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Gov't-appointed panel recommends mask use until coronavirus vaccine available

A debate over whether face masks should be used by the general public in Finland has persisted for some time.

Vanha mies kävelee tien yli kasvosuojain päässä.
Man wearing face mask walks alone in Helsinki. Image: Arttu Timonen / Yle

A government-appointed scientific panel has recommended the use of protective masks in public and on public transportation to reduce the spread of coronavirus until a vaccine is found.

The panel noted that the risk of a second wave of the Covid-19 epidemic was significant. At the same time, work on an effective vaccine is widely expected to be completed by next year at the earliest.

The panel recommended that until there is a vaccine available, the general public should use masks when out and about, possibly depending on infection rate levels in various regions, according to the report (in Finnish).

The 13-member panel was assembled by the cabinet on 22 April. Its members represent various scientific disciplines and are charged with supporting preparatory work to deal with the aftermath of the coronavirus crisis, part of the so-called Hetemäki group, which issued the second part of its exit strategy report on Monday.

In part, that report warned of a looming, more severe second wave of coronavirus infections.

Conflicting recommendations

The debate over whether the general public should use face masks has continued in Finland for some time, and the government has not decided a policy regarding the use of face masks by the general public.

Last week the social affairs and health ministry presented a report that examined how well masks work to prevent the spread of upper respiratory infections.

The authors of the report said there was "no scientific evidence" to support the use of masks.

However, on Monday, a Helsinki University academic noted that the report on mask use omitted the latest research by virologists on the subject.

On Tuesday, foreign minister Pekka Haavisto said the use of face masks in international air travel seems to have become a regular practice.

"I think there is a new standard in European travel, at least for flights [and] that these masks are demanded by airlines," Haavisto said, adding that it would be a good idea for Finland to prepare for this situation when Finland's borders are further opened.

This story was first reported by internet politics news publication Verkkouutiset (in Finnish).

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