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Kirsi Varhila, the permanent secretary at the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, spoke at a press conference in Helsinki on 22 October 2020. (Emmi Korhonen – Lehtikuva)

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THE HOSPITAL DISTRICT of Helsinki and Uusimaa (HUS) has been close to the spreading stage of the coronavirus epidemic for quite some time, Kirsi Varhila, the permanent secretary at the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, stated on YLE Radio 1 on Wednesday.

Varhila estimated that the hospital district must step up its measures to keep the epidemiological situation under control.

The situation, she highlighted, is critical especially in light of the large population of Uusimaa, which at 1.7 million accounts for over 30 per cent of the population of Finland.

“The coronavirus incidence has clearly been on the rise in recent weeks. The regional coronavirus coordination group will have to consider new measures to mitigate the situation in its meeting this week. I don’t think there’s any other option but to step up the measures,” analysed Varhila.

The Ministry of Social Affairs and Health uses criteria such as the incidence of cases, the share of positive tests, the traceability of cases and the burden on health care systems to determine whether a region is in the base, acceleration or spreading stage of the epidemic.

Varhila on Wednesday also confirmed that the government is looking to uphold internal border controls beyond Monday, 23 November.

“In European comparison, the disease situation is good in Finland. And we want to keep it good. We’ll try to make sure the justification from a health security perspective are such that they allow us to uphold the restrictions,” she commented to the public broadcasting company.

The Finnish government, she also revealed, will not make any decisions on vaccines until the turn of the year or early next year, as the vaccine will need to secure a sales permit before it is time for national decision-making.

“Only then can we decide whom to distribute [the vaccine] and in what kind of doses,” she reminded.

She added that it remains premature to speculate on the impact the possible vaccine could have on the instructions, recommendations and restrictions introduced due to the epidemic, as herd immunity cannot be achieved overnight. Officials, she said, will monitor the situation and the efficacy of the vaccine in the population before amending what have proven effective instructions.

Aleksi Teivainen – HT

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