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THL's Salminen: Epidemic peak still ahead; even those with mild symptoms should be tested

Officials aim to significantly boost testing and tracing of those possibly exposed to the virus.

THL:n terveysturvallisuusosaston johtaja Mika Salminen
Mika Salminen, Director of Health Security at the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) was interviewed on Yle's Ykkösaamu programme. Image: Yle

The peak of the coronavirus epidemic still lies ahead, says Professor Mika Salminen, a senior official at the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL). The institute’s Director of Health Security was interviewed on Yle's TV1 on Saturday.

He urges people to get tested for Covid-19 even if they only have mild symptoms.

According to Salminen, this is part of a new strategy through which authorities aim to significantly increase testing and tracing of those who may have been exposed to the virus.

Six weeks after declaring a state of emergency, Prime Minister Sanna Marin said on Wednesday that the government was planning to re-evaluate its coronavirus measures and considering a move toward a hybrid strategy. It follows recommendations from WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who has urged countries to "isolate, test, treat and trace" in order to “suppress and control the epidemic”.

Salminen says that these steps have already been in place, but that they will be stepped up. Officials are also looking into launching a mobile app to help track infections.

He says that actually suppressing the epidemic is unlikely.

“We’re trying to suppress the seriousness of the illness as much as possible, but it’s completely unrealistic to think that we could somehow rid the world of this coronavirus,” he told Yle. And he said that a vaccine will not be available for at least a year and a half, according to the most optimistic estimates.

Lifting of restrictions possible

In the shorter term, expanded testing could help pave the way for a gradual dismantling of restrictions.

“Now that testing capacity has grown, it’s at least possible to think about whether through testing and even more effective tracking of infection chains, we could lighten some of the restrictions,” Salminen said.

“Spring is coming and the influenza season is almost over, so there are fewer people with symptoms due to that. And with the coronavirus, we’ve been able to slow the epidemic, and there are fewer [new] cases,” said Salminen.

Nearly 75,000 people have been tested in Finland so far. Some 4,475 of these tests have come back positive. In relation to Finland’s population, this suggests that the prevalence of 79 cases per 100,000 people, the institute says.

As of Saturday, 177 deaths associated with the disease had been reported, just over half of them men. The median age of those who have died is 84, according to the THL.

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