Finland’s state agencies, including the Social Insurance Institution (Kela) and the Finnish Tax Administration, have ordered large quantities of personal protective equipment (PPE) ahead of an expected official recommendation on the use of face masks in public places on Thursday.
"At the point when it started to look like such a recommendation might be coming, we wanted to make sure that they were available if the situation required it," Kela Director Nina Nissilä told Yle.
The benefits agency has pre-ordered hundreds of thousands of units of two different models of face masks, Nissilä said.
"We have ordered 250,000 lighter model surgical mouth guards from an office supplies distributor, as well as 10,000 units of the FFP2-level model," she said, adding that the masks are ready to be delivered to Kela offices within a few days, if necessary.
"The masks are still at our supplier's premises, but they can deliver them to the Kela offices with a 1-2 day notice if they are needed," Nissilä said.
Masks intended primarily for employees
Finland’s Tax Administration has also ordered protective equipment in advance with the government's expected mask recommendation in mind.
"Based on a possible recommendation, we have now ordered 27,000 face masks," the office’s Administrative Director Tommi Kämpe said, adding that he believes the supply will be sufficient for a few weeks of usage by members of staff.
"This is intended as additional protection for staff. We will wait to see how strict the government's policy will be with regard to the Tax Administration's customer service facilities," Kämpe said.
Meanwhile Kela's Nissilä estimated that her agency's mask order should last for about two months, but added that it will depend on how, and to whom, the supplies are distributed.
"We have customer service. People also have to commute on public transport during the day to get to and from work. We will wait to see how the government specifies by whom they will be used," Nissilä added.
Official recommendation expected on Thursday
The Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) is intending to publish a recommendation on the use of face masks in public spaces on Thursday, THL Director General Markku Tervahauta told Yle.
Tervahauta said the recommendation would be related to the use of masks in spaces where it is not possible to keep a safe distance from other people, such as on public transport, and that there would be regional variations.
"We have prepared it so that there is a numerical value related to the rate of infection, on the basis of which the recommendation would be valid. Several hospital districts exceed the numerical value of our draft, but we are yet to see where the final bar will be set," Tervahauta said.
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The draft recommendation will not include an age limit for use of masks, Tervahauta added, and THL will not make a recommendation on which types of masks should be used, or who will pay for them.
"Acquiring it is everyone's own responsibility," he said.
The cost of masks, and who will pay for them, has been the subject of much public debate in Finland over recent weeks. Based on calculations made by Yle, the cost of using masks by a family of four could cost up to 240 euros a month.
Eveliina Hostila, CEO of Hope, which helps low-income families with children, told Yle's Finnish language Takaisin Pasilaan podcast that the recommendation could be a disaster for already-struggling families.
"When a family saves practically everything: clothes, food, children do not go to friends' birthdays and there are no hobbies - then it is no longer possible to make such purchases," Hostila said.