HUS Infection Control Chief: Second wave is coming, but mask decisions are more complex

Dr Veli-Jukka Anttila says infection rates will go up, but that decisions on making it compulsory to wear masks in public places are not so cut and dry.

File picture of Aleksanterinkatu, Helsinki, showing pedestrians and trams / Credit: iStock

The Chief of Infection Control at Helsinki and Uusimaa Hospital District has warned that a second wave of coronavirus is very likely in Finland, but says the country is in a much better position to cope with it than during the spring.

Dr Veli-Jukka Anttila says that as restrictions have eased on travelers, large gatherings or going back to work, there will probably be an increase in infection rates – although after a delay.

“I expect there will be an increase in the number of new cases, but what kind of wave, it will be impossible to say” says Anttila.

“In July, my feeling, and when I look at those statistics from our hospital, there’s no marked increase in the numbers of new cases, but we know that it is coming” he tells News Now Finland.

Some of Anttila’s HUS colleagues have cautioned that too many restrictions were being relaxed all at the same time in Finland and while there might not be an immediate surge in coronavirus infection rates, they will inevitably go up.

However Dr Anttila says for any second wave of infections, Finland is much better prepared than during the spring.

“We know at the moment the situation is a little bit better than in early March when we had lack of tests and we could not have such a system for the isolation and contact tracing” he explains.

“Now we have this very well organised at the moment, so my feeling is we have some things that were much better than earlier. Of course there will be some increase in new cases when we relaxing all these working and traveling rules, but I hope we can flatten the curve with these active testings and contact tracings” Dr Anttila explains.

File picture of man on metro wearing face mask, April 2020 / Credit: News Now Finland

Face mask debate

Since the start of the pandemic in Finland, and the first confirmed case at the end of January, there has been an active debate about whether or not people should be wearing face masks which cover their nose and mouth, while in public places.

Some countries insisted their citizens use masks all the time, other countries introduced their own regulations at later stages so that now there’s a patchwork of different regulations about face coverings depending on which EU country you happen to be in.

Some countries mandate their use in shops and on public transport, while in Brussels the rules vary from street to street, with local residents able to see on a map the streets where it’s required to wear a face covering, and which streets where it’s not necessary.

At the end of May a government-appointed panel of experts concluded that there was “no strong scientific evidence” for using face masks, after studying several different research projects on the topic.

Infectious diseases expert Dr Anttila from HUS says that while we wait on any potential new national decision on whether or not to make wearing masks mandatory in certain circumstances, his own view is that they could be helpful in some situations.

“My personal feeling is that if we open such a situation where there are hundreds of people, inside like in theatre or cinema, then you have new contacts with each other and you cannot do this social distancing, then I would recommend to use face masks in such a situation” says Anttila.

He explains that a lot of the guidance on masks depends at that time about what the situation is with new cases of coronavirus in society.

“If it’s very rare cases in Helsinki or somewhere else, then the effectiveness of face masks is very low” he says.

“But if there are more and more cases, and where you have collected 500 people for instance, then it’s necessary to use.”

File picture of woman wearing anti-pollution / anti-germ face mask / Credit: iStock