Surging infections force Finland’s local authorities to prioritise

Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Helsinki
Citizens wear face masks at the Hakaniemi Sunday market, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Helsinki, Finland November 1, 2020. Markku Ulander/Lehtikuva/via REUTERS

January 11, 2022

By Anne Kauranen

HELSINKI (Reuters) -Surging coronavirus infections are forcing local authorities in Finland to stray from the government’s COVID-19 strategy based on mass testing, tracking and isolation.

Helsinki and neighbouring cities recommend that people with a mild infection do not get an official test as the waiting time can now be days, city mayors and Helsinki hospital district said in a joint statement on Tuesday.

“The hospital district and cities have had to prioritise having workforce in hospital care and inoculation,” strategy director Pasi Pohjola from the health ministry told Reuters.

Finland’s minister in charge of the COVID response, Krista Kiuru, warned https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-finland-long-covid-idUSKBN2JH14W on Friday that long COVID could become Finland’s largest chronic disease and that children were also at risk. [L1N2TN0X3]

She added she feared returning to school was not safe and called for local authorities to implement strict quarantines at schools in which one pupil’s COVID infection would result in quarantine for the entire exposed class.

But Sanna Isosomppi, Helsinki’s chief epidemiologist, told Reuters the capital region’s municipalities were not going to follow the minister’s advice.

“It would be disproportionate to implement large-scale quarantines at schools when they have not been a high-risk environment to begin with,” Isosomppi said.

“Mandating quarantines is no longer an effective way to control the epidemic,” Isosomppi said.

For more than a year, the government’s main strategy to counter the pandemic has been to test and trace infections throughout society, but this week local authorities began to openly rebel against the measures.

“Tracing infections has lost its effectiveness due to delays in testing and in contacting the patients,” they said in a statement.

Helsinki and 11 other municipalities in the capital region had already said on Monday that they were giving up on mandating quarantines on infected patients in most cases, focusing their efforts only at health care units and elderly care units.

Instead, authorities recommended anyone with symptoms, including children, to remain at home on voluntary basis.

Last week, Isosomppi and nine other leading Finnish infection specialists published an open letter against a plan proposed by Kiuru’s ministry to reintroduce school closures and going back to remote learning.

Finland’s government was not immediately available for comment.

(Reporting by Anne Kauranen; Additional reporting by Essi Lehto; Editing by Alison Williams and Ed Osmond)