Prime Minister’s announcement on Finland’s preparedness for the possible spread of the coronavirus

Government Communications Department 27.2.2020 16.04 | Published in English on 27.2.2020 at 16.15
Prime Minister's Announcement
Pääministeri Sanna Marin eduskunnassa. Kuva: eduskunta

Subject to change

Mr Speaker,

The epidemic of respiratory infections caused by the new coronavirus, which started in China at the beginning of the year, has spread rapidly to several countries. More than 80,000 cases of infections caused by the virus have been reported worldwide, with just under 3,000 fatalities. Most of the infections have been detected in Hubei, China, where the new strain of the virus was first identified. In Finland, we have prepared carefully and systematically for epidemics, and our legislation is up to date.

According to the current information, the majority of those infected with the virus have experienced mild symptoms and have recovered well in home care. However, in some people, the infection can lead to a more serious form of disease, such as pneumonia. Older people and people with underlying diseases are at risk of more serious symptoms. They are more likely to require intensive care if they become infected with the virus. Symptoms of the disease among children have been very mild. In young and middle-aged people, more serious forms of disease have been rare.

So far, around 480 cases of the disease have been diagnosed in Europe, most of them in Italy. Four provinces in Italy have been identified as affected areas. There have been two confirmed cases of disease in Finland. Finland is well prepared for the situation.

In recent days, infections originating in Italy have been detected in several EU countries and it is probable that the spread of the disease will continue both within Italy and elsewhere in Europe. Although the number of cases reported in China is decreasing, the number of cases has increased especially in South Korea and Iran.

Mr Speaker,

It is natural for citizens’ concerns about the virus epidemic to increase as the disease moves closer geographically. According to the assessment by the World Health Organization, the coronavirus is likely to spread from one country to another, and Finland has therefore prepared for the spread of the disease across a wide range of administrative branches.  According to the information received by the Government, there will also be cases of coronavirus in Finland. At the moment, it is still difficult to estimate the extent to which the disease will occur, but we are prepared for a variety of very different scenarios.

Mr Speaker,

This is not the first time a new communicable disease has emerged in another country and has subsequently spread to Finland. Fortunately, this is also not the first time we are preparing for epidemics and pandemics. Finland is a country where health care functions well and the professional skills of the authorities are first-class.

Finland has been working for a long time to strengthen its international health security preparedness. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Health and the National Institute for Health and Welfare are coordinating and monitoring the international situation together with the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control and the World Health Organization (WHO).  Finland acts in accordance with the Communicable Diseases Act and, where applicable, the plans for pandemic preparedness and material preparedness, and hospital districts already have SARS and MERS coronavirus guidelines and contingency plans in place.

Finland is well equipped to treat the people affected by the virus, although healthcare and social welfare must be prepared for higher volumes than usual. The coronavirus has been added to the list of generally hazardous communicable diseases, which means that the Communicable Diseases Act can be applied as appropriate. Our material preparedness has been verified as concerns protective equipment, for example, and although additional equipment is needed, the situation here is better than in many other European countries.

The Communicable Diseases Act requires municipalities, hospital districts, the National Institute for Health and Welfare, Regional State Administrative Agencies and the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health to prevent communicable diseases and their spread to the population. National preparedness for communicable diseases and cooperation between other ministries are coordinated by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health. The Ministry also coordinates cooperation and exchange of information between international organisations and expert institutions and with the European Commission.

The Ministry of Social Affairs and Health actively monitors the situation and maintains a national and international assessment of the situation in cooperation with other competent authorities and updates preparedness measures as necessary.

As a national expert institution, the National Institute for Health and Welfare supports the Ministry, maintains a national epidemiological monitoring system and guides and supports the work to combat infectious diseases in municipalities and health care units. The National Institute for Health and Welfare is responsible for issuing national guidelines and providing information and guidance to the population in order to avoid infection and prevent the spread of diseases. The Institute also works closely with national and international expert institutions.

The Ministry of Social Affairs and Health and the National Institute for Health and Welfare maintain close contact with the competent authorities of other administrative branches and with other ministries, such as the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment, the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Transport and Communications, the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of the Interior. Based on the monitoring and analyses of the situation, we have issued civil and public communications, developed material preparedness, enhanced the preparedness of management and intensified communications between different authorities.

Mr Speaker,

The spread of the epidemic and the risk of infection can also be mitigated through rather simple measures. The authorities recommend careful hand and cough hygiene to reduce the risk of becoming infected and infecting others.

Mr Speaker,

The main task of the Government and the authorities is to guarantee the health and safety of citizens. Alongside this, I would like to draw attention to the economic challenges posed by the virus epidemic. Finland is part of an economically networked world, and the slowdown in economic growth in our export countries also affects the economic position of our country. The situation may have a wide range of impacts on our economy.

The economic impact is already being felt in the tourism and aviation sectors. As far as tourism is concerned, we anticipate a significant decline in travel this season. Chinese tourists, in particular, have essentially stopped coming to Finland.

China is an important export country for Finland and a key producer of components and raw materials for the electronics and automotive industries. This will have detrimental effects on Finnish companies both directly and through subcontracting chains. The longer the uncertainty continues, the more significant the impact will be.

The slowdown in economic activity in China also affects Finnish exports. If the economic slowdown is prolonged, the impact will be stronger.

The effects also extend to the pharmaceutical industry, which, in turn, affects security of supply. China and India play an integral role in global pharmaceutical production. The decrease in air cargo from China is causing disruptions in supply, and freight prices have already risen.

From an economic point of view, further challenges are caused by the exacerbation of the public debate, which the World Health Organization has dubbed an “infodemic”. This means that misinformation and uncertainty are spreading faster than the epidemic itself.

The confusion leaves a lot of room for speculation and uncertainty, which undermines citizens’ and businesses’ confidence in the market and has an unfavourable impact on economic development. This can be seen, for example, in the postponement of acquisitions and investments and, on the other hand, in the excessive purchase of everyday goods, even if there are no known problems with the availability of products. In order to prevent this, it is important to maintain a factual debate, openly and without exaggerating.

Mr Speaker,

The Government is monitoring the development of the situation on a daily basis and assessing the need for further measures. Based on current information on the coronavirus, the Government also decided to make additional arrangements for coordination in its negotiations yesterday. A COVID-19 coordination group is being be established in the Government for the time being. The Government has also made provisions of EUR 8.9 million for unexpected additional expenditures in this year’s budget, and we are prepared to address the situation through supplementary budgets if necessary.

Mr Speaker,

The best way to prevent and manage an epidemic is to rely on the evidence-based information, trust experts and carefully follow the instructions given.

The spread of a new viral disease must also be viewed at the right scale. In Finland, about 5 per cent of adults and 10 per cent of children suffer from regular seasonal influenza each year. Significantly fewer cases of coronavirus infection have been confirmed. Even at the centre of the epidemic in Hubei, only 0.1 per cent the population has been infected with the coronavirus.

Finland’s preparedness for the spread of infectious diseases is at a very high level. Our health care authorities have been monitoring the spread of the coronavirus since the first reports on the new virus came out. Coordinated monitoring and preparation measures have been carried out on the health care side for over a month and a half. The Government Situation Centre has been monitoring the situation on a daily basis and the matter has also been discussed several times at meetings of ministerial heads of preparedness and meetings of ministerial permanent secretaries.

We want to reassure people and relieve the concerns they may have about the coronavirus. For this reason, we have also wanted to provide extensive information about the situation and Finland's preparedness. It is important that we prepare carefully, but at the same time, we must avoid excessive measures that would be more detrimental than beneficial to society. Here too, the Government is acting responsibly and based on correct and up-to-date information.

Article uppdated :The number of cases in Europe has been corrected.