Kirsi Varhila: Finland started preparing for the coronavirus disease before it hit the headlines
The Ministry of Social Affairs and Health is responsible for ensuring that Finland is prepared for both unexpected and gradually emerging situations that affect, or may affect, healthcare and social welfare services one way or another.
Preparedness is something that is being done all the time even though it is not discussed publicly.
We began preparing for the novel coronavirus disease as soon as it started spreading in China at the turn of the year. The World Health Organization (WHO) declared the virus a public health emergency of international concern on 30 January 2020.
We raised our level of preparedness immediately.
Preparedness is based on existing legislation
The expert role of the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) has been crucial, and THL has focused its resources so that it can efficiently manage and take stock of the situation, decide on appropriate measures and get the measures implemented at all levels. All administrative branches in Finland relay on THL’s expertise when they build their situational awareness. The Finnish Institute of Occupational Health has an important role in advising workplaces especially through occupational healthcare services.
The Communicable Diseases Act requires municipalities, hospital districts, the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare, Regional State Administrative Agencies and the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health to prevent communicable diseases and their spread to the population.
The Government Decree issued under the Communicable Diseases Act was amended swiftly to add the novel coronavirus to the list of generally hazardous communicable diseases. The amendment entered into force on 14 February 2020. As a result, people who are quarantined or parents who are forced to stay at home because their child is quarantined are now entitled to receive a communicable diseases allowance.
Everyone in Finland will be taken care of in the event of an outbreak
We have in place a preparedness plan for an influenza pandemic. That is why we have already a good level of preparedness for all conceivable situations, including the current one.
While we proceed as planned, we will also update the pandemic preparedness plan this spring based on experiences from the coronavirus situation.
The Ministry has seen to that also regions and municipalities update their own preparedness plans. We have given instructions to municipalities, joint municipal authorities, hospital districts and regional state administrative agencies to that effect. This way we can make sure that the whole chain works across Finland.
Finland has so far managed to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus. If things change, we will adjust our actions accordingly, and we will always take care of people who are ill. We all should bear in mind that in an outbreak most of those who are infected will have only a mild disease and that not everyone in Finland will be ill at the same time: just like an influenza virus, the coronavirus too will spread in waves.
There is enough medicines and protective gear
All Finland’s regions have access to sufficient amounts of protective gear for healthcare professionals who are involved in treating infected patients. Where necessary, emergency stocks of protective gear can be taken to regions that are particularly affected by the disease.
Finland has compulsory stockpiles of medicines, and at the moment there is no cause for concern, according to the Finnish Medicines Agency (Fimea). However, the availability of medicines is monitored constantly, as there are risks of shortages because the coronavirus outbreak has disrupted production in China and India.
Finland contains the spread of the disease with tried and tested means
All countries have their own approach to containing communicable diseases. Finland will tackle the spread of the novel coronavirus with measures that have been found effective in international studies. Highly visible measures are not necessarily effective. Thermal screening or measuring the temperature of inbound and outbound passengers has not been proven effective to prevent the spread of the disease. Instead, they take up resources that are needed to treat those who are ill.
At the moment, we do not have a coronavirus outbreak in Finland, but we are prepared for it. Our healthcare system will be able to bear the additional strain caused by an outbreak.
In the midst of all the fuss, it is worth bearing in mind that life goes on despite the coronavirus. We are all responsible for good hand hygiene, and if we get symptoms we should stay at home and contact healthcare services for further instructions.
Kirsi Varhila, Permanent Secretary
Ministry of Social Affairs and Health