Markku Mäkijärvi (left) and Asko Järvinen (right), senior physicians at the Hospital District of Helsinki and Uusimaa, flanked Taneli Puumalainen, a senior physician at the National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL), in a press conference held about the first confirmed case of coronavirus in Helsinki on Wednesday, 26 February 2020. (Markku Ulander – Lehtikuva)


THE CITY OF HELSINKI has a detailed contingency plan to deal with pandemics, assures Sanna Vesikansa (Greens), the Deputy Mayor for Social Services and Health Care.

Helsingin Sanomat reported on Wednesday that Vesikansa was asked in a council meeting how the city intends to guarantee the availability of health care and other crucial services in the event of a possible outbreak of the new coronavirus, officially known as Covid-19.

“Preparedness is part of the daily work and expertise of our professionals in the social and health care sector. We’re ready also for rapid changes in the operating environment. We’re also ready for the coronavirus,” she responded.

“Fear is once again our greatest fear, but solid preparedness is a good way to fight it.”

The Helsinki City Council convened for its question-time debate only moments after it was reported that a working-age woman has tested positive for the coronavirus in what is the first confirmed case of the virus in the Hospital District of Helsinki and Uusimaa (HUS).

Vesikansa told that national pandemic preparedness is co-ordinated by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, and local by HUS. The National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) serves as an expert organisation, following the development of the epidemic and devising proposals for how to prepare for it at the national level.

Preparedness for pandemics in the capital region is co-ordinated and steered by the epidemiological unit of HUS. Any possible travel instructions and restrictions, meanwhile, are issued by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs.

“Helsinki has a detailed pandemics plan that outlines the course of action in the possible event of a pandemic,” assured Vesikansa.

HUS on Wednesday said the woman who tested positive for the coronavirus had returned to Finland from Milan, Italy, on Sunday. She contacted health care authorities a day later, after the onset of symptoms, and was referred quickly to a coronavirus test, after which she has been monitored and treated in isolation in a hospital in Helsinki.

The woman estimated that she came in contact with two people since arriving in Finland. Both of the people possibly exposed to the virus have been reached by authorities and asked to self-isolate, although neither of them has shown any symptoms.

Health authorities yesterday described the woman’s condition as feverish but good.

Taneli Puumalainen, the chief physician at THL, on Wednesday said he has both good and bad news while delivering an update on the coronavirus epidemic: On the one hand, the number of new confirmed cases has clearly been on the decline in China. On the other, the number of cases outside the outbreak’s country of origin has spiked over a relatively short period of time.

“South Korea and Iran especially are such countries. And now we also have the northern provinces of Italy in Europe,” he said.

Italy has become the centre of the outbreak in Europe, reporting a 25-per cent increase in coronavirus cases over the past 24 hours to around 400, according to the BBC. Many European countries have reported cases that have been traced back to Italy.

A total of 81,000 cases of the virus have been recorded in about 40 countries worldwide by Wednesday. The outbreak has claimed the lives of 2,700 people, around 95 per cent of whom in the province of Hubei, China.

Italian health care authorities have reported that 12 people have died of the virus.

Aleksi Teivainen – HT