THL: Quarter of all coronavirus infections in speakers of foreign languages

Public health officials say they've been using a multi-lingual and multi-channel approach to making sure accurate information is reaching people who don't necessarily speak Finnish, Swedish or Sámi.

Epidemiologist testing samples / Credit: iStock

The Finnish Institute of Health and Welfare THL says that a quarter of all Covid-19 infections in the country have been detected in people who speak a language other than Finnish, Swedish or Sámi.

Public health officials say there can be a number of reasons for this situation.

“The background may be, for example, a weaker socio-economic status, working in a profession where teleworking is not possible, or large family sizes and cramped housing, which makes it more difficult to prevent infection chains” says THL Research Manager Natalia Skogberg.

“Most often, it’s about the accumulation of a variety of factors that increase the risk of infection in other populations as well” she adds.

The groups at the top of infection statistics for those with foreign backgrounds are the same as the overall largest populations in Finland: people who speak Russian, Somali, Arabic or Kurdish as their mother tongue.

THL says they’ve been monitoring the situation since spring have seen patterns begin to emerge: for example a sudden increase in infections can be associated with mass exposures for example at a large wedding or workplace virus chain. But so far Covid-19 clusters have been rapidly contained by targeted actions such as quarantines, and tracing potential contacts.

Public health experts from THL and other ministries have been working together to produce communication about coronavirus in several languages.

“Through multilingual and multi-channel communication, we also ensure that our population with a foreign background has access to correct and comprehensible information. However, access to information alone may not be enough to motivate compliance, especially as the epidemic continues” says THL’s Natalia Skogberg.

She says that community activists as multicultural organisations have played an important role in spreading official information and encouraging different groups to fight the virus together.

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