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Krista Kiuru: Testing for coronavirus to be increased considerably in Finland

Ministry of Social Affairs and Health
Publication date 9.4.2020 19.15 | Published in English on 14.4.2020 at 16.19

Finland’s COVID-19 testing strategy is based on the principle of test – trace contacts – and treat. This strategy was adopted for tracing infections at the start of the epidemic. At the same time, our central aim has been to increase the testing capacity.

What is often forgotten is that testing for coronavirus consists of several measures: assessing the risk of infection, sample taking, sample analysis and necessary further actions. Boosting capacity requires raising the volume of all the above-mentioned elements.

The daily testing capacity of public clinical microbiology laboratories in Finland has already been increased from an analysis of 1,700 samples in mid-March to the present approximately 3,000 samples per day. My previous policy was to double or treble the testing capacity. With the material procurements, additional resources and work shift arrangements already in place, it is possible to scale up the testing capacity to approximately 7,000 samples per day.

We need to work together with private actors to be able to further increase the testing capacity. In that context, we have examined the volumes of private laboratories with an operating licence to perform testing for coronavirus. According to preliminary estimates, using both private and foreign laboratory capacity could help us scale up the testing capacity by 2,000–3,000 samples per day in a relatively short time. 

Altogether, using public and private capacity will enable us to take 10,000 samples a day.

It is possible to scale up testing whenever a coronavirus disease or infection is suspected. Tests will be done especially among the following groups:

  • Individuals who contact healthcare services if they have symptoms that might be caused by coronavirus.        
  • Healthcare and social welfare professionals whenever there is even a slight suspicion of infection.
  • Employees in sectors critical to the functioning of society and groups of employees working in other areas essential for the functioning and security of society, whenever there is even a slight suspicion of infection.
  • Persons who belong to the risk groups, if a coronavirus infection or exposure to the virus is suspected.
  • Immediate family and friends of those whose infection has been confirmed. 

If the existing daily testing capacity is not fully used, patients with symptoms of coronavirus who are staying at home could be tested, too.  However, at this point it is not appropriate to start testing asymptomatic people. 

Scaling up the testing capacity requires a sufficient number of employees for sample taking. Both hospital districts and private healthcare providers have started to increase the number of test points. These include new drive-in test points and mobile testing units. More employees for sample taking and analysis have been recruited from universities and from among other healthcare and social welfare providers.

Testing must serve its purpose. To increase the capacity of contact tracing, we have launched cooperation with faculties of medicine in various universities and with private actors. Municipal employees with a suitable background can also be assigned to do contact tracing. The regional authorities responsible for infectious diseases must take responsibility for both ensuring a sufficient number of contact tracers and for the coordination of the work. We need to succeed in the tracing of sources and carriers of the disease to be able defeat the epidemic.

There has also been much discussion about antibody testing and its significance in controlling the epidemic.  Antibody tests for coronavirus will tell who have had the infection also among those with no symptoms of the disease.  However, the benefits of this can be seen at population level after a sufficiently large number of people have had the disease and the tests are reliable and available.

Antibody testing is important because it gives an overall picture of the epidemic and its extent. Based on the information, it is possible to assess how many people have developed immunity to the disease.  Antibody testing should be conducted mainly for research purposes. The practical plans for antibody testing are already in place and we are now selecting the test participants.

Krista Kiuru
Minister of Family Affairs and Social Services