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Health officials: As infections rise, mask recommendation likely, possibly on regional basis

After a quiet summer period, health officials say Covid infections are again rising, particularly among younger people.

Media haastattelee Kirsi Varhilaa.
Kirsi Varhila, Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, spoke to reporters on Thursday. Image: Jari Kärkkäinen / Yle

The top civil servant at the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health said on Thursday morning that the government would consider possible changes to restrictions on travel and other sectors later in the day.

Permanent Secretary Kirsi Varhila spoke at a briefing held by the ministry along with the National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL), re-starting the regular weekly event after the summer holidays.

As to face masks, Varhila said that current law does not allow authorities to order their use, but that she is sure there will be a recommendation to do so.

She said that authorities are still considering when that would take effect, and whether it would be national or regional. She noted that the situation in many healthcare districts remains stable.

Stockpile agency ordered to buy more PPE

Varhila said that the National Emergency Supply Agency had been ordered to spend 41 million euros more on personal protective equipment (PPE).

Liisa-Maria Voipio-Pulkki, the ministry's Director General of Strategic Affairs and Chief Medical Officer, said that the disease's basic reproduction number (R0) in Finland is once again higher than one after the quiet summer period. That means that the average infected person passes it on to more than one other person, indicating that the spread of illness is accelerating.

Also providing an overview of the coronavirus situation in Finland and around the world was Taneli Puumalainen, Chief Physician at THL. He said that the cabinet is unlikely to loosen any travel restrictions at this point.

Voipio-Pulkki said that the number of infections is indeed rising again and that most of those infected recently have been under age 30. Puumalainen noted that some of the rise can be attributed to increased social interaction among young people.

Telework still recommended if possible

According to Varhila, authorities aim to keep society as functional as possible even if restrictions are again tightened. She said officials are drawing up three road maps to cover various scenarios. If the pandemic begins to spread again, testing and tracing capacity must be expanded in particular, she said.

As of the beginning of August, the government lifted the recommendation that people work remotely whenever possible.

Varhila said that the health ministry would have preferred that this had kept in place until the autumn, and recommended that as many as possible keep telecommuting.

THL: Northern Sweden improved, Balkans a concern

Puumalainen outlined the status of the pandemic in other countries, focusing on the neighbouring Nordic and Baltic states. He noted that the situation has improved in northern Sweden, formerly a hot spot near the traditionally-open Finnish border.

The chief physician said that many infections have been brought into Finland from people who have been in Sweden and the Balkan countries.

He noted that the pandemic is picking up speed in many heavily-populated countries in Asia and Africa.

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