Mika Salminen of the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare and Kirsi Varhila of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health were photographed at a government press conference on the coronavirus situation in Helsinki on 26 November 2020. (Heikki Saukkomaa – Lehtikuva)

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PRIME MINISTER Sanna Marin (SDP) has responded to criticism over centralising leadership during the coronavirus pandemic to the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health.

Mika Salminen, the head of health security at the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL), on Saturday told Helsingin Sanomat that concentrating the leadership since the onset of the pandemic was unfair because the pandemic evolved rapidly into a crisis with ramifications also in other aspects of life than health.

“This became a very complete crisis very quickly. This hasn’t been only a health crisis since the early stages,” he stated.

A particular problem, he viewed, has been that the various measures taken in response to the crisis have not been sufficiently evaluated in regards to their impacts on aspects other than the pandemic itself, including public health on the whole. Young people, for example, have had to suffer from the restrictions adopted to manage the epidemic.

“I’m frankly annoyed that we haven’t been able to look after young people’s interests better. We haven’t properly evaluated what kind of damage arises from forcing students to study remotely for years.”

“What does it mean for the future that we’ve kept universities closed for two years? What’s the bill we’ll face because of that? That kind of assessment hasn’t been made. One should be made.”

Kirsi Varhila, the permanent secretary at the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, said to the daily newspaper that the ministry did not actively want to assume sole responsibility for combating the pandemic at any stage of the crisis.

“We’ve actively wanted to transfer responsibility to other administrative sectors, but the government hasn’t done so. The Ministry of the Interior has to be mentioned as an exception,” she told. “Very difficult and unfortunate decisions have had to be made during the coronavirus crisis, the responsibility for which could’ve been carried also by other ministries and officials.”

Marin responded to the criticism in an e-mail to Helsingin Sanomat on Monday. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, she reminded, is designated as the body responsible for planning, steering and monitoring the prevention of infectious diseases in the current legislation.

“The ministry is also responsible for responding to disruptions in the national health care system and preparing for the threat of disruptions, and leadership in such situations,” she wrote. “The government has tried to take into account the different dimensions and effects of its actions. As the pandemic prolongs, it has tested the tolerance of people and the entire nation.”

She estimated that the government should launch a parliamentary process to develop the leadership procedures and legislation in anticipation of future crises to ensure future governments have the tools to combat a variety of crises.

Aleksi Teivainen – HT

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