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Friday's papers: Coronavirus mortality rate, mask scandal and toilet trouble

The press examines Finland's adjusted coronavirus mortality rate, Onni Sarmaste's firm and Helsinki's clogged toilets.

Vessa, jossa pönttö, pesuallas ja pulsaattori.
Having a trash bin in bathrooms can potentially save residents a lot of money in pipe-clearing fees, according to the Helsinki Region Environmental Services Authority. Image: Esa Huuhko / Yle

Finland has raised its estimated coronavirus mortality rate to 0.2 percent. That could mean about 5,000–6,000 coronavirus deaths in Finland if half of the population is infected with the virus, according to a report by Daily Helsingin Sanomat.

THL’s mortality estimate is still significantly lower than estimates by the British Imperial College of London which projected an infectious mortality rate of 0.9 percent in the UK by mid-March.

This current estimate by the Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) can change significantly once a clearer picture emerges from the antibody testing in Finland, HS reported.

Back in mid-March, THL estimated that the infectious mortality rate could be in the range of 0.1 percent or less. However, THL expert Tuija Leino, told HS that the model has been adjusted to reflect age-related severity.

The spread of the virus in nursing homes has been a major problem in the Nordics. Yle News had earlier reported that most of the 75 people who have died of the virus in Finland have been elderly home care residents.

THL estimated that about three percent of those infected between the ages of 70 and 79 in Finland will not survive the illness. Mortality among 60-69 year olds in THL's current model was around 0.05 percent.

According to the report, Finland is closely monitoring the first antibody testing results emerging in Europe. In Demark, initial results indicated that about 3.5 percent of the residents in the Copenhagen metropolitan area had been infected with coronavirus — the figure was more than 60-fold higher than the confirmed cases observed in regular testing.

Antibody tests take blood from samples among the population and look at whether people have the antibodies for the virus — revealing how much of the population had already been exposed to it. Finland began gradually rolling out antibody testing last week.

Unmasking the scandal

Daily Iltalehti delves deeper into the dubious background of the company owned by Onni Sarmaste, a payday lender who was a reported intermediary in a deal with National Emergency Supply Agency (Nesa) to obtain protective equipment that failed to meet the standards required for hospital use.

According to the British Company registers, Sarmaste founded his company LDN Legal Partners Ltd in August 2019, six months before the Nesa deal. The company is headquartered in London with a "virtual office" on Regent Street. The report said that a virtual office is a cheap and easy way to elevate the image of an unknown company and gain a credible address in the desired location.

Despite its name, LDN Legal Partners is not a law firm. The company's business areas are accounting and financial management, and Sarmaste is the company's sole person in charge.

Suomen Kuvalehti reported on Thursday that Sarmaste's company acquired a Porsche Cayenne for 135,000 euros with the money received from the Nesa transactions and handed it over to a business partner living in Estonia.

The deal with Sarmaste's firm was valued at 4.9 million euros, which was paid in full to Sarmaste’s account, but only part of the order has been delivered to Finland.

Finland's national stockpile agency has requested a police investigation into the arrangement. Nesa is also demanding that Sarmaste return the money for the undelivered goods and offer a price reduction on the defective masks, according to IL.

Money down the toilet

Helsinki Region Environmental Services Authority HSY said that the coronavirus outbreak has led to a huge spike in blockages at wastewater pumping stations in the Helsinki Metropolitan Area since the beginning of March.

Tabloid Ilta-Sanomat’s report revealed that the source of the problem is people tossing hygiene products, handkerchiefs, disinfecting wipes, hand towels, tissues and wet wipes into the toilet, causing severe blockages.

"The worst so far was the first week of April when 14 pump blockages had to be dealt with. This week five blockages were cleared by Wednesday morning," said HSY unit head Petteri Jokinen.

The authority emphasised that, unlike toilet paper, other paper products do not decompose when they end up in wastewater systems and form large lumps that cause blockages.

The issue forced the mayor of Helsinki Jan Vapaavuori to take to Twitter and urge people not to toss anything that doesn’t belong there into the toilet bowl.

Residents always bear the costs of blockages, either directly or indirectly. While the costs of clearing blockages on private property are paid for by owners, other citizens pay wastewater charges for the municipality's pumping station and sewage treatment plant services. HSY authorities said having a trash bin in bathrooms can potentially save residents a lot of money in extra fees.

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