A Covid-19 patient was being treated in the intensive care unit of Seinäjoki Central Hospital in Finland on 2 December 2021. (Heikki Saukkomaa – Lehtikuva)

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STRICT RESTRICTIONS on social contact are needed immediately in the current epidemiological situation in order to prevent loss of lives, views a task force coordinating intensive care in Finland.

Covid-19 patients accounted for roughly one-third, or 63, of the intensive care beds available in the country yesterday morning, even though the full impact of the omicron variant has yet been felt.

The highly transmissible variant has already emerged as the dominant variant in the Hospital District of Helsinki and Uusimaa (HUS). The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) has estimated that even if the variant caused less serious forms of the disease, the spike in infections will increase pressure on hospital resources.

The demand for intensive care is expected to increase especially once the variant starts spreading among older age groups.

“We expect that in the coming weeks or months we’ll have a record number of intensive care patients for the whole coronavirus period,” Stepani Bendel, the chief physician of intensive care at Kuopio University Hospital, stated to Helsingin Sanomat.

Matti Reinikainen, a professor of anaesthesiology and intensive care at the University of Eastern Finland, said to YLE that although the number of coronavirus patients in intensive care peaked at 83 in April 2020, the situation was not as dire as it is today because of stricter restrictions, higher level of preparedness and all but complete suspension of non-urgent surgeries.

Bendel cited Norway as an example. The country has a high vaccination coverage and a population, health care system and intensive care criteria similar to Finland. Yet the country had more than 100 patients in intensive care with the coronavirus disease last week.

“That’s the direction we’re heading also in Finland. We’re sort of hanging by a thread,” he said to Helsingin Sanomat.

Finland will find itself in a precarious situation unless additional measures to limit social contact are adopted, the experts stressed, stopping short of making any concrete proposals. “We’re not lawyers or epidemiologists. We’re concerned about the number of patients in intensive care,” commented Bendel.

Prime Minister Sanna Marin (SDP) on Monday said the government will make an announcement on new restrictions on Tuesday.

Ministers responsible for social and health care affairs convened to discuss the situation yesterday but failed to finalise a proposal on the measures despite the meeting dragging on beyond midnight, according to Helsingin Sanomat. The ministers are expected to present their proposal to the rest of the government by 4pm on Tuesday.

The Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) on Monday reported that 5,932 new coronavirus infections have been detected in Finland since Friday. The number of coronavirus-related deaths, in turn, has risen by 39 to 1,493.

Aleksi Teivainen – HT

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