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Tests dispel coronavirus fears in Finland

Two tourists from China tested negative for the Wuhan strain of coronavirus, public health officials said Friday evening.

Ivalon lentoasema.
Ivalo airport in northern Finland. Officials say Finland is not screening for the Wuhan strain of coronavirus at its borders. Image: Tarmo Lehtosalo / Lehtikuva

Two tourists thought to have been possibly infected with coronavirus were said to be not suffering from the infectious disease, Finnish public health officials said on Friday evening.

Lead physician Outi Liisananti of the northern municipality of Inari said at a press conference that she was relieved when sample analyses cleared the tourists of suspicion of infection.

She added that the patients were likely suffering from a viral respiratory infection and that it was not influenza. Liisananti told daily Helsingin Sanomat that the patients were a father and son, whom she described as "robust young people in good health".

The patients had been quarantined at the Ivalo health centre. The mother of the family had also been quarantined as a precautionary measure, HS reported.

Samples analysed at THL lab

The National Institute for Health and Welfare, THL, where the patients' samples were analysed, issued a statement on Friday evening confirming the test results. The agency said that it has a low threshold for investigating possible cases of coronavirus infection.

"Individual cases of Wuhan coronavirus related to international mobility and tourism are possible in Finland. Rapid identification of disease cases is important for effective control measures to reduce the risk of further infections," THL chief medical officer Taneli Puumalainen said in the statement.

The tourists from Wuhan, who arrived in Finland via Norway, had been visiting Lapland and sought treatment for flu-like symptoms at a health centre in Ivalo on Thursday evening.

Samples had been taken from the patients for testing in Helsinki on Friday morning.

Peak season for Chinese tourism in Lapland

Thousands of Chinese tourists are reportedly visiting Northern Finland at the moment. Tourism officials estimated Friday that Chinese New Year celebrations at the end of January may increase the number of guests at Rovaniemi hotels, in particular.

"The Chinese tourist season is just beginning. Chinese New Year falls on the coming Saturday and that's when they come here on long vacations here," Visit Rovaniemi CEO Sanna Kärkkäinen said.

In February 2019, nearly 10,000 visitors from China, Hong Kong and Taiwan arrived in Rovaniemi and over 17,000 overnight stays were recorded.

More than 800 people have been infected with the disease in China and at least 26 have died. So far the World Health Organisation has not declared an international emergency

Common signs of the novel coronavirus include fever, coughing, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties, according to the WHO.

Guidelines for travellers

On Thursday, the THL published travel guidelines urging travellers to China to take precautions against infection.

The agency called on travellers to follow proper hand hygiene, avoid contact with anyone with a respiratory tract infection and to steer clear of markets selling live and dead animals for human consumption.

Tourists have also been instructed to avoid consuming uncooked or poorly-cooked meat, unpasteurised dairy products and unwashed vegetables and fruits.

The THL also issued strict instructions to people returning from Wuhan to Finland to immediately contact their nearest health centres if they develop a fever, cough or shortness of breath.

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