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HUS: Time to take face masks seriously

HUS officials said infection sources are known in just 16 percent of cases, meaning Covid can be contracted anywhere.

Ihmisiä kasvomaskit päällä Helsingin rautatieasemalla
Image: Henrietta Hassinen/Yle

Officials from the Helsinki University Hospital district (HUS) said on Friday that they would "strongly recommend" that people use face masks as proposed by the Finnish Institute of Health and Welfare, THL.

"Face mask use must finally be taken seriously, guidelines have been given. [They should be used in] public transport, public places, and in gatherings -- wherever safe distances cannot be observed," HUS medical director Markku Mäkijärvi told Yle on Friday.

"In addition, we recommend that there are no large private events and that they be postponed. At the same time, it is extremely important that organisers who have events have a corona safety plan and that they ensure that the plans are followed," he continued, adding that events should have no more than 20 people.

Listen to our All Points North podcast discuss how Finns seem reluctant to use masks. You can listen via the embedded player here or via Yle Areena, Spotify, Apple Podcasts or your usual podcast player using the RSS feed.

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On Thursday, the public health agency THL expanded guidelines on the use of masks from public transport to include indoor spaces and public events where keeping a safe distance from others might be difficult.

At a separate press conference on Friday, Mäkijärvi said that the densely-populated HUS region is in an acceleration phase of the coronavirus epidemic, particularly in large municipalities and central Uusimaa. He noted that there are municipal differences but pointed out that there is a lot of inter-city movement. He described the situation as worrying and said that measures are needed to rein in the epidemic.

Mäkijärvi listed a number of other measures such as telecommuting and said that the use of masks is now "strongly recommended."

One-third of exposures at daycares, schools

Deputy medical chief of staff Eeva Ruotsalainen said that people should have a critical approach to organising private events and should consider their size. She also advised hosting no more than 20 people, perhaps even less. Guidelines relating to schools are being considered on a municipal basis due to varying risk levels in local communities in the Uusimaa region, she added.

Ruotsalainen said during the press conference that incidents of group exposures to the virus involving 10 or more people have tested municipalities. These mass exposures have occurred at schools, during extracurricular activities, in restaurants and at bars and private events in particular.

She added that there have been some 2,000 incidents of people being exposed to Covid-19 each week in the HUS region. Daycares and schools account for 37 percent of all such cases, followed by private events and group hobbies such as ice hockey.

Ruotsalainen said that after a latent phase of the epidemic during the summer, the situation has changed considerably. She said infections doubled in mid-September and that the source of infection is known in just 16 percent of cases, suggesting that the virus can be contracted virtually anywhere.

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