MARKKU TERVAHAUTA, the director general of the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL), has reminded that the coronavirus epidemic is expected to escalate despite the fact that the strict restrictions and recommendations seem to have limited the daily number of new infections in Finland.
“If everything goes very well, this epidemic could slow down significantly in the near future,” he stated to Uusi Suomi on Thursday.
“If we manage to get to a very slow phase of the coronavirus spread, we could consider adopting a hybrid approach where the restrictions are gradually lifted while everyone with coronavirus symptoms and infections are brought to precise tests and isolated, and infections traced.”
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“Tearing down the will lead to an increase in social contact and, consequently, to the risk of the epidemic rearing its head again,” added Tervahauta.
Testing for the coronavirus and its antibodies is therefore key for making any decisions about the measures designed to slow down the epidemic. The Finnish government announced earlier this week it plans to double the testing capacity in the near future and triple it in the longer term.
Tervahauta on Thursday said the current capacity is enough to satisfy the current demand, as the number of samples sent by clinics, hospitals and health care centres has not been “anywhere near” the maximum.
“The problem at the start was there wasn’t enough laboratory capacity. Now that is has been ramped up at a fairly robust pace, the bottleneck has moved towards sample collection, where you have to have a high enough number of staff. Drive-through arrangements can be effective in sample collection, but they also require experienced staff and the training takes time. The number of sample collection kits and protective gear must also be matched due to the risk of infection,” he said.
He reminded that the recent drop in the daily number of new laboratory-confirmed infections should not be interpreted as an indication that the epidemic has already peaked, but simply that the restrictions and recommendations are having an impact.
“We’re currently talking mostly about the spread of the coronavirus being impacted by the restrictions and people’s adherence to instructions on social contact and hand washing. We’re still at a fairly early stage when it comes to the so-called epidemic curve,” he stressed.
The purpose of antigen testing, he explained, is to gauge how large a group of the population have already come into contact with the virus, as well as to enhance understanding of how quickly the antigens accumulate, how long an immunity they provide and whether the accumulation varies based on the severity of the symptoms.
“It’s population-wide epidemiological information from the viewpoint of THL,” he said. “But the information can also be useful for individuals in the risk groups, for example.”
The tests would not be conducted on a control group that represents the population at large and their results extrapolated to make projections about the entire population, according to Tervahauta. “There could maybe be a few thousand samples in total,” he said.
Aleksi Teivainen – HT
Source: Uusi Suomi