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Officials track down most of those exposed to coronavirus in Finland

Finnish health officials have contacted 17 of 21 travellers thought to have been exposed to coronavirus in Finnish Lapland.

Lapin keskussairaalan kyltti talvella
Virus detectives from the Lapland hospital district have tracked down most travellers suspected of exposure to coronavirus. Image: Maija-Liisa Juntti / Yle

On Sunday Lapland health officials said they had contacted three more travellers—already back in Singapore and France—suspected to have been exposed to the virus in Finnish Lapland.

Markku Broas, an infectious diseases specialist at the Lapland hospital district, said health authorities had lowered the number of people possibly exposed to 21 from 24 after information emerged that fewer people than initially believed were present at an excursion with the infected individual. Earlier this week, Finland confirmed its first case in a young woman visiting Lapland from Wuhan in China, where the virus emerged in December

Broas said that if the Chinese woman was not exhibiting symptoms, plans for her return travel could already be made next week, provided she tests negative for coronavirus on two consecutive days.

Finnish officials are still trying to confirm the identity of four travellers exposed to the virus in Saariselkä, Finnish Lapland.

Many Chinese tourists are currently visiting Lapland, though China’s travel restrictions have significantly dampened visitor volumes.

"The incubation period for coronavirus ranges from two to 12 days, making it possible for new travel-related cases to still emerge in Finland," Taneli Puumalainen of Finnish health watchdog THL told Yle on Sunday.

Mortality rate 2%

Figures from this weekend show 14,000 confirmed coronavirus cases in China, the majority in Hubei province, China's centre of the epidemic. The virus has claimed more than 300 lives in China. This weekend a man died of coronavirus in the Philippines, marking the first confirmed fatality outside China.

"In light of these numbers the mortality rate of coronavirus is around two percent," Puumalainen said.

He added that when asymptomatic, coronavirus does not transmit easily.

"The ability of asymptomatic people to infect others seems very low. There can of course be exceptions, but when looking at the bigger picture this hardly ever happens."

Most of those infected are middle-aged or older and many of those dying had an underlying illness. The number of children coming down with coronavirus is very small, according to Puumalainen.

"This is the opposite of influenza, where lots of children are sick and who are pretty efficient at spreading the infection. Now it looks as if it’s the grandparents spreading the virus," he explained.

Finns leave Wuhan

Finland’s embassy in Beijing helped three Finns in Wuhan board a France-bound evacuation flight that landed in Marseille at 4pm on Sunday. The Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs said French officials would handle any further health-related issues of the 350 European citizens on board.

The Finnish embassy in Beijing has meanwhile said it will continue to help Finns evacuate Hubei province.

In Finland, the Lapland Police Department this week said that it had received several inquiries about the possibility of extending Chinese tourist visas. These inquiries have come from both individual travellers and tour operators.

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