Prime Minister Sanna Marin explains Government’s hybrid strategy in Friday briefing, modelling and indicators also on the agenda
In its briefing on Friday 15 May, the Government discussed its hybrid strategy and the models and indicators used to monitor the progress of the COVID-19 situation.
At the event, Prime Minister Sanna Marin gave an overview of the Government’s hybrid strategy, after which Director of Strategic Affairs Liisa-Maria Voipio-Pulkki from the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health and Chief Physician Taneli Puumalainen from the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare reported on the indicators and forecasts used in assessing the COVID-19 situation.
At its plenary session on 6 May, the Government issued a resolution describing its hybrid strategy to combat the coronavirus epidemic and detailing how the restrictive measures imposed to deal with the epidemic would be dismantled in a controlled and gradual manner.
In her speech, Prime Minister Sanna Marin emphasised that the Government’s hybrid strategy is not an either-or but a both-and strategy. The strategy will help us move from extensive restrictions on society towards a testing, tracing, isolation and treatment approach. At the same time, certain restrictions will remain in place and we will closely monitor the effects of their gradual dismantling on the progress of the epidemic.
“We have decided to proceed in this way because the restrictive measures have many adverse effects on individuals and society. Their impacts are both economic and human. Continuing to impose wide-ranging restrictive measures is not sustainable, and the longer they are in force, the more harmful their impact becomes,” the Prime Minister said.
“At the same time, we do not want the virus to spread uncontrollably through society. That, too, would come with a high human and economic cost. This is why we are working to lift the restrictions gradually and are closely monitoring the development of the epidemic,” the Prime Minister added.
The Prime Minister recalled that we are trying to find the right balance in a situation that is serious and may last a long time. “This is a global pandemic, and there is still a great deal that we simply do not know.”
What does the Government aim to achieve?
The Government’s aim is to prevent the spread of the virus in Finland, to safeguard the capacity of the healthcare system and to shield and protect people, especially those who are most at risk. “These goals have been the same all along, and we are working to ensure that they are realised,” the Prime Minister emphasised.
“The goal of preventing the spread of the virus means that we do not want the virus to spread. We do not want people to be exposed to the virus and the disease it causes, which is very serious for some of those infected. This is why we imposed severe restrictive measures at a very early stage of the epidemic, and why there are still restrictive measures in place.”
The Prime Minister said that thanks to the timely measures, we have managed to curb the epidemic, and so far we have been able to avoid a spike in infections.
“This is thanks to all the people living in Finland who, for your part, have acted responsibly. Moving forward, each and every one of us must continue to look after our own health and that of others.”
Safeguarding the carrying capacity of the healthcare system means that we can ensure sufficient care capacity and that everyone who is ill can get the help they need in all situations. Intensive care capacity has been increased and preparations have been made for possible changes in the epidemiological situation. We want to protect people at risk from the disease because it can be very serious and even fatal for them.
“This is not about wanting to make life more difficult for older people in Finland, for example. That said, it is our duty to tell people what we know about the disease and to try to prevent serious illness and unnecessary deaths,” the Prime Minister emphasised.
“We have therefore recommended, for example, that older people avoid physical contact with other people to the extent possible. At the same time, we have emphasised that everyone should assess and decide for themselves how to follow the recommendations.”
“If an older person feels that meeting their grandchildren is more important than protecting their health against possible exposure to the virus, they are free to do so. However, the Government cannot recommend this in the light of the current information,” the Prime Minister said.
We are particularly concerned about the spread of the virus in care units and, therefore, visits to them have so far been prohibited. “However, we are looking for ways to enable safe social contacts for people living in care units, too,” the Prime Minister said.
Adopting the "test, trace, isolate and treat” operating model
Prime Minister Marin said that testing capacity has been and will continue to be increased. Similarly, the resources for tracking have been reinforced. This will also enable us to prepare for the potential next wave of the epidemic.
“In order for the operating model to function as well as possible and for us to be able to track exposures as efficiently as possible, we need a mobile application that is also used by as many people as possible,” the Prime Minister said.
The Ministry of Social Affairs and Health is currently preparing the necessary legislation. The current estimate is that the application could be introduced in the summer.
“We must continue to adhere to the hybrid strategy to prevent the spread of the coronavirus until the epidemic has been brought under control on a global level. As there is still a high degree of uncertainty regarding the virus at present, the strategy will be updated as necessary based on new research data, the Prime Minister said.
“We are learning more and more about the virus, but we do not yet know exactly how it behaves. For example, we do not know for sure whether it varies from season to season. It is possible that the epidemic will fade for the summer and that a new wave of infections will come in the autumn. We must be prepared for this possibility.”
The impact of Finland’s hybrid strategy in combating the COVID-19 epidemic is being monitored using epidemiological, medical and functional indicators. As the Prime Minister emphasised, a single indicator does not provide an overall picture, which is why we are monitoring the development of the epidemic and the effectiveness of the measures using several indicators.
The Prime Minister said that the Government has not set a target for a specific R0 for two reasons.
“First of all, the R0 figure alone does not describe the situation comprehensively, and it varies from region to region. The disease occurs in clusters, and it is difficult to predict its course. Second, setting an individual figure, for example R1, could lead to the assumption that the Government’s actions are tied to this figure. However, it is not that simple.”
The Government is thoroughly assessing the impacts and consequences of its actions. “For example, we are assessing the epidemiological consequences of the restrictive measures, but also other consequences in terms of people’s wellbeing and the economy. The decisions on measures are made based on the overall consideration, not on the incidence at the time.”
The situational picture and modelling group set up by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health will publish its first weekly report today (Friday 15 May).