Government decides on updates to COVID-19 strategy, continuation of restrictions and use of COVID-19 passport
On Tuesday 18 January, the Government held an extensive discussion on the need to update the COVID-19 strategy in response to changes in the situation caused by the rapidly spreading Omicron variant. The discussions were based on expert assessments the Government received on the epidemiological situation and the burden on medical care in the coming weeks, and on views about the need to amend the current operating strategy. The Government was also briefed on the status of preparations to expand the use of the COVID-19 passport.
Government encourages public to get vaccinated
The number of COVID-19 infections is growing rapidly in Finland, and the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) estimates that they may reach their peak at the turn of January and February. Similar developments can be seen in all EU countries with minor variation in the timeline.
According to the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare, a weekly average of 400–700 patients will end up in specialised healthcare over the next 12 weeks, with the maximum number reaching around 900–1,300 patients at the peak of infections. The strain on intensive care, however, is clearly more moderate than with earlier variants. It is important to bear in mind that there is still a great deal of uncertainty in the figures, as assessing the current epidemiological situation is challenging.
The Government stresses the importance of vaccines in the current situation. According to experts, vaccines provide good protection against the most serious forms of the disease. The Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare emphasised that it is especially important to administer third doses of the vaccines to older people and people at risk as soon as possible in order to reduce the strain on hospital care.
Most restrictions to continue for two weeks
To safeguard the capacity of the healthcare system, the Government decided to extend the validity of the current restrictive measures and recommendations for two weeks, or until mid-February. The restrictive measures are still needed because of the burden on hospitals and to ensure there is enough time to give third doses of the vaccines.
As an exception to this general policy, the Government will not extend the validity of its recommendations on distance learning in higher education and on recreational activities for children and young people when they end on 31 January 2022.
The Government intends to lift internal border control after 31 January 2022 in line with the opinion of the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare, which stated that travel has not played a significant role in the development of the epidemic in Finland and that internal border control can no longer be justified on public health grounds.
Government to begin updating COVID-19 strategy
In its talks, the Government decided to begin work to update its hybrid COVID-19 strategy and test-and-trace strategy. If the development of the epidemic allows, the gradual lifting of restrictions and the reintroduction of the COVID-19 passport could begin after mid-February. The updated COVID-19 strategy will outline when and how the restrictions will be lifted. The Government will decide on the matter later.
Preparations for expanding use of COVID-19 passport to continue
In its meeting, the Government received an update from the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health on the preparations for expanding the use of the COVID-19 passport. The aim is to allow more extensive use of the COVID-19 passport at recreational events by making the necessary amendments to the Communicable Diseases Act. The Government decided to continue the preparations so that the proposal could be submitted to Parliament in February.
Matti Niemi, Special Adviser to the Prime Minister, [email protected]
Taneli Puumalainen, Director General, Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, [email protected]
Liisa-Maria Voipio-Pulkki, Chief Specialist, Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, [email protected]
Mika Salminen, Director, Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare, [email protected]