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THL researcher: Finland past the peak, gov’t now has decisions to make

The number of Covid-19 patients in hospital declined on Tuesday. 

Kuvassa on sairaanhoitaja ja hengityssuoja.
A staff member at Jyväskylä Central Hospital. Image: Tommi Anttonen / Lehtikuva

According to special researcher Simopekka Vänskä, Finland is past the peak of the first wave of coronavirus infections and the country’s leadership now has to decide which strategy is best to handle the virus.

Coronavirus case numbers are in decline all over Finland, according to Vänskä.

"According to our estimates, we can say that we are past the peak and [infection numbers are] on the way down," said Vänskä.

There is a catch. This estimate presupposes that Finland’s current regime of contact restrictions and social distancing remains in place.

If restrictions change, projections for the epidemic could change too.

Vänskä says that the models THL used in March included an R0 number (the number of people each Covid patient infects) of 1.6.

"Now R0 is one or less than one, so the number of infections is dropping," said Vänskä. "That describes the situation with the current restrictions and contacts."

Although the number has been estimated based on data from uusimaa, Finland’s largest region and the one containing the capital Helsinki, the number of coronavirus patients in hospital, both on ordinary wards and in intensive care units, has declined across the country.

Restrictions effective

The government has asked schools to bring in distance learning, people have been asked to avoid gatherings of more than ten people, and senior citizens and those in other risk groups have been asked to isolate themselves.

Restaurants were forced to restrict themselves to takeaway orders only.

Vänskä says the numbers indicate just how much people’s behaviour has changed, with pressure on healthcare services now declining.

The question for decision-makers now is whether the decline is a good or a bad thing. That depends on the strategy Finland now chooses to pursue.

"If a suppression strategy is chosen, this is in line with that," said Vänskä. "If we choose the kind of strategy that allows the virus to move through the population, this means that will take longer."

Up to now Finland has tried to slow down the spread of the disease so that intensive care capacity is not exceeded.

Kirsi Varhila, the senior official at the Ministry for Social Affairs and Health, has suggested that the current regime of restrictions could be loosened and targeted more narrowly, if testing and tracing capabilities were expanded to allow a switch to a suppression strategy.

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