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  • Susanna Lehtimaki

COVID-19 update - Finland

Following most countries in Europe, Finland is enforcing a 19-point list of emergency legislation that includes nationwide school, educational institutions and universities closures; restrictions to public meetings and gatherings, mobility and visits to health care units; closure of borders; and increases to social welfare and health care capacity. Also, all people over 70 years old are recommended to socially distance themselves. Given some limitations of existing legislation, the Government is only now seeking legal grounds to close also restaurants and nightclubs and limiting travel from more heavily affected regions to others within the country. Childcare centers and grades 1-3 are open for all children, however, attendance is recommended only for those whose parents have critical jobs.

This week Finland also experienced a historical moment when it opened up its emergency reserve stocks to make sure that supplies of surgical gowns, masks and respirators will not run out during the epidemics.

While the primary health care functions normally providing antenatal care, child check-ups, vaccinations, diagnostics, elderly care and other outpatient care, hospitals have started implementing their emergency plans. Though critical care, such as ER, cancer treatment, maternal care, pediatrics are provided, most polyclinics are closed, and non-urgent elective operations cancelled leading to congestion in long term.

In Finland, most cases diagnosed are mild. According to Finnish National Health Institute, 91% of those with laboratory confirmed COVID-19 infection are not hospitalized and can stay at home. Of the 9% in hospital, 23% are in ICU. Only one person has died. The actual number of COVID-19 infections in Finland is likely higher than reported since mostly health and social care personnel and those with severe respiratory tract infection symptoms are currently tested. Finnish scenarios have been less severe than those by Imperial College with estimated 0,4-1% of infected requiring hospitalization and 0,05-0,1% leading to deaths.

As the only Nordic country and one of the few in Europe, neighboring Sweden has taken quite a different path to control COVID-19 epidemic. Given the similarities across health systems and culture, it will be interesting to make comparisons between these two in upcoming weeks and months, as well as longer term.

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