An elderly pedestrian wearing a face at the intersection of Aleksanterinkatu and Keskuskatu in Helsinki on 3 March 2021. (Antti Aimo-Koivisto – Lehtikuva)


FOREIGN-LANGUAGE SPEAKERS are accounting for a growing share of coronavirus cases reported in the capital region of Finland, reports STT.

Asko Järvinen, the chief physician of infectious diseases at the Hospital District of Helsinki and Uusimaa (HUS), on Monday told STT that non-Finnish and non-Swedish speakers presently account for about 40–50 per cent of new infections in the hospital district, compared to roughly 33 per cent last autumn.

The increase has taken place mostly over the past couple of weeks.

“It seems as if infections in the native-born population are levelling out a bit more quickly than among foreign-language speakers. The increase among them has continued at a higher rate than among Finnish and Swedish speakers,” he stated to the news agency.

The share of foreign-language speakers of new infections crept up to 39 per cent last week in Helsinki. In Vantaa, meanwhile, the share has hovered around 45–50 per cent in the first quarter of the year. With foreign-language speakers making up roughly 16.5 per cent and 21 per cent, respectively, of the populations of the two cities, they are over-represented in the infection statistics – albeit not necessarily as clearly as the raw numbers suggest, said Järvinen.

He pointed out that the current wave of infections has stemmed especially from under 50-year-olds, where the representation of foreign-language speakers is higher than the population at large, as older age groups have protected themselves well against infections.

Järvinen said HUS has not kept statistics on hospitalised coronavirus patients by mother tongue, but estimated that the share of foreign-language speakers of patients in hospital care is not as high as infections in general.

“Our foreign-language speakers fall on average in the younger age groups, and people tend not to end up in hospital until they’re a bit older,” he said. “But I do know that we’ve had younger people of immigrant backgrounds in critical care and seriously sick. They’re being hit harder this way also in terms of serious forms of the disease.”

Mayor of Vantaa Ritva Viljanen gauged that many of the reasons for the over-representation of foreign-language speakers are structural.

“Many have occupations where it isn’t possible to work remotely. And many may live less spaciously. We also get a lot of international workers from abroad and have detected big infection clusters at, for example, construction sites, in Vantaa,” she said.

Järvinen reminded that the same phenomenon has been observed elsewhere in the Nordics. It is not only foreign-language speakers, he added, who stand out in the infection statistics, but also people from lower socio-economic classes in similar housing and occupational circumstances.

The over-representation may also be attributable to cultural factors, such as larger families and more communal cultures, especially following the proliferation of more transmissible variants of the virus.

“It felt like maybe half of the family got sick from the earlier virus and not it feels that a larger share, if not all members, of the family get sick,” said Järvinen.

Authorities in the capital region have sought to prevent the virus from spreading among foreign-language speakers by translating information related to the virus to various languages and by reaching out to representatives of immigrant and religious associations.

Aleksi Teivainen – HT