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Helsinki, regions extend Covid restrictions

Several Finnish regional authorities announced restrictions would remain in place.

Jan Vapaavuori Ylen haastattelussa PKS koronakoordinaatiorymän tiedotustilaisuudessa.
Helsinki Mayor Jan Vapaavuori (NCP) said at a press conference on Tuesday that schools would stay open in Helsinki. Image: Matti Myller / Yle

Several Finnish regions said on Tuesday that their coronavirus restrictions will remain in place until late January, after leaders warned that low test numbers over Christmas may mean Finland doesn't have a true picture of the epidemic situation in the country.

In south-west Finland restrictions will continue until 24 January, with only children in grades 4-6 and 7-9 returning to full-time contact teaching after the holiday. In the Pirkanmaa region centred on Tampere, some children's hobbies can begin again from Sunday 10 January.

But Helsinki Mayor Jan Vapaavuori (NCP) said that restrictions in the capital area would stay in place until 31 January.

"The capital city region's co-ordination group has decided that all restrictions and recommendations that focus on public spaces, hobbies, public and private gatherings and secondary education will continue for three weeks until the last day of January," Vapaavuori said.

No school closures

This means that municipally-organised hobbies indoors are suspended, along with outdoor hobbies for over-20-year-olds.

Facilities open to crowds such as cinemas, museums and youth clubs, are to remain closed, while public and private gatherings of more than ten people are also still banned.

The mayor said that officials would investigate ways secondary pupils who have exams this year might return to contact teaching, and that comprehensive schools (those for children under 16) would continue to deliver in-person teaching.

Vapaavuori told Yle that schools would remain open for contact teaching in the capital, despite government requests that local authorities take all available measures to slow the spread.

"Central government's directions have been a little bit open to interpretation," said Vapaavuori. "It has also been mentioned that special consideration should be taken with regards to children and young people. In the last update before Christmas, comprehensive schools were not mentioned at all."

"It could be interpreted as meaning that central government is thinking that they are the very last measures, to close schools delivering compulsory education and switching to remote learning," Vapaavuori added.

Low testing numbers

The Helsinki co-ordination group includes representation from public health bodies and regulators, along with local government.

At Tuesday's press conference they said that the percentage of cases that were traced to foreign sources had risen, but a true picture of the epidemic situation was difficult to provide due to a low number of tests being carried out over the Christmas and New Year period.

Helsinki University hospital district reported a positivity rate of 3.51 percent in the week up to 3 January, a jump from 2.53 percent in the preceding week.

The number of tests dropped from 32,637 in the week to 27 December to 21,153 in the week to 3 January.

Taneli Puumalainen from the National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) said that this dip meant a lot of cases might be going unreported, and the coming days would show the true direction.

"Hospitals' bed occupancy has not risen, but it hasn't fallen either over Christmas," said Puumalainen. "Infection numbers are still at too high a level."

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