Expert: Finland is well prepared to handle Covid-19 epidemic testing

File picture showing exterior of HUS clinic / Credit: News Now Finland

As two more cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus are detected in Finland, one of the country’s top health experts says authorities are well prepared to handle screening if there’s a rush of cases.

The Finnish Institute of Health and Welfare THL says a total of five people have been confirmed with the virus, which started in centra China at the end of 2019 and has now infected at least 86,000 people around the world. The majority of cases are in China but about 7,200 are located outside China.

So far there have been almost 3000 deaths of which 94% are in China’s Hubei Province.

The first case in Finland was a tourist from China who became sick while visiting Lapland. The next two cases detected were Finns of working age who had recently returned from trips to northern Italy where authorities are dealing with an outbreak cluster.

The most recent confirmed Covid-19 cases are a man of retirement age and a child of school age – and both patients are connected to one of the other Finns already diagnosed.

“Finland is well prepared to now manage the individual cases to detect and then respond, so that further infections are very unlikely” says Taneli Puumalainen, THL’s Chief Medical Officer.

“When it comes to the general preparedness for epidemic, the Ministry for Social Affairs and Health is coordinating the response and preparedness and they do have the latest understanding what is the level in individual healthcare centres, in hospital districts and also when it comes to the whole Finnish society” he tells News Now Finland.

File picture showing interior of hospital / Credit; iStock

How far will authorities go to lock Finland down? 

In other countries where there have been viral clusters of Covid-19, authorities have taken the initiative to close down transport hubs, schools, quarantine individual buildings and ships with infected people inside, and even locking down entire towns and cities.

So could something similar happen in Finland? The short answer is at local level there is scope to act, but for national measures that is down to the government.

“The physician who is responsible for the control of infectious diseases at the municipalities and then at the hospital district level, has the authority according to the Communicable Diseases Act to implement immediate actions to limit the spread of infections like now the new coronavirus” says Taneli Puumalainen.

He explains that appropriate action will vary depending on the local situation but he doesn’t recall that daycare centres or schools have been closed down in the past for a public health emergency.

And how about quarantining entire towns or cities, like the government in China or Italy has tried to do? That’s out of the hands of the local healthcare officials.

“When it comes to larger measures, limiting movement of people between cities, the health authorities do not have a legal mandate to give that kind of authority response, if it’s a governmental decision you need to take a different type of legislation into action, and it’s up to the government to take that decision” Puumalainen says.

Map showing spread of Covid-19 coronavirus in Europe as of 1st March 2020 / Credit: ECDC

What do we need to know about Covid-19?

According to THL, the new coronavirus is probably the result of a single animal-to-human transmission – and after that it spread to other humans. However, the exact source of the infections is not known.

The Covid-19 virus spreads person-to-person mainly as a close contact droplet infection. The incubation time from exposure to the onset of primary symptoms is estimate from 2 days to 12 days, with an average of about 5 days.

Symptoms include fever, cough and shortness of breath and according to a report published by Chinese healthcare officials in February around 81% of reported cases of Covid-19 have been mild to normal; 14% have been diagnosed with pneumonia and/or difficulty breathing; and about 2% of people have died from the disease.

Most of those with more serious symptoms have been elderly men, many with some underlying illness.

It’s also important to remember the death rate is highest at 2% in cities like Wuhan – it’s much lower in Beijing for example. That can be due to increased awareness of the virus, and taking early precautions against it – including self-isolation for people who think they might be at risk of getting sick.

The European Centre for Disease Control estimates the risk of of Covid-19 infection in EU countries is currently moderate.

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