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THL recommends reintroducing restrictions on bars, restaurants as infections increase

THL Director of Health Security Mika Salminen told Yle Aamu that infections "easily spread" in bars and restaurants.

Mika Salminen Terveyden ja hyvinvoinnin laitoksen infossa
Salminen said that the government could reintroduce the restrictions 'on the day' if needed. Image: Pekka Tynell / Yle

Restrictions on the opening hours of bars and restaurants may need to be reintroduced as the coronavirus situation has deteriorated in some parts of Finland, according to Mika Salminen, Director of Health Security at the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare THL.

Salminen said in an interview with the breakfast show Yle Aamu on Thursday morning that the health agency will be reporting about 300 new coronavirus infections on Thursday, as case numbers have spiked in recent weeks.

A large proportion of the latest cases are connected to infection chains formed by returnees from the European Football Championship game in St. Petersburg between Finland and Belgium at the end of last month. More than 450 cases have been confirmed among the football tourists, but precautionary measures have limited the spread to 165 further infections.

"The good thing is that people have mainly acted as they should, and those quarantined have remained in quarantine," Salminen said.

However, larger regional chains of infection have also been traced back to bars and restaurants.

"Unfortunately, bars and restaurants have played a pretty clear role here. It is quite clearly an environment where infections easily spread," Salminen said.

Currently, bars and restaurants are allowed to be open as normal across the country, with the exception of the Uusimaa region, where opening hours are restricted to between 5am and 1am. Salminen said that more areas may have to follow Uusimaa's regulations, adding that the government could reintroduce the restrictions as early as Thursday, if needed.

Vaccines: the light at the end of the tunnel

Salminen also spoke about Finland's vaccine rollout on the morning show, saying that a British study has found two doses of a coronavirus vaccine provide between 94 and 98 percent protection against the virus' known variants.

"I am very optimistic that vaccines will bring us back to normality," Salminen said. "As summer passes and autumn begins, we'll be in a situation where mortality and hospitalisation rates should start to decrease sharply."

Salminen added that the agency is also considering whether to vaccinate the population with a third dose. At the moment, however, the latest research suggests that vaccines provide much longer protection than had previously been estimated, he said.

He also highlighted the need to attend vaccine appointments on time and in one's home municipality, despite summer holiday plans. In Helsinki, vaccination centres are struggling to deal with inconsistent attendance at vaccination centres with the callback queue for appointments stretching to thousands of people.

"We don't have any excess vaccines. They cannot be sent all over Finland. These are vaccines that cannot withstand transportation," Salminen said.

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