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What happens after Finland eases restrictions on Monday?

HUS says it's prepared to treat more Covid-19 patients after Finland's tentative return to normal life.

ihmisiä piknikillä Tokoinrannassa
Ahead of restaurants reopening, Helsinki residents have been picnicking in public parks. Image: Markku Pitkänen / Yle

Coronavirus cases in the country have been declining over the past month, but health officials in the capital region say they expect local infection rates to rise as Finland relaxes rules for public gatherings.

Restaurants in Finland will once again welcome eat-in customers on Monday, 1 June, sporting events will go ahead and public gatherings will be expanded from ten to 50 people.

"Things could have been worse"

Kirsi Varhila, permanent secretary of the Social Affairs and Health Ministry (MSAH), told Yle she believed the positive trend would continue as restrictions to limit the contagion ease. She praised the hospitality sector's efforts to self-regulate and said Finland's relatively good situation reflected the government rolling out restrictions at the right time and residents' willingness to follow guidelines.

"We knew when to react when someone needed hospital care. Unfortunately people have also died. However relatively few people passed away in relation to what could have been the case," she explained.

Varhila said nursing homes are now better equipped at caring for infected residents as well as those potentially carrying the virus.

"It took a while for some elder care facilities to get the message that staff should wear protective gear. But we’ve also had municipalities that immediately instructed staff to wear washable nose-and-mouth coverings, which meant carers didn’t run out of masks," she explained.

HUS braces for more Covid-19 patients

Helsinki and Uusimaa hospital district (HUS) has been the epicentre of Finland's coronavirus outbreak.

Markku Mäkijärvi, the district's chief medical director, said that while the number of in-care Covid-19 patients has been steadily declining, people are still being hospitalised for the disease.

"We still have Covid-19 patients and new suspected cases keep coming in--this disease hasn’t gone anywhere," he explained.

Mäkijärvi said he believed it was likely that the infection rate would accelerate after restaurants reopen.

"We’ve had estimates of new infections jumping by 40 percent. Some of these infections will develop to the point that people need hospital treatment. So we’ll be seeing more patients and we’re prepared for this scenario."

The effects of Finland’s gradual reopening won’t be evident until mid-June.

"Symptoms start about a week after infection. By the second week some people need hospital treatment," Mäkijärvi explained.

Both the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health as well as the Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) said there’s no single indicator gauging if restrictions should be reinstated. Officials said they are monitoring a number of factors, including testing and infection rates, the number of new cases and how many Covid-19 patients are hospitalised. Experts also consider occupancy rates in intensive care units, the number of deaths as well as recovered patients, according to Varhila.

She said the government would be able to react quickly should the current situation deteriorate.

"The government is prepared to take swift action if things start looking that way," she said.

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