In Finland, the corona pandemic is only now reaching its peak

The number of corona deaths in the first quarter of 2022 is higher in Finland than in all of 2021, according to figures from the Finnish Institute of Health and Welfare (THL), which comes under the Ministry of Health. In 2022, more than 1,400 people have died as a result of Covid-19 so far, in 2021 it was 1,163 people.

Mika Salminen, head of THL’s health care department, sees “unfortunately” a clear explanation for this. “Due to the Omikron variant of the coronavirus, we have more infections than ever during the pandemic. In January we had more infections than in the past two years combined, 260,000.”

The number of infections has still barely fallen, Salminen says. Last month there were more than 200,000. According to him, it is a matter of mathematics: the more infections, the greater the chance that people can die from it. “The vaccines are not perfect and there will always be people whose immune systems are not strong enough to survive an infection.”

Finland has aged quite a bit, which is reflected in the corona figures. The average age of the deceased in 2022 was 82 years. Salminen: “If you look at the cause of death, for most of them it applies that the corona virus contributed and was perhaps the last factor. But it’s not just that, they were already weaker. Only a small proportion died as a direct result of Covid-19.”

If we had had such high infection rates at the beginning of the pandemic, when there were no vaccines, we would probably have had ten times more deaths than we do today.

Mika Salminen Finnish Institute of Health and Welfare

In other countries, the death rate due to the Omikron variant appears to be not too bad, Salminen also notes. “Until now we had low numbers, one of the lowest in the European Union. Our interpretation is that in many other European countries, vulnerable people died quite early during the pandemic. If we had had such high infection rates at the beginning of the pandemic, when there were no vaccines, we would probably have had ten times more deaths than we do now.”

Vaccination coverage among the elderly is high in Finland, more than 95 percent have had two shots, 86 percent have received a booster. It was only recently decided to give people aged eighty and older a second booster, as the campaign has just started.

No measures

Salminen does not see an unequivocal solution. “Of course you can always increase the hygiene regulations. The problem with measures for society is that the vaccine cannot prevent contamination. So if you take strict measures, the problem is moved to the future.” There are currently no restrictive corona measures in Finland. “What you can do, of course, is improve the measures in, for example, care homes. At the start of the pandemic, the rules were very strict, residents were unable to visit family. But that is unbearable, that in the last phase of your life you cannot see your loved ones. You cannot sustain that.”

In Finland, employees in hospitals and care homes must be vaccinated. According to Salminen, that already helps somewhat. Face masks and hygiene measures are also recommended. That way you can keep the risks in check.”

Compared to northern countries such as Denmark and Norway, the number of infections in Finland is falling a lot more slowly, Salminen sees. “There are a few differences. Denmark had a big wave much earlier than we did and we had pretty strict measures in the beginning, which has slowed down the infection rates.”

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He expects the number of infections to fall in the summer. “What happens in the fall will depend on how many people are vaccinated and how many people have survived an infection in the spring. This virus won’t go away, it will reappear every winter, that’s for sure. It’s something we need to prepare for, by strengthening the health care system. And I hope that hygiene measures will be a permanent element in, for example, care homes.”

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