Preparedness for the novel coronavirus disease - A state of emergency in Finland

A cluster of pneumonia cases was detected in China at the end of 2019. The cause was identified as the novel coronavirus, and the disease was named COVID-19. The virus is mainly transmitted by respiratory droplets.

On 11 March 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that COVID-19 can now be characterised as a pandemic.

The Government has announced that there is a state of emergency in the country as a result of the coronavirus outbreak. The aim is to protect the population and to safeguard the functioning of society and the economy.

Ministry of Social Affairs and Health in charge of preparedness

The Ministry of Social Affairs and Health is responsible for the general planning, guidance and monitoring of the prevention of infectious diseases. It began preparing for the coronavirus disease as soon as it started spreading. Finland’s preparedness measures are based on a national preparedness plan for an influenza pandemic.

The Ministry has appointed a coordination group that will plan, manage and coordinate measures in healthcare and social welfare to prevent spread of the novel coronavirus. 

An operational group working under the coordination group maintains situational awareness in the field and coordinates preparedness measures.

The Government Decree on Communicable Diseases was amended by adding the infection caused by the novel coronavirus on the list of generally hazardous communicable diseases. The amendment entered into force on 14 February 2020.

National and international cooperation

The Ministry of Social Affairs and Health cooperates with various authorities to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus disease.

Important partners in material preparedness include the Finnish Medicines Agency Fimea (pharmaceutical services) and the National Emergency Supply Agency (security of supply).

Experts from the Ministry attend meetings of the World Health Organization (WHO), the Council of the European Union, the European Commission and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC).

Guidance for local and regional authorities

The Ministry has issued guidance for municipalities, joint municipal authorities, hospital districts and regional state administrative agencies regarding preparedness for the coronavirus situation.

Guidance for workplaces

The Finnish Institute of Occupational Health has issued guidance for workplaces on how to prepare for the spread of the novel coronavirus.

There are guidelines also for healthcare personnel and other professionals who at work may come to contact with persons who have contracted the coronavirus disease (COVID-19). 

Legislation and principles guiding preparedness measures

The Communicable Diseases Act lays down the obligations of the authorities and the principles of cooperation between the authorities to prevent communicable diseases. It is supplemented by the Government Decree on Communicable Diseases.

Under the Emergency Powers Act, the state authorities and agencies and municipalities must ensure that their duties be performed with the least amount of disruption also in emergency conditions. 

The principles of preparedness and contingency planning in healthcare and social welfare are explained in guidance documents published in spring 2019.

A Government Resolution on a Security Strategy for Society from 2017 defines the responsibilities and duties that operators in the administrative branch of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health have in incidents during normal conditions and in emergency conditions.