“Now is not the right time to ease the mask recommendation”

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“Now is not the right time to ease the mask recommendation”

Mask-clad customers on an escalator in shopping centre Forum in Helsinki on 15 December 2021. (Emmi Korhonen – Lehtikuva)

EEVA RUOTSALAINEN, a deputy chief physician at the Hospital District of Helsinki and Uusimaa (HUS), has expressed her reservation about plans to ease the mask recommendation in Finland.

“Now is not the right time to ease the mask recommendation. There’s a big contradiction here as the coronavirus is still circulating widely, the strain on hospital care is still high and the restrictions have basically been lifted,” she stated to YLE on Monday.

The Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) on Tuesday revealed it is re-examining its plan to ease the recommendation, citing lack of improvements in coronavirus-related infections, hospitalisations and mortality, according to Helsingin Sanomat.

Mika Salminen, the head of health security at THL, stated last week that the national guidelines will be amended to state that mask use is recommended when, for example, using public transport to access coronavirus testing or going to a pharmacy to buy essential medications while exhibiting symptoms.

“In other regards, it’d be more up to people’s own discretion whether they want to use a mask after considering their loved ones and their own risks,” he said at a press conference held by THL and the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health on Thursday.

Ruotsalainen on Monday pointed out that the risks are compounded by the fact that the uptake of third vaccine doses is lower in Finland than elsewhere in the Nordics. Third doses have been administered only to 61 per cent of the adult population in Finland, compared to 68 per cent in Norway and 78 per cent in Denmark.

Another cause for concern is indications that the natural immunity caused by an omicron infection is weaker and shorter than vaccine-induced one.

“We can’t be confident that having the disease provides long-term protection,” summarised Ruotsalainen.

“It has already been almost five months since third doses were given to the elderly and nursing home residents. Their vaccine protection is weaker than healthy working-age people. This means that vaccine protection is waning in that part of the population who’d need a fourth dose to protect against severe forms of the disease.”

Almost 27,000 new coronavirus infections were detected last weekend in Finland. Fragments of the virus are also detected widely in wastewater analyses.

“There are no indications yet that the epidemic is easing nationwide,” said Ruotsalainen.

It also remains unknown how workplaces would respond to the new instructions. Ruotsalainen said it would send the wrong message in the prevalent epidemiological situation if staff in shops and on public transport no longer wore masks. The recommendation, she added, is likely to remain in effect for the foreseeable future in social and health care sector.

“In hospitals, every unexpected coronavirus-positive patient or employee causes an exposure situation in the ward. Masks provide additional protection and reduce exposures,” she told.

“I think it’d be prudent to hold on to the mask recommendation until the end of April. That way we’d see what happens at the turn of March and April, when the effects of the easing of restrictions will visible and the omicron’s BA.2 sub-variant will have become the prevalent variant.”

Aleksi Teivainen – HT

Source: www.helsinkitimes.fi

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