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Thursday's papers: Covid concerns and Biden hopes

Finland is concerned about low test numbers and new Covid variants.

Biden puhuu puhujanpöntön takaa lavalla kongressitalon edustalla. Hän nostaa molempia käsiään.
US President Joe Biden at his inaugural speech on 20 January 2020. Image: Patrick Semansky / EPA

Since Christmas the number of Covid cases confirmed in Finland has remained fairly steady, with the peak seen in December levelling off and even declining.

That does not mean that the epidemic is going away. Ilta-Sanomat carries a story using quotes from Markus Mäkijärvi, Chief Physician at Helsinki University hospital district, drawing attention to low test numbers as a worrying sign.

He says that the number of people going for Covid tests dropped significantly over the Christmas period. For the last couple of weeks, the positivity rate has been 3.5 percent.

On the one hand, that could mean that people got infected less if they were not at work and stayed within family groups over the holidays.

On the other hand, it could mean that the virus has been spreading unseen among people with relatively mild symptoms or no symptoms at all — but how many cases could that involve?

"That's a really difficult question," said Mäkijärvi. "It could be that each day there are dozens of undiagnosed cases."

He adds that it's a 'civic duty' to get tested, and that combined with vaccines that is the only real way out of the pandemic.

Minister urges vigilance

Helsingin Sanomat also has a report on Covid worries. Minister of Social Affairs and Health Aino-Kaisa Pekonen says that she's concerned about the new variants that spread more easily among the population, and wants several policy adjustments to help fight the epidemic.

She says the Ministry of the Interior is drawing up plans to expand testing, but there is a problem. Finland's ability to make testing compulsory is limited, and lots of people arriving on ferries from Tallinn do not want to be tested.

Pekonen says that's because they don't want to have to isolate if they get a positive result, as that would mean staying at home with no income.

Many construction workers who commute from Tallinn are not eligible for Finnish social security benefits, including state-supported quarantine payments, for which most of the workforce is eligible.

To tackle that issue, Pekonen wants to see a special epidemic payment brought in to ensure people don't go to work when sick because they can't afford to stay home.

She also urges employers to act responsibly and demand a negative Covid test before workers can be on-site.

Biden begins

The main story in all the big newspapers in Finland is the inauguration of US President Joe Biden. The ceremony was streamed live on television in Finland and commentary was plentiful as the new president was sworn in.

Although crowds were sparse in Washington DC, there was one Finn on hand to observe proceedings: Ambassador Mikko Hautala.

Iltalehti has quotes from Hautala, who said he did not expect big changes in the Finnish-American relationship.

"In politics it's been a really tense and risky time, and now we have at least moved one stage forward into a new era," said Hautala.

That new era will involve a return to a more collaborative and multilateral diplomacy from the US, according to Hautala.

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