Liisa-Maria Voipio-Pulkki, the strategic director of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, on Thursday said Finland still has a ways to go to the epidemiological situation it was in last summer and early autumn. (Markku Ulander – Lehtikuva)


THE NUMBER of new coronavirus infections has continued to decline, albeit at a slower rate, in Finland, reports the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL).

THL on Thursday revealed that approximately 1,350 laboratory-confirmed infections were entered into the infectious diseases register in the seven days between 26 April and 2 May, representing a decrease of about 250 from the previous seven-day period between 19 and 25 April.

Roughly a quarter of the infections were detected in people who had been ordered into quarantine due to, for example, exposure to the virus.

THL stated that as the number of infections remains relatively high – a total of 280 were reported yesterday – regional authorities should uphold their effective and comprehensive measures to manage the infection numbers, especially as mutations of the virus continue to create uncertainty about the epidemiological situation.

“The British variant continues to make up a large share of the detected infections,” Otto Helve, a chief physician at THL, said in a news conference in Helsinki on Thursday.

The number of patients hospitalised with the infection has yet to decline significantly, with 24 patients in critical care, 33 in basic health care and 73 in inpatient care on Wednesday, 5 May. While the burden the epidemic has placed on hospital capacity has halved since late March, the number of hospitalised patients has not declined hand-in-hand with forecasts or the number of infections.

Authorities have yet to ascertain the reason for the apparent mismatch.

“Maybe the British variant, which is becoming more common in the country, causes more serious forms of the disease. There are indications of that also from other parts of the world,” gauged Liisa-Maria Voipio-Pulkki, the head of strategic affairs at the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health.

The incidence of infections, she revealed, declined in all age groups under 50 years of age between 26 April and 2 May, especially among 20–29-year-olds. The incidence was the highest among 10–19-year-olds.

“We still have a ways to go to the calm situation we had last summer and early autumn,” she underlined.

Taneli Puumalainen, the head of infectious diseases control at THL, viewed that the pandemic may drag on longer than initially expected due to the uneven pace of vaccinations in different parts of the world. Finland, he told, has already administered over two million doses of vaccines against the virus, meaning it is well positioned to reach the coverage of 70 per cent targeted by August by the EU.

“Finland has vaccinated quicker than any other EU country,” he said.

He also pointed out that the existing vaccines appear or are expected to also be effective against new variants of the coronavirus.

“More and more reports are coming from around the world that the vaccines have a very high efficacy against the British variant. And there’s some evidence that the efficacy is solid against the serious disease forms caused by the South African variant, but less so for less serious forms,” said Puumalainen.

Researchers, he added, are of the view that the vaccines should also be effective against the Brazilian and Indian variants.

“It’s naturally possible that the efficacy of vaccines is undermined as a result of virus mutations,” he admitted. “In the future it could be necessary to administer coronavirus vaccinations once a year and stay ahead of the pandemic like that.”

Aleksi Teivainen – HT