Markku Mäkijärvi, the acting chief executive at the Hospital District of Helsinki and Uusimaa (HUS) was photographed in a news conference in Helsinki on 6 July 2021. (Seppo Samuli – Lehtikuva)

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THE ADOPTION of a new coronavirus strategy is unlikely to signal a rapid scrapping of restrictions at least in the capital region, Markku Mäkijärvi, the acting chief executive of the Hospital District of Helsinki and Uusimaa (HUS), viewed on YLE A-studio on Tuesday.

“We’re still getting enough coronavirus cases – [the virus] is endemic here – that we’ll have to proceed through risk assessments and remove restrictions cautiously,” he explained.

The Finnish government unveiled its new coronavirus strategy on Monday, describing it as an attempt to re-open and keep open sectors of society. The strategy outlines that the restrictions should be abolished once a minimum of 80 per cent of over 12-year-olds have been fully vaccinated or had the opportunity to receive both vaccine doses.

The strategy also shifts the focus of the effort to manage the epidemic from the national to the local and regional level.

Mäkijärvi on Tuesday stated to the public broadcasting company that the time frame for lifting the restrictions appears feasible. It is also important, he added, that the government is prepared to re-consider its stance if necessary.

“We do have the emergency brake mechanism, too, that we must have the courage to use if necessary,” he underlined.

The mechanism enables authorities to introduce restrictions in the event that the epidemiological situation deteriorates as a result of, for example, the emergence of a coronavirus variant that is resistant to vaccines. The government outlined in its strategy, though, that the threshold for resorting to the mechanism should be high.

Mäkijärvi estimated that the mechanism should be utilised based on the number of patients requiring hospital care.

“I do think the line should be drawn where we see an increase in serious cases, meaning an increase in the number of hospitalised patients. That’s before we see an increase in intensive care cases,” he stated.

The strategy also provides guidelines to hospital districts for testing and tracing. The details of the guidelines have yet been ironed out, but an agreement is expected shortly, told Liisa-Maria Voipio-Pulkki, the director of strategic affairs at the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health.

“We’ve negotiated about this already with hospital districts, and I don’t think it’ll be long before we have new testing and tracing recommendations in place,” she said. “I’d say it’ll take a couple of weeks.”

Mäkijärvi also reminded that the epidemiological situation will develop based on the behaviour of people.

“You should still use masks in certain circumstances, you should still favour remote work in certain circumstances, and you should avoid contacts if you’re experiencing symptoms and get tested in certain circumstances,” he said.

Aleksi Teivainen – HT

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