Finland is in the acceleration phase of the current stage of the coronavirus epidemic and mask recommendations should be observed nationwide, public health officials said on Thursday.
Speaking during a weekly briefing on the state of the epidemic in Finland, Finnish Institute of Health and Welfare's (THL) infectious diseases head Taneli Puumalainen said that officials recorded 111 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, bringing the overall total to 10,103.
As a result, recommendations on mask use have been extended to cover the entire country, Puumalainen said. Face masks should be used in public transport, at upper secondary and vocational schools and at universities. In addition, they should also be worn in public indoor spaces and at public events where close contact cannot be avoided.
Puumalainen stressed that masks should be used during all indoor events where distancing is not possible. He said that the aim of mask usage was to avoid a total shutdown of society. However he noted that while masks alone would not curb the spread of the virus, they are beneficial.
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Rise in infections among young people
The THL infectious diseases head said that this autumn young people were most affected by the virus. He said that during the week of 21 September, more than 70 percent of confirmed infections were among under 50-year-olds, while 45 percent involved under 30-year-olds.
Additionally, an increasing number of diagnoses originated from domestic clusters and mass exposures to Covid-19. These in turn have caused additional outbreaks, public health officials noted.
Infections have been reported among families, at private gatherings, at workplaces, hobbies and educational institutions. However very few cases of exposure at schools or daycares have led to further infections they added. Meanwhile on Wednesday the THL expert linked a series of clusters in the Helsinki region to bars and restaurants.
"A large number of infections has occurred at home and in family circles," Puumalainen said.
"In addition it has been noted both here and abroad that large numbers of infections have occurred during late hours at bars and restaurants," he continued.
Puumalainen pointed to Iceland, where 100 people were infected at two establishments, causing the epidemic to spread from those clusters.
Difficulty tracing sources of infection
Adding to concerns about the spread of the virus, the THL said that officials were unable to trace the source of infection in about half of all cases nationwide during the week of 21 September. The majority of untraced cases were in the Helsinki University Hospital District (HUS), where the source of infection was unknown in two-thirds of cases.
Elsewhere in the country, the source of infection was unclear in about one-fifth of cases, indicative of large regional variations in tracing efforts. In Pirkanmaa, officials have been able to trace as many as 85 percent of new corona cases.
Just five percent of new infections came from outside of Finland, officials said.
Meanwhile the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health said that a number of hospital districts are in the acceleration phase of the epidemic. They include HUS as well as authorities in Pirkanmaa, Kanta-Häme, Southern Savo, Northern Savo and the Central Finland hospital district.
The ministry said that the incidence of new coronavirus cases had increased in 13 of 20 hospital districts and was especially marked in HUS, Southern Savo, Northern Karelia, Northern Savo and Southern Karelia.
"We have good examples that we can stop the spread when we take the situation seriously and this has happened in several municipalities," ministry strategic director Liisa-Maria Voipio-Pulkki said.
THL’s Puumalainen noted that officials in Kainuu, Mikkeli and Kuhmo had acted swiftly to address the situation.
The THL had previously called on hospital districts to set up websites where residents could check local restrictions and recommendations.
Edit: Updated at 1:19pm to reflect updated number of coronavirus infections according to the THL.