Coronavirus infections appear to be spreading into Finnish Lapland from across the Swedish border in spite of movement restrictions imposed under the state of emergency, one of the region's top infectious disease specialists has said.
Although the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in Lapland is small compared to other regions, with 13 cases reported as of Saturday, numbers have more than doubled in the last three days, with medics saying they are no longer able to trace the chains of infection.
“During the last week we have clearly seen situations where there is a strong suspicion that the infection can be traced back to Sweden,” Dr Markku Broas of Lapland Central Hospital said.
Sweden's Norrbotten county, across the border, has confirmed around twice the number of infections recorded in Finnish Lapland.
The government announced the closure of Finland's borders on Thursday 19March under state of emergency legislation, and later banned workers commuting from Estonia.
However Lapland's frontier with Sweden has remained open for “essential”journeys through a reduced number of designated crossing points. Around 2,000 crossings continue to be made each day, the Finnish Border Guard has estimated, although cross-border traffic has fallen by 90 percent.
“It is a significant risk when so many people are coming through the border everyday. Cases can be brought from the Swedish side and cause infections herein Finland, adding to the epidemic risk. Of course the same can also be happening in the opposite direction, too,” Broas said.
Broas called for a“similar policy” for the Lapland border as has been applied to workers from Estonia, who were forbidden from commuting in and out ofFinland on 22 March in an attempt to stem the spread of the coronavirus.
Interior Minister Maria Ohisalo said that the government will discuss the question of further border restrictions this weekend.
However, the Green party leader added that the government has so far tried to keep movement across the Lapland border as free as possible due to the many people who rely on crossing between the two countries for many aspects of their daily life.
She also rejected comparisons between the Lapland crossing and the Finland-Estonia sea border.
“The border with Sweden is a natural employment region, where families and jobs ares pread across both sides. The border does not usually interfere with everyday life. In the case of Estonia the commute is longer,” Ohisalo said.