New cases of Covid-19, almost entirely caused by the Delta virus variant, have mounted at an accelerated pace in recent weeks in many areas of Finland, according to health authorities.
There were 752 new lab-confirmed coronavirus cases registered in Finland over the past 24 hours on Thursday, the Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) reported.
Prime Minister Sanna Marin's (SDP) government is set to re-introduce epidemic-related restrictions on bars and restaurants, which are to go into effect on Sunday.
According to the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, new cases in Finland have grown by 56 percent over the past week. Last week there were 4,574 new diagnosed cases while during the previous week the figure was 2,925.
Representatives from the health institute and ministry held a joint press conference on Thursday to issue an update about the coronavirus situation. It was their first epidemic briefing following a summer break.
As of Thursday, Finland's coronavirus infection incidence rate stood at 135.3 cases per 100,000 inhabitants over the past two weeks.
Finland's R0 rate
Additionally, according to THL data, a record number of people across the country, about 8,300, were ordered into quarantine during the final week of July.
Finland's estimated R0 rate, or the basic reproduction rate, stood at 1.35-1.40 as of Thursday, which means the virus has spread at an accelerated rate. R0 is a measurement of how contagious and transmissible infectious pathogens are at a given period of time.
THL chief physician Otto Helve said that new infections are on the rise across all areas of the country, but the situation was worse in the Helsinki and Uusimaa Hospital District as well as the regions of Southwest Finland and Pirkanmaa.
He said that almost all of Finland's new coronavirus infections stemmed from the so-called Delta variant.
Helve noted that people who have received both doses of a Covid-19 vaccine are very well protected from serious illness if they contract the disease, adding that a single dose also provides good protection.
Just over 74 percent of Finland's population had received at least one Covid vaccine dose, while 40 percent were fully vaccinated as of Thursday, according to THL data.
"It is important that the vaccine coverage continues to grow," Helve said.
The ministry's strategy director, Liisa-Maria Voipio-Pulkki, said that the country's new Covid cases most commonly stem from gatherings at bars, restaurants as well as private events.
She noted that one positive aspect of the situation was that there were not many new cases seen at healthcare facilities or construction sites.
What is concerning, she said, was that a larger proportion of Covid tests had positive results, which means that there were still many undetected cases among the population.
Restaurant rules return on Sunday
The government is set to reintroduce coronavirus-related restrictions on restaurants and bars in many areas across the country.
Areas considered to be in the acceleration phase — or second-most serious tier — will be required to shut down alcohol sales at 11pm and close their doors by midnight.
Even tighter restrictions will affect establishments in regions which are deemed to be in the spreading — or most serious — phase of the epidemic, according to the government's three-tier epidemiological classification guidelines.
In those regions, alcohol sales will need to shut down as early as 10pm, with mandatory closures an hour later.
Restrictions on the permitted number of customers in establishments as well as at outdoor terraces are also returning. Those affected regions will include Southwest Finland, Pirkanmaa, Kymenlaakso as well as the capital area including the cities of Helsinki, Espoo, Vantaa and Kauniainen.