Policy responses for Finland - HSRM


Policy responses for Finland

1. Preventing transmission

The section on PREVENTING TRANSMISSION includes information on key public health measures that aim to prevent the further spread of the disease. It details how countries are advising the general public and people who (might) have the disease to prevent further spread, as well as measures in place to test and identify cases, trace contacts, and monitor the scale of the outbreak.

1.1 Health communication

Health communication is the main task of the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) and the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health (MSAH) at the national level. However, several Ministries, national research and expert organisations and local and regional public health authorities also participate in communication activities. The Government held press conferences several times a week with key Ministers and the Prime Minister present during the first weeks of the epidemic. Towards the end of April and May the press conferences have been held every time there have been new decisions made.

THL has given general advice on hand hygiene, physical distancing and respiratory etiquette with printable instructions and videos for travellers and the general public. They have also advertised widely on the TV, public transport, and in public places. THL has also produced materials for use by public health officials functioning at national and local level. THL updates its website daily which has a Q&A section and general information about the disease, prevention and care for the public, health care professionals as well as for the media (1).

MSAH, Prime Minister’s Office and other ministries have their own web pages for coronavirus information. Local authorities, i.e. municipalities, and hospital districts are responsible for communication and advice in their communities and regions on the local situation.

In addition to official sources, Finland has also defined social media as a critical operator and has invited social media influencers to participate in disseminating timely and accurate information on social media. (2) .

In early April, the MSAH and THL jointly prepared a COVID-19 information letter that was delivered by post to each Finnish household. 

On 14th April, the director of THL recommended via media the use of fabric face masks in public places, however neither THL nor MSAH has not issued a formal advice on the matter. On April 18 2020 THL and MSAH stated that they do not recommend using fabric face masks (4).

On April 15th 2020 THL stated that hygiene measures could be further enhanced, for example by improving the possibility for hand disinfection in public spaces. THL stated that hand sanitizer should be available everywhere where hand washing is not possible (e.g. at the doors and within the facilities of shopping centres, near doors and checkout points in stores, in toilet facilities at transport hubs such as stations and terminals, and in public transport). (3) 

COVID-19 infections began to increase in April sharply among Somali speakers in Helsinki. The City of Helsinki revealed on April 14 that 1.8 per cent of the entire Somali-speaking population in Helsinki had the infection, while the corresponding share across all residents of Helsinki is 0.2%. (6) Somali community spokesperson responded that revelation of the information was done in a way which stigmatized the Somali community. (6)

On April17 2020 the Government launched Finland forward (Suomi toimii) -campaign which is a multi-agency project, led by the Prime Minister’s Office. It is working to support day-to-day crisis communications. Its main form of action is putting together communications and sharing information. A number of NGOs and other organisations, such as Save the Children, Finnish Red Cross, Mieli Mental Health Finland, Unicef, have joined the campaign. The campaign aims at supporting psychological resilience to crisis during and after the emergency situation, building trust and strengthen people’s sense of belonging and belief in the future, providing reliable information and tools for dealing with the emotions and uncertainty caused by the crisis, and demonstrating the importance and value of joint action and all forms of assistance. (8)

On 24th April 2020 the government organized a press conference for the country’s children. This was broadcast on newspaper websites and the national broadcaster. Children had been asked to prepare questions that they could ask online. The questions ranged from how dangerous COVID was and when children could get back to school. The event was well received by both parents and children. (7)

On 15th of May the Prime Minister held briefing on the “hybrid strategy” and the models and indicators used to monitor the progress of the COVID-19 situation. At the event also the Director of Strategic Affairs from the MSAH and the Chief Physician from THL reported on the indicators and forecasts used in assessing the COVID-19 situation. (9)
Following the demands from the public, the government has engaged in more open communication in terms of the Covid-19 situation. On 11th May, THL held a webinar on the models used for predicting epidemic progress and its effects. On 15th May, THL held a webinar on testing. THL has also announced that MSAH has a group following the situation nationally and regionally. The current situation update was published for the first time on 15th May with a follow up report on 20th of May (9). This reporting is more extensive including both national and regional data as well as weekly estimates of national R0. It is a response to requests of sharing of more data and information to researchers and the public.

THL has updated its guidelines on how older people can protect themselves against the coronavirus disease. The Government held a briefing on 20th May which focused on the wellbeing of older people, especially those over 70 years of age, and on the new guidelines. The updated guidelines draw particular attention to ways in which elderly people can safely have contact with their family and close friends and maintain their wellbeing and functional capacity under emergency conditions.(10)

On 28 May the MSAH and THL gave a briefing on epidemiological assessment, disease situation and health system capacity.

On 29 May the results of a report on the use of face coverings in the community to prevent the spread of COVID-19 was published. A systematic literature review was prepared for the MSAH by Summaryx Oy, a non-profit corporation. According to the review, there is very little evidence available on the effectiveness of face coverings in the community in preventing the spread of COVID-19. The report concluded that the effect of the use of face coverings on the spread of respiratory infections among the population is minor or non-existent and that the primary means of preventing the spread of COVID-19 are avoiding close contact with others, good coughing and sneezing hygiene and washing hands. (11). This finding sparked discussion regarding the ordered review, and the parameters set for the review as it mainly examined randomized controlled trials, which was viewed by many as too limited for determining a true effect. On 1 June 2020, the government was also handed a report by the science panel, which in contrast to the review, recommended the use of masks particularly in high risk situations (12). On June 3, the government did not recommend the use of facemasks for the general public, but advised that it would be possible to use these in high risk situations (e.g. public transport and other closed spaces). (13).

On 13 August THL issued a regional advisory for the use of facemasks depending on epidemiological criteria, in many regions of the country. The advisory suggested that facemasks should be used in situations where physical distancing was not possible, specifically in public transport.

1. THL https://thl.fi/fi/web/infektiotaudit-ja-rokotukset/ajankohtaista/ajankohtaista-koronaviruksesta-covid-19 
2.    Politico.eu (31/03/2020) https://www.politico.eu/article/finland-taps-influencers-as-critical-actors-amid-coronavirus-pandemic/
3. THL (15/04/2020) https://thl.fi/en/web/thlfi-en/-/hand-hygiene-can-be-further-improved-handrubs-should-be-possible-in-all-public-spaces-?redirect=%2Fen%2Fweb%2Finfectious-diseases%2Fwhat-s-new%2Fcoronavirus-covid-19-latest-updates
4. MSAH (18/04/2020) https://stm.fi/artikkeli/-/asset_publisher/sosiaali-ja-terveysministerio-ja-thl-eivat-ohjeista-kangasmaskien-kaytosta-julkisilla-paikoilla-liikuttaessa   
5. Helsinkitimes (15/04/2020) : https://www.helsinkitimes.fi/finland/finland-news/domestic/17551-helsinki-expresses-concern-as-coronavirus-infections-surge-among-somalis.html
6. Yle (14/04/2020) https://yle.fi/uutiset/osasto/news/city_councillor_somali_community_covid-19_infections_a_class_issue/11305572 
7. Finnish Government (24/04/2020) https://valtioneuvosto.fi/en/article/-/asset_publisher/10616/valtioneuvoston-koronainfo-lapsille-perjantaina-24-4-
8. Finnish Government (17/04/2020) https://valtioneuvosto.fi/en/finlandforward 
9. Finnish Government (15/04/2020) https://valtioneuvosto.fi/artikkeli/-/asset_publisher/10616/paaministeri-sanna-marin-avasi-hallituksen-hybridistrategiaa-myos-mallinnukset-ja-mittarit-esilla-perjantain-tilannekatsausinfossa?_101_INSTANCE_LZ3RQQ4vvWXR_languageId=en_US
10. Finnish Government (20/05/2020) https://valtioneuvosto.fi/en/artikkeli/-/asset_publisher/1271139/ikaantyneen-on-syyta-valttaa-koronavirustartuntaa-hyvinvointiin-ja-toimintakykyyn-kannattaa-kiinnittaa-huomiota 
11. MSAH. 2020. Report on the use of community face coverings to prevent the spread of the covid-19 epidemic http://julkaisut.valtioneuvosto.fi/handle/10024/162266 
12. Valtioneuvoston tiedepaneeli (science panel of the Government council). 2020. https://valtioneuvosto.fi/documents/10616/21411573/VNK_Tiedepaneelin_raportti_200601.pdf/b3c837ba-02a1-693b-ccf5-fbdada481c01/VNK_Tiedepaneelin_raportti_200601.pdf
13. Finnish Government (03/06/2020) https://valtioneuvosto.fi/artikkeli/-/asset_publisher/10616/korjaus-hallitus-linjasi-neuvottelussaan-kasvosuojuksista-ja-keskusteli-rajaliikenteesta?_101_INSTANCE_LZ3RQQ4vvWXR_languageId=en_US