The coronavirus epidemic has worsened in Southwest Finland, which will prompt authorities to reintroduce restrictions across the region.
On Tuesday, Southwest Finland's coronavirus coordination group determined that the region had entered the spreading phase of the epidemic, due to the increasing number of new cases of the upper respiratory illness.
According to information obtained by Yle, the Helsinki metropolitan area will also be downgraded to the epidemic's spreading phase, enabling authorities to re-introduce coronavirus-related restrictions.
However, metropolitan area schools are still set to reopen for in-person teaching later this month, according to Yle's information.
The coronavirus coordination groups of the Helsinki metropolitan area and the region of Uusimaa met separately to discuss the situation on Tuesday.
The Pirkanmaa region was also deemed to be in the spreading phase on Tuesday.
Uusimaa remains in acceleration phase
It was reported at around 6pm on Tuesday that the coronavirus coordination group in Uusimaa deemed that the region would remain in the acceleration, or second-most serious, phase of the epidemic. That decision does not affect the greater Helsinki area, which was classified as being in the spreading phase.
According to the Helsinki and Uusimaa Hospital District's chief medical officer Teppo Heikkilä, the coordination group still recommends people to work remotely and to use face masks in public places. However, the group was now recommending that people also wear masks at outdoor public events, according to news service STT.
Tuesday's assessments that the Helsinki metropolitan area, Southwest Finland and Pirkanmaa were in the spreading phase of the epidemic is expected to put pressure on Prime Minister Sanna Marin's (SDP) government to tighten restrictions on restaurants in coming days.
For example, the regional state administrative agency in Southwest Finland said it hoped that the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health will tighten restaurant restrictions in the region.
If the government follows through and decides to raise restaurant restrictions, it would likely mean the shortening of opening hours and limiting the number of customers permitted in eating and drinking establishments. Previously, the government ordered eateries and bars to stop selling alcoholic beverages at 10pm and to close an hour later.
The government is scheduled to meet on Thursday to discuss the coronavirus situation and decide whether to reissue previous restrictions despite an overall improvement in vaccination coverage compared to the spring.
The government's decisions about possible coronavirus restrictions is expected to be completed by next week at the earliest.
The Hospital District of Southwest Finland's case incidence rate stood at just over 174 per 100,000 inhabitants over the past two weeks as of Tuesday. At the same time, the number of cases that could be traced to their source had declined.
"Last week, only half of the cases were traced," Turku University Central Hospital's chief infectious diseases physician Esa Rintala said.
Additionally, 5.1 percent of the region's coronavirus tests came back positive. For a region to be considered in the spreading phase, more than two percent of tests need to be positive.
Masks and events
Rintala said that people in the region should be using face masks while in contact with others and that remote working recommendations remained in widespread practice.
The reintroduced restrictions mean that schools will require pupils in the fourth grade and up to wear face masks. However, group hobbies are still being allowed to continue.
The region's coronavirus coordination group said it wanted to ensure that children and young people could continue their normal activities and hobbies for as long as possible, while also following safe distancing guidelines and wearing masks.
The region spent the first half of June in the community transmission phase, but following improvements was downgraded to the baseline level of the epidemic on 16 June.
The Regional State Administrative Agency for Southwest Finland (AVI) was on Tuesday preparing updated guidance regarding restrictions on gatherings at public events, according to the agency's senior director Heikki Mäki.
Experts in Pirkanmaa also deemed the region to be in the spreading phase of the epidemic on Tuesday.
The coronavirus case incidence rate in the region, which is home to the city of Tampere, stood at 149 cases per 100,000 inhabitants over the past two weeks, according to deputy chief physician Janne Laine, who noted that the figure is higher than the national average.
About 71 percent of recent new cases have been traced to their source, according to Laine. The largest number of new cases this week were seen in people aged 20-29, but cases among those 30-39 years of age had significantly increased compared to a week earlier.
During the period of June to July, more than half of those being treated for coronavirus infections in Pirkanmaa were in either of those two age groups. However new cases among those aged 40-59 were also rising in the region, with their numbers doubling over the past week.
Covid cases up
Finland recorded 692 new lab-confirmed coronavirus cases over the past day, the Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) reported on Tuesday.
The largest number of new cases, 322, were diagnosed in the Helsinki and Uusimaa Hospital District, while the second-most cases, 120, were confirmed in the hospital district of Pirkanmaa.
The institute said that there were a total of 97 people receiving hospital treatment for coronavirus-related infections as of Tuesday, an increase of four patients over the past day. Seven of the hospitalised patients were in intensive care.
This story was updated at 6.30pm on Tuesday 3.8.2021 to add details about the Uusimaa region's epidemic status as well as decisions expected by the Finnish government in coming days.