A woman wore a surgical mask in Helsinki on 14 May 2020. (Vesa Moilanen – Lehtikuva)


THE FINNISH GOVERNMENT will not issue a general recommendation for the use of face masks to contain the spread of the new coronavirus, Krista Kiuru (SDP), the Minister of Family Affairs and Social Services, announced at 8pm on Wednesday.

The government nonetheless acknowledged in its informal meeting that masks can be worn to protect others in places and situations where avoiding close contact is impossible, such as public transport.

Helsingin Sanomat on Wednesday wrote that the government made the decision after lending an ear not only to officials at the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, but also to experts at the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) and Hospital District of Helsinki and Uusimaa (HUS).

Kiuru emphasised to the newspaper that avoiding close contact with others and practising good hand and cough hygiene remain the primary methods to fight the coronavirus.

“A face mask doesn’t protect its user from an infection, but it can prevent a person carrying the virus from infecting others,” she summarised, reminding that citizens will also need instructions on how to put on, use and take off the masks, and how to change them frequently enough.

The government will revisit the possibility of issuing the recommendation later if necessary.

Calls for a formal recommendation for the use of face masks in public have intensified in recent days.

A group of researchers yesterday urged the government to issue a recommendation for the use of face masks in active epidemic areas, arguing that masks are beneficial and an effective way to smother the coronavirus epidemic.

“There is strong scientific evidence that using face masks helps to save lives, preserve jobs and slow down the epidemic,” its statement read according to Helsingin Sanomat.

Its position aligns with that of a government-appointed expert panel led by Christina Salmivalli, a professor of psychology at the University of Turku. The panel argued in a report published early this week that until an effective vaccine is available, large gatherings – especially indoors – should remain prohibited, the use of face masks should be encouraged in public places and public transport, the adoption of a contact tracing app should be promoted, and tests should be conducted on anyone who needs them and as part of population-wide screenings.

Aleksi Teivainen – HT