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THL unlikely to recommend school closures if pandemic re-emerges

The benefits of school closures 'don't outweigh the harm,' according to THL director Mika Salminen.

Tyhjä luokkahuone Vesilahden yhtenäiskoulussa.
The THL says school closures have had little benefit. Image: Miikka Varila / Yle

Mika Salminen, Director of Health Security at the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL), says that authorities will respond differently if a second wave of the coronavirus pandemic hits Finland.

According to Salminen, Finnish health officials now have better understanding of the disease's clinical picture, its burden on the healthcare system and who are most at risk of falling ill.

Speaking on Yle Radio 1 on Monday, Salminen said his agency would probably not recommend closing schools again. He said that studies indicate that the harm caused by school closures outweighs the possible benefit.

'Benefits don't outweigh the harm'

"There has been quite a lot of evidence that the benefits do not really outweigh the harm to children. I don't believe that at least we [at the THL] could recommend that measure anymore," Salminen said on the Ykkösaamu programme.

On Friday the THL said that closures of daycare centres and schools last spring had negligible impact on infections among children. The study was based on comparison of coronavirus infections, hospital treatment and mortality among those aged 1 to 19 in Finland and neighbouring Sweden, where rates of infection and death have been far higher.

Finland has had five deaths from coronavirus in the past month, and only a handful of patients in intensive care since late June.

Tuija Kumpulainen, Director General for Communities and Functional Capacity at the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, said that public awareness will be crucial in the response to a possible second wave.

"It is easier to talk with a population that is aware. Back then [in March and April] it was frightening. People were not used to the idea that they had to keep their distance and only go to shop rarely. Now it's the new normal, in a way," Kumpulainen said.

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