High number of COVID-19 cases imposes a burden on healthcare and social welfare
COVID-19 cases are spreading widely among the population, but especially vaccinated people have a lower risk of developing the severe form of the disease. The number of people in hospitals with COVID-19 has increased. However, a large number of these patients are treated mainly for some other reason than COVID-19. Multiple COVID-19 variants are circulating in Finland, but their impact on the epidemic is not yet clear.
In October, about 12,000–13,000 cases have been registered in Finland every week. The number of registered cases does not currently reflect the actual disease burden, because people decide whether to take a formal laboratory test based on the current testing strategy and the regional recommendations.
The overall amount of SARS-CoV-2 RNA in Finland’s wastewater is now on the same level as in early 2022. All regions where samples were taken had high levels of SARS-CoV-2 in wastewater. This means that COVID-19 is circulating widely among the population. The real number of infections is likely to be many times higher that the number of registered infections.
Vaccines provide protection against serious forms of COVID-19
Although COVID-19 is circulating widely among the population, the risk of developing a serious form of the disease is now lower, especially for people with good vaccine protection.
The number of COVID-19 patients has increased over the past few weeks. The proportion of patients who were admitted to hospital for reasons other than COVID-19 has increased in some regions. The treatment periods of patients hospitalised due to COVID-19 have become shorter.
While the number of deaths caused directly or indirectly by COVID-19 remains considerable, there are more and more cases where COVID-19 was not the direct cause of death or it did not contribute to the death.
The BA.5 subvariant of the Omicron variant has been the dominant strain of the virus since summer 2022. There are numerous descendants of BA.5, such as BF.7 and BQ.1, that are currently circulating in Finland. So far, these lineages have only accounted for a small proportion of infections, and their clinical picture appears to be similar to those of the previous Omicron lineages. However, the spread of these virus variants may accelerate the epidemic in future.
Protect yourself and others to reduce the risk of infection and spread of the disease
The number of other respiratory infections usually starts to increase in late autumn and early winter. Cases of both the common cold and influenza are normally reported the most at the end and beginning of the year.
You can protect yourself from COVID-19, the influenza and other respiratory infections in the following ways: take care of your vaccination coverage, stay at home if you have symptoms, wash your hands and cough or sneeze into your sleeve. You can also wear an effective face mask to protect yourself and others from infection. Keeping a safe distance from other people and ensuring good ventilation also reduce the risk of infection.
It is also important to increase the use of antiviral medicines that are intended for treating people at risk of developing the more serious form of the COVID-19 disease. If a person belonging to such a group has even the mildest symptoms of COVID-19, they should get tested promptly and an assessment should be made whether to start antiviral medication. Municipalities and hospital districts issue more detailed instructions on carrying out an assessment of the need for treatment.
The Ministry of Social Affairs and Health is monitoring the development of the epidemic continuously in cooperation with the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare. Measures are taken to maintain national and international preparedness for any waves of the pandemic that could be caused by new virus variants in the future.
The Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare has compiled the key monitoring information on the COVID-19 epidemic on its website.
Taneli Puumalainen, Director General, Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, [email protected]
Otto Helve, Director, Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare, [email protected]