Minister of Family Affairs and Social Services Krista Kiuru (SDP) held a press conference on the so-called long Covid in Helsinki on Friday, 7 January 2022. (Jussi Nukari – Lehtikuva)

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THE MINISTRY of Social Affairs and Health on Friday raised eyebrows by claiming that as many as one in 50 children could develop long-term symptoms from Covid-19.

Minister of Family Affairs and Social Services Krista Kiuru (SDP) stated in the news conference that 10–30 per cent of the 40,000 adults who tested positive for the coronavirus last week could develop the so-called long Covid.

“There is a risk that we’re witnessing the emergence of the largest or one of the largest chronic diseases in Finland,” cautioned Kiuru.

Thousands of children, she added, will contract a disease that evolves into the nagging disease in the coming weeks. “Are we prepared to be accountable for thousands of children with long Covid?” she asked as the government was about to sit down to discuss whether schools around the country should forgo in-person instruction at the start of the spring term.

Many have since doused cold water on the estimate. Helsingin Sanomat on Tuesday argued in an editorial that the minister and ministry peddled their “responsible choice” with “half-truths and fears”.

“The purpose of the ministry’s press conference was perhaps to enhance crisis awareness in people, but it left the impression that the purpose was to scare people,” Tea Nieminen, a chief physician of infectious diseases at New Children’s Hospital in Helsinki, echoed in an interview with YLE on Monday.

“The symptoms in children and young people that have been reported in surveys could just as well be associated with other stress factors brought about by the pandemic, such as remote teaching, isolation, concerns about the well-being of loved ones and uncertainty caused by the entire situation,” she stated.

Nieminen pointed out that significant problems are linked to studies of long Covid. The very definition of the syndrome remains unclear in regards to children and both the follow-up durations and ages of participants have varied notably.

Some studies have even not required that the participants have tested positive for the virus but have trusted the reports of parents.

“The research data isn’t high quality and many of the studies can’t be considered scientifically reliable. When you ask about post-recovery symptoms from the parents of a child who had the coronavirus disease, they’ll monitor the condition of the child and detect things they wouldn’t otherwise detect.”

New Children’s Hospital has treated fewer than 10 children suffering from long-term effects of the coronavirus disease during the entire epidemic, said Nieminen.

“You can’t state that one in 50 children who have the coronavirus disease get long Covid and, in the same breath, state that it’s so rare that there isn’t enough follow-up data. If the incidence was in that ballpark, there’d be no shortage of follow-up data in other parts of the world,” she told YLE.

Aleksi Teivainen – HT