland, because of rising coronavirus infection rates.
In a broadening of its recommendations, THL said people should use face masks in schools, colleges, universities and other institutions as well as other public events and indoor situations when safe distancing is not possible, where the epidemic is in an 'acceleration stage'.
At present that applies to nine healthcare districts covering most of Finland's large cities.
THL officials explained the updated guidelines alongside members of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health at a press conference in Helsinki on Thursday morning.
The recommendations for mask use are based on regional infection rates, and currently apply to nearly the entire country. THL has published a map showing which areas were affected by the recommendations (currently only available in Finnish).
However, the recommendations are chiefly meant for regional health authorities as they judge epidemic situations and issue their own face mask use recommendations at the local level.
Across country and in clusters
The institute said that if the epidemic worsens, it would further broaden its face mask use recommendations.
According to THL chief physician Taneli Puumalainen, the epidemic is approaching an accelerated phase in some areas of Finland and case numbers have steadily increased over the past four weeks. Meanwhile, the proportion of people who test positive has also risen.
An accelerated phase means that there are between 10 to 25 new cases per 100,000 residents over the previous two weeks, there are local and regional chains of infection and that the health care system is not strained by patient volumes.
This week the All Points North podcast discussed face mask use. You can listen to the full podcast via the embedded player here or via Yle Areena, Spotify, Apple Podcasts or your usual podcast player using the RSS feed.
Story continues after audio
Nearly all large cities "accelerating"
As of Thursday, the THL designated nine healthcare districts as exceeding that level: Helsinki-Uusimaa (HUS), Kanta-Häme, Päijät-Häme, Kymenlaakso, Pirkanmaa, Southwest Finland, South Savo, Central Finland and Central Ostrobothnia. Those areas cover a broad swath of southern and central Finland, including all of the country's largest cities except Oulu.
"The government's hybrid strategy has worked and slowed the spread of infections," Puumalainen said.
Social Affairs and Health Ministry strategic director Liisa-Maria Voipio-Pulkki said that nearly the entire country was seeing infections or infection clusters, noting that people need to be careful in other places than Uusimaa, which was the epicentre of the virus over the spring.
However, she noted that Finland could avoid fully entering the acceleration phase--if people exercise caution.
The strategic director said she didn't want to speak of a "second wave" but did say Finland was definitely in the second stage of the epidemic, adding that young adults were over-represented in new infections.
14.00: Added list of healthcare districts in accelerating phase.