The number of coronavirus patients in need of intensive care treatment in Finland has remained "stubbornly high" since the summer, according to a specialist report, despite the steady progress of vaccination coverage.
The latest report from the Finnish Coordination Office for Coronavirus Treatment has revealed that the number of patients in need of intensive care jumped in August from about 10 to just over 30 patients.
"In recent weeks, the number of patients [in intensive care units] has remained stubbornly high, at between 20 and 30 patients," Professor Matti Reinikainen of the coordination office told Yle.
Currently there are 29 patients being treated in intensive care units across the country, according to the latest figures provided by the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare THL.
Reinikainen added that the future need for intensive care treatment will be substantially affected by the number of unvaccinated people in the population.
"If unvaccinated people spread the epidemic, the need for intensive care may increase significantly," he said, adding that there are two main reasons for concern: the virus is directly life-threatening for some people, and as restrictions are lifted, contacts will increase.
"If the number of unvaccinated people remains high, serious cases of the disease can also occur," he pointed out.
"The end is not yet in sight"
According to the government's latest guidelines, the most important indicators for monitoring the epidemic include monitoring the number of hospital and intensive care patients instead of daily infection rates. This practice was changed because vaccination coverage should reduce the number of more serious forms of the disease.
However, Reinikainen told Yle that the need for intensive care has not yet decreased as fast as had been hoped.
"And the end of this need is not yet in sight," he said, emphasising that this could impact when restrictions are fully lifted and life returns to normality.
The government has stated that restrictions could be extensively lifted as early as October, in line with the projected increase in vaccination coverage. The goal set by the government for this to happen is 80 percent vaccination coverage for the population aged 12 years and over.
"There is still plenty of work to be done, because the virus can spread quickly even within localised clusters," Reinikainen said, citing the return of football fans from Russia in June as an example of how the situation can deteriorate rapidly due to clusters of infections.
An estimated 16 percent of patients that have been treated in intensive care units in Finland have died, according to figures provided by the Coordination Office for Coronavirus Treatment.
"There are also young adults among them," Reinikainen added.