Private companies pay for 18,000 coronavirus tests to be done in South Korea

There's not enough capacity in Finland to do more tests, which are recommended by the World Health Organisation to track and trace all cases of the virus.

Epidemiologist testing samples / Credit: iStock

A group of big Finnish companies, lead by private healthcare provider Mehiläinen, is paying to send 18,000 samples from Finland to a laboratory in South Korea for coronavirus testing.

The first batch of tests will go on a Finnair flight on Wednesday, and the plane will return with supplies of protective gear on board.

Some of Finland’s best-known employers including Fazer, Kesko, Metsä Group, Neste, Wartsilä and UPM are involved in the project which aims to vastly increase the number of tests carried out on Finnish patients. So far, only 22,600 tests have been done in Finland.

“Large Finnish companies want to do their part to protect the health and lives of Finns. The companies involved have wanted to give all Finns the same opportunity to be tested when symptoms occur” says Juho Romakkaniemi, CEO of the Central Chamber of Commerce which helped coordinate the companies.

The South Korea tests are for workers from the collaborating companies through their occupational health contracts, and for private individuals who pay for their own testing. If a minimum threshold of 18,000 tests is not reached, across six Finnair flights to Seoul, then the companies will step in to pay the cash shortfall.

The big companies have guaranteed a minimum volume of tests that enables the operation to start.

Mehiläinen says that based on international best practice and World Health Organisation recommendations, it is clear that increasing testing capacity is the key to tackling the coronavirus pandemic.

The hospital group says that testing is essential for severely ill people, for doctors and nurses, and to avoid unnecessary quarantine. Patients who have mild symptoms and would not normally qualify for testing under Finnish guidelines could get their tests done in South Korea and return to work afterwards – helping the economy.

“There is a limited supply of Covid-19 analysis in Finland available. Our customers have needs for a much higher number of tests that has been available in Finland” says Anssi Hartiala, Mehiläinen’s Director of Medical Centres.

“Last weekend we ran a comparison batch of tests with two samples per patient. The results were obtained faster through the Korean channel. But in general, if capacity was not a constraint, local tests would be faster” he tells News Now Finland.

The tests are done by collecting a sample from someone’s nose, and are available to anyone in Finland through Mehiläinen’s online digital clinic service.

Mehiläinen says it’s not unusual for blood samples to be sent from Finland to foreign laboratories for testing, including Germany and Estonia. They note that Finnair has extensive experience carrying medicines; and that patients will have to give their consent to the tests being done outside the EU.