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Researcher casts doubt on tourist testing scheme

Modeling indicates no grounds for the government requirement to double test tourists from high-risk countries.

Kuvassa lähihoitaja Viitanen tekee 10-vuotiaalle pojalle koronavirustestin Helsingissä elokuussa 2020.
A health worker taking a sample for coronavirus testing in Helsinki, August 2020. Image: Silja Viitala / Yle

According to risk management modeling by Miika Linna, Docent of Health Economics at Aalto University, there are no solid grounds the double coronavirus testing of travelers from high-risk countries as proposed by the Finnish government.

Under the government's proposal, visitors from countries with fewer than 25 coronavirus cases per 100,000 inhabitants can travel to Finland freely as of Saturday 19 September. On November 23, Finland is to move to a permanent testing practice requiring a negative test result within three days before arrival for anyone from a country over the 25/100,000 limit, and a second test for those from these countries staying in Finland for more than three days. Travelers will have to go into mandatory quarantine while awaiting test results.

At the moment, for example British tourists, who are important for Christmas season tourism in Lapland, would be subjected to double testing and quarantine, as the incidence rate in the UK is now about 50 cases per 100,000.

In a study commissioned by the Finnish Lapland Tourist Board, Linna found that his risk management model indicated that travelers from from “green light” countries who are not tested have a higher potential for spreading infection than those from high-risk countries who are required to test negative before arrival.

Modeling showed the infectivity of untested individuals is twice as high. As an example, Linna looked at countries with an incidence rate of 25/100,000 and 40/100,000 and calculated the infectivity from a group of 50,000 tourists on three-day and five-day stays.

"According to calculations, it seems that a test taken in the country of origin within three days before arriving in Finland has a great significance for infectivity," Linna says.

"Retesting is not reasonable"

Representatives of Lapland tourism industry have been highly critical of the government's plan for requiring double testing of visitors from high-risk countries.

Linna does not consider requiring tourists to retake the test to be an appropriate response in light of his results.

"The second test does not seem reasonable as it would find fewer cases than in the so-called risk-free population that has not been tested before a trip," Linna says.

As the government's testing scheme has turned out to be highly contentious Linna stressed to Yle that he is a university researcher and has no direct involvement in tourism or the work of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health.

In comments to Yle on Friday morning Economic Affairs Minister Mika Lintilä noted that there are differences in the interpretation of the government's testing policy. He himself understands it to not include a period of mandatory quarantine.

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