The government of Finland believes the coronavirus situation is serious, in view of what they call a "significant" increase in the number of infections and hospitalizations, which have doubled over the past two weeks, according to the latest assessment of the epidemiological situation released by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health.
On Thursday afternoon, the ministers of Health, Science and Education appeared at a press conference to explain the latest measures agreed to curb the epidemic. The main one, due to the large number of people affected, is a general recommendation to employees to work from home if their duties so allow until the end of the year 2020.
Employers are responsible now for assessing how to best apply the government's policies and recommendations on remote work, which are not legally binding on them. However, employers should "promote work arrangements that reduce close contacts and other risk factors for employees," the government said in a statement.
According to the Minister of Science and Culture Annika Saarikko, the telework recommendation will be valid until further notice. The government, she said, will reassess this decision at the end of the year.
Virus spreading nationwide
The health authorities justify the new measures due to the evolution of the number of infections and because the virus is in an acceleration phase in the most populated areas of the country, including Helsinki-Uusimaa, the capital region.
Finland is still one of the European countries least hit by the Covid-19, but has recently seen an increased spread of the disease nationwide. On Thursday 241 new infections were reported, bringing to 12,944 the total number of cases since the beginning of the pandemic. Half of the new infections occurred in the metropolitan area.
The epidemiological situational chart drawn by the health authorities is divided into three stages: base level, acceleration stage and spreading stage. The Government has issued basic recommendations for the different regions, depending on the stage in which they are.
The Hospital Districts of Helsinki and Uusimaa, Kanta-Häme, Pirkanmaa, Southwest Finland and South Ostrobothnia and the Åland Islands have reported to have entered the acceleration stage of the epidemic. The Vaasa Hospital District has reported that in its area the epidemic has reached the spreading stage.
In this scenario, the government seeks to improve coordination with local and regional authorities. The goal is to intervene quickly as the changing situation demands it.
Recommendations for regions
The Government’s regional recommendations are divided into three categories based on the development of the epidemic.
In regions where the epidemic is at the base level, the Government recommends that all public events and leisure activities with more than 50 participants be arranged in a way that takes into account the official guidelines on hygiene recommendations and safe distances.
Leisure activities and the use of public spaces must be organised so that participants and parties can avoid close contact with one another in practice.
In the acceleration phase of the epidemic, the Government recommends issuing a regional or local recommendation to avoid holding private events with more than 20 persons. The number of persons at public events held in indoor spaces is restricted to half the normal capacity.
All group leisure activities must be arranged so that participants and parties can avoid close contact with one another in practice. It is recommended that indoor group leisure activities for adults be suspended in situations where there is a high risk of infection.
The Government also recommends that higher education institutions switch to distance education, taking into account the need for essential contact teaching.
The spreading phase
In the spreading phase of the epidemic, the Government recommends issuing a regional or local recommendation to avoid holding private events with more than 10 persons. If necessary, public events may be prohibited altogether.
The Government also recommends suspending group leisure activities altogether if this is necessary due to the restrictions on the use of spaces. However, careful discretion should be used when considering whether to suspend children’s hobbies.
If necessary, public spaces may be closed altogether, taking into account the nature of their use.
As a last resort, the Government recommends that upper secondary schools switch to distance learning, taking into account the need for essential contact teaching.