Finland entering ‘second stage’ of pandemic: official

The spread of the novel coronavirus is accelerating in Finland, health officials said Thursday, with new containment measures to be unveiled next week.

According to new estimates, the reproduction rate of the virus has now risen above 1, to between 1.1 and 1.4, the health ministry’s strategic director Liisa-Maria Voipio-Pulkki told a press conference in the capital Helsinki.

“The situation is extremely delicate,” Voipio-Pulkki said, adding that “some sort of second stage has begun.”

“Whether we can expect a smaller wave or a larger wave depends on how we respond,” she said.

Despite the upturn in cases, Finland still has Europe’s lowest incidence rate, reporting two new cases per 100,000 people in the last 14 days.

So far 7,512 COVID-19 infections and 331 deaths have been reported in the Nordic nation of 5.5 million people, and the number of new cases slowed to a trickle during June and early July.

Most of the springtime lockdown restrictions have been lifted in Finland, with large indoor and outdoor gatherings permitted, restaurants and bars open as normal and children due to return to in-classroom teaching next week after the summer holidays.

Officials said an “autumn roadmap” will be published next week, setting out the new measures to be introduced if the virus continues to spread.

These may include localised lockdown measures, and for the first time a recommendation to wear face masks.

Authorities have so far opposed face coverings, arguing that there is insufficient evidence of their effectiveness.

Although the rise in new cases is still comparatively small, the new phase of the virus appears to be affecting under-30s much more than in the spring, when it was most prevalent among older people, figures show.

This is partly due to younger people having spent more time socialising over the summer, officials said.

Nordic neighbours Norway and Denmark have also both seen an uptick in new cases in recent weeks—but like Finland from low levels—with local clusters detected.

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