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Pandemic takes a turn for the worse in Uusimaa; infections at 25 Helsinki restaurants and bars in past two weeks

According to the Uusimaa Coronavirus Coordination Group, the epidemic situation has worsened in the heavily populated southern region.

Hoitaja otti nenä-nielunäytettä Mehiläisen drive-in-testausasemalla Helsingissä 2. heinäkuuta.
Taking a coronavirus sample at a Mehiläinen drive-in testing station in the parking garage of the Helsinki Fair Centre on 2 July. Image: Silja Viitala / Yle

The number of coronavirus infections has been increasing again in the Helsinki and Uusimaa (HUS) district for the past three weeks, since before the Midsummer holiday weekend. The incidence rate per 100,000 inhabitants has risen to 68 in the last two weeks.

According to Terhi Heinäsmäki, the City of Helsinki's infectious diseases specialist, the number of coronavirus infections at restaurants and bars in Helsinki has clearly increased in recent days.

"According to our calculations, one or more infections have been diagnosed in about 25 drinking places since Monday last week," she told Yle on Friday afternoon.

According to Heinäsmäki, the chains of infection were still being traced, but it is possible that each of the 25 premises may have set off a separate chain of infections through other social interactions by those affected.

For example, 20 infections had been diagnosed among guests at Kaivohuone, a night club in Helsinki's Kaivopuisto Park by Thursday. Nine of those have triggered further infections.

Story continues after photo

Ravintola Kaivohuone Kaivopuistosssa Helsingissä 7. heinäkuuta.
Helsinki's historic Kaivohuone restaurant Image: Vesa Moilanen / Lehtikuva

"Tightening restrictions on restaurants would probably reduce infections, but we should consider whether it is essential. The number of serious coronavirus clusters has not increased significantly, because people in risk groups have been vaccinated and these are mostly young adults," said Heinäsmäki.

On Thursday, the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) recommended reintroducing restrictions on restaurants and nightspots due to the resurgence in cases.

The phenomenon has also been confirmed in neighbouring Espoo, where about one every 10 infections in the last two weeks has either been confirmed or suspected to have originated from a bar or restaurant nightclub. Ten of the secondary infections linked to the Kaivohuone exposures have been among Espoo residents.

Delta variant on the march

"Infection rates have multiplied. The trend is worrying," said Anu Mustakari, Espoo's chief physician for outpatient care.

She urged Espoo residents to take their second vaccine shots at the allotted time instead of postponing them until after the summer holidays.

In the most recent lab sequencing procedures, 60 percent of all samples taken in the Uusimaa region have been of the more infectious Delta variant. Up to 80 percent of the most recent samples are delta variants.

First identified in India last October, Delta has now been detected in more than 100 countries.

Football fallout

"New infections have been reported, especially in people aged 15 to 30, whose infection rates largely explain the overall increase. Infections have spread, especially at young people's bar gatherings and parties. There are also infections linked to the European football championship," said Asko Järvinen, HUS's chief infectious diseases doctor.

The delta variant has been detected in the HUS area since early summer, but its share has clearly increased since Midsummer, linked to the return of football fans who attended European Championship matches in St Petersburg, Russia.

Reaching those exposed has been challenging, according to HUS, which likely means that there are still undetected infection chains. This suggests that infection rates will remain steady or further increase in the coming weeks, HUS said in a statement.

The spread of the variant has worsened the situation in Eastern Uusimaa, which the regional coordination group declared had shifted back to the acceleration phase of the pandemic on Thursday.

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