Updating the national coronavirus strategy is of no use in circumstances governed by law, views Kirsi Varhila, the permanent secretary at the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health. (Heikki Saukkomaa – Lehtikuva)

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KIRSI VARHILA, the permanent secretary at the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, has rejected demands to update the national strategy to manage the coronavirus pandemic to better reflect with the prevalent epidemiological situation.

Varhila on Tuesday told STT that updating the strategy is useless in circumstances governed by law.

Helsinki, along with 11 other municipalities in Uusimaa, on Monday announced they will no longer trace contacts or issue quarantine orders for people who have been exposed to the virus in schools or at workplaces. People with mild symptoms, they added, should forgo laboratory testing unless they are at heightened risk of severe forms of the coronavirus disease.

The decision to suspend large-scale contact tracing was made because the rapid spread of the omicron variant has made contact tracing virtually impossible.

The municipalities also urged the government to update its strategy for managing the epidemic to better reflect the prevalent epidemiological situation.

Sanna Isosomppi, the chief physician of infectious diseases at the City of Helsinki, explained to Helsingin Sanomat that testing and contact tracing were effective measures in earlier phases of the pandemic, when the number of infections was considerable lower. Wait times to tests, however, have increased to several days in some areas, meaning officials are not notified of infections in time to prevent further infections.

“Even if you took action immediately, the communicability period has typically already ended,” she said. “You can get exposed anywhere and placing you into quarantine in hindsight is not useful for combating the epidemic.”

This development, she highlighted, is hardly unexpected as it was recognised as a possibility in the pandemic preparedness plan drafted in 2012.

Varhila viewed that the decision does not signal a departure from the national coronavirus strategy but rather non-adherence to a procedure set forth in the act on communicable diseases. The strategy, she reminded, was updated as recently as last autumn and the emergency brake mechanism laid down in it has been employed.

“There’s still only little information about omicron, so updating it from that viewpoint is difficult,” she wrote in an e-mail to STT.

Aleksi Teivainen – HT