COVID-19 News: Finland Grapples with Soaring COVID-19 Cases And Emerging Variants
: In recent weeks, Finland has found itself in the throes of a surging wave of COVID-19 infections, leading to a strain on its healthcare system and prompting adjustments in public health strategies. The situation has become increasingly challenging, with hospitals in several cities facing the need to curtail non-urgent services to make room for the escalating number of COVID-19 patients.
For the week 1st November to 7th November, Finland saw a total of 2,676 symptomatic infections, with a large proportion of infected individuals requiring hospitalization.
The largest health district in Finland, serving west-central Pirkanmaa, raised its preparedness level to high demand mode, signaling the severity of the situation. Marina Erhola, the district director, highlighted the gradual development of the crisis, emphasizing the significant number of COVID-19 patients currently straining the healthcare infrastructure.
In response to the escalating crisis, public health officials have recommended dual vaccinations for individuals aged 65 and above and those in high-risk groups, combining both seasonal influenza and COVID-19 shots. However, the vaccination rollout faced criticism, with Minister of Social Security Sanni Grahn-Laasonen acknowledging in parliament that it started too slowly. She pointed out that public service health districts are responsible for the vaccination process.
Compounding the challenges, recent local COVID-19 News
coverages revealed that hospitals were overflowing in multiple regions, alongside reports of prolonged waiting times and difficulties in securing vaccination appointments across the country.
The Finnish National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) admitted that the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines to regional health districts commenced too late, given the ongoing epidemic. Moreover, health districts are grappling with a lack of extra manpower, exacerbated by the expiration of additional government financing in the face of the "monitored communicable disease" status conferred on COVID-19.
As the country battles the surge in infections, the Helsinki and Uusimaa hospital district (HUS) has become a focal point, with nearly one-fifth of its patients receiving treatment for COVID-19.
Asko Järvinen, the district's infectious disease chief, expressed concern over the situation, noting that the number of COVID-19 patients at HUS is surpassing levels observed during previous epidemic peaks. The emergence of the Eris variant, also known as EG.5, has added a layer of complexity to the situation, with symptoms resembling those of the flu.
The highly immune evasive Eris variant has presented a challenge to previous infection or vaccination-based immunity, providing only limited and shor
t-lived protection. Despite this, vaccinations have proven more effective than anticipated in preventing severe forms of the disease across age groups. The challenge lies in the evolving nature of the virus, requiring continuous adaptation of public health measures.
One notable aspect of the current surge is the increased prevalence of fever as a common COVID-19 symptom, particularly among the elderly. HUS's Asko Järvinen highlighted the rise in infections, doubling weekly during October, leading to an increased number of hospitalizations. However, the severity of symptoms has shifted, with fewer cases of severe respiratory symptoms compared to previous stages of the pandemic.
The elderly, due to a decline in general health, are more susceptible to severe outcomes, emphasizing the need for vigilance within this demographic. The increase in COVID-19 cases has also translated into higher admissions to intensive care units nationwide since mid-September. While the situation is concerning, Professor Matti Reinikainen from Kuopio University Hospital stressed the importance of booster shots and cautioned against panic.
Despite the challenges posed by the Eris variant, there is some optimism regarding the effectiveness of vaccinations and previous immunity in protecting against severe forms of the disease. Tuija Leino from THL highlighted the importance of booster vaccinations, particularly for those over 75–80 years old.
As Finland navigates this autumn wave, public health experts underscore the continued importance of preventive measures, including staying home when sick, maintaining proper hygiene practices, and considering the use of masks in crowded settings. The evolving situation calls for a collaborative and adaptive approach to mitigate the impact of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis in Finland.
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