Minister of Family Affairs and Social Services Krista Kiuru (SDP) was photographed in Helsinki on Friday, 29 October 2021. (Mikko Stig – Lehtikuva)

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MINISTER of Family Affairs and Social Services Krista Kiuru (SDP) became known as the bearer of bad tidings in late August in Finland.

While several experts and policy-makers talked enthusiastically about re-opening society, she cautioned both authorities and the public against dropping their guard excessively in what she viewed remained a volatile epidemiological situation.

“I’m sure that in hindsight everyone has realised that the epidemic’s development was assessed too optimistically in the public debate,” she said to STT on Saturday.

The optimism, she gauged, was partly attributable to the fact that young people thought they no longer needed to get vaccinated and that the long interval between the first and second vaccine injection began to drag down the coverage. The new coronavirus is spreading rapidly among the about 676,000 people aged 12 years or older who remain unvaccinated in Finland.

The Ministry of Social Affairs and Health has issued instructions and statements in a bid to communicate to regional authorities that local and regional restrictions are needed immediately. The authorities, however, have been reluctant to adopt the restrictions.

“My question is what are we waiting for. Regions and Regional State Administrative Agencies have all the possibilities to smother infection clusters with the current tools,” said Kiuru.

The act on communicable diseases, she highlighted, allows the authorities to restrict public gatherings and events, for example.

The coronavirus coordination group in the capital region recommended last week that unvaccinated people should avoid indoor spaces and situations where large numbers of people are in close proximity to each other. The question of whether such recommendations will suffice prompted a chuckle from Kiuru, wrote STT.

“It’d be good if regions had the ability to take the helm themselves instead of waiting for the skipper,” she retorted.

The government recently began ironing out the details of the emergency brake mechanism that is being prepared as part of its hybrid strategy to combat the virus in anticipation of the epidemiological situation exacerbating. The preparatory work should be wrapped up in the near future, according to Kiuru.

It would be a stern measure and signal, for instance, the transfer of responsibility for managing the epidemic from regional to the central administration.

“A last-resort measure could even be a state of emergency,” confirmed Kiuru.

Utilising the mechanism would require at least that regional measures are no longer sufficient to manage the situation or that they are not employed for one reason or another. “I don’t think it makes sense to speculate about it at this point,” she said.

Aleksi Teivainen – HT

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