Government discusses COVID-19 situation and decides on new measures
In its meeting on Tuesday 30 November, the Government discussed the state of affairs with regard to COVID-19. The discussion focused on the Omicron variant and on the epidemiological situation and progress of vaccinations in Finland. The Government noted that new restrictions and additional measures were needed in many areas. The Government also decided to reintroduce the national recommendation on remote work.
The Government received an overview of the rapidly deteriorating epidemiological situation, the burden on hospital care and the new Omicron variant. The number of COVID-19 cases and fatalities from the disease has increased sharply over the past few weeks, as has the need for hospital care. As of 30 November, there were 320 COVID-19 patients receiving treatment in hospitals, 51 of whom were in intensive care. The incidence of the disease is very high among people who do not have adequate vaccination protection. The incidence of the disease among vaccinated people is also increasing as the virus continues to circulate through the population.
Given this situation, it is essential to increase vaccination coverage and protection. In addition, effective measures to restrict close contacts must be implemented in order to prevent infections. The Government stressed the need to update the principles for testing and ensure effective implementation of the new vaccination strategy. Everyday health security measures, such as wearing face masks, practicing good hand hygiene and maintaining safe distances, continue to be key means of preventing infections.
So far, no cases of the disease caused by the Omicron variant have been detected in Finland, but samples taken from two people have been sent for further research. Individual cases caused by the Omicron variant have been reported in several EU countries. The authorities are monitoring the situation closely.
Regional restrictions and additional measures
The Government discussed measures to address the deteriorating epidemiological situation. Fourteen hospital districts, along with Åland and the City of Rovaniemi, are currently experiencing community transmission of COVID-19. More extensive measures must be taken to prevent the spread of infections especially in areas experiencing community transmission.
A variety of measures have already been introduced, including more stringent recommendations on the use of face masks and tighter restrictions on food and beverage service businesses at the local and national level. In addition, more extensive restrictions on events, premises and activities are needed in areas experiencing community transmission of the epidemic.
The Ministry of Social Affairs and Health is also guiding regions to introduce the necessary restrictions on events, premises and activities that pose a moderate risk of transmission. The purpose of the restrictions is to improve the epidemiological situation. According to the indicative risk assessment table prepared by the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare, situations posing a moderate risk include large concerts and sporting events organised outdoors with no designated seats, fairs, choirs with more than ten people, team sports and indoor group exercise. The Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare updated its risk assessment table today.
The COVID-19 passport could be introduced at events and in premises as an alternative to the restrictions. The Government recommends avoiding restrictions targeted at children and young people. Restrictions targeted at children should only be imposed as a last resort.
Government to reintroduce national recommendation on remote work
The Government decided to reintroduce the national recommendation to work remotely. It applies to all areas experiencing community transmission of COVID-19.
The recommendation is for all employees in the public sector to work remotely as extensively as possible if their duties so allow. The Government also recommends that private employers adopt similar extensive remote work practices, recognising, however, that workplaces will determine how to combine in-office and remote work in a way that ensures health security. At the same time, employers should promote work arrangements that reduce close contacts and other risk factors at workplaces.
The Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health are currently preparing a more detailed recommendation. The Government will adopt a resolution on the matter at its session on Thursday 2 December.
Proposed amendments to Communicable Diseases Act concerning healthcare and social welfare personnel
The Government also discussed a new section proposed for the Communicable Diseases Act, under which healthcare and social welfare service providers could be required to ensure that their employees do not pose a risk of infection to the persons they are caring for. The Government will submit a proposal on the matter to Parliament next week. A transition period of one month is proposed for the amendment to ensure that employers can organise their services properly and to give unvaccinated employees the opportunity to get vaccinated.
Expanding the use of COVID-19 passports
The Government supports expanding the use of COVID-19 passports and introducing the passport system on a voluntary basis. According to the Government’s draft proposal, operators could require customers and participants aged 16 years or older to present a COVID-19 passport, i.e. an EU Digital Covid Certificate, in order to enter the event or premises.
The obligation to present a COVID-19 passport could not apply in connection with statutory services (such as libraries), essential services (such as health and social services) or acquiring supplies or materials (food, medicines). In addition, the obligation to present a COVID-19 passport must not prevent people from fulfilling their rights and obligations.
Pasi Pohjola, Director of Strategic Affairs, Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, [email protected]
Taneli Puumalainen, Director General, Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, [email protected]
Satu Koskela, Director General, Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, [email protected]
Otto Helve, Chief Physician, Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare, [email protected]
Juha Sarkio, Director General, Ministry of Finance, [email protected]