Sleeping in the switch?

In Helsinki, I wear a mask on the tram. It’s a lonely experience because even though the tram is full, I’m one of the few wearing a mask.

During the initial COVID lockdown and later in response to the recommendation to use masks in crowded spaces, followed official recommendations. In a country where almost everyone trusts the word of experts—as an American, I’m envious—the government has been silent on the issue. People are tired of wearing masks, everyone tells me. They want to move on. And during the all-too-short summer, most people stay outside enjoying the wonderful weather, where the chance of contracting COVID is close to zero.

That’s true – but COVID thrives in closed and crowded environments like and Forum, where a mask holder can be found.

COVID doesn’t take a summer vacation. The virus strains spread in Europe have seemingly harmless names: BA.-4 and BA.-5. (Thank God, gone are the days when Donald Trump could incite a “Chinese epidemic”.) But the latest variants are masters at evading immunity. They are more contagious than previous strains. You are still susceptible to infections even if you have already been infected or are fully vaccinated.

No one is talking about a new lockdown – and they shouldn’t be unless COVID seems to be getting out of hand – but masks are another story. When , which is not famous for its love of rules, orders masks in public places, such as vaporettos, the Finnish health authorities should take note. There is ample evidence that masks reduce the chance of contracting this airborne virus.

Although few pay attention, is feeling its influence more and more. Bear with me as you read a few statistics courtesy of News Service. The number of new infections in the first week of July was 21% of the peak reported last January – and the number is rising. In comparison, in , the number of new infections was 1% of the peak level.

“Two hundred and thirty-three infections per 100,000 people were reported in Finland [the first week of July]”, Reuters notes. And because many people use home testing kits, these numbers underestimate the true number of infections.

Here’s the news: During the first week of the month “Finland reported the most coronavirus-related deaths since the beginning of the pandemic: sixty-six.”

According to the court, this information should set alarm bells ringing in high places. But to adapt an old joke, Finland is like Cleopatra, Queen of Denial when it comes to COVID.

In March 2020, in the first days of the pandemic, Finland declared a state of emergency – for the first time since the of 1941 – and isolated from the rest of the country. That short, sharp shock caught everyone’s attention. It may have kept the epidemic at bay, as the number of new cases dropped sharply over the summer. But the health authorities, who were relaxing in their summer cottages or basking on the shores of the Mediterranean, slept in the clutch, unprepared for the increasing number of infections in the fall.

Is this “déjà vu all over again” like Yogi Berra, once New York Yankees catcher and master of the malapropism, once said? Fingers crossed that the Finnish health authorities and politicians have learned the lesson of 2020. Unfortunately, I can find no evidence that this is the case.


David Kirp

David Kirp, professor of public policy at the University of California, Berkeley, is a writer for the Helsinki Times.

David Kirp

David Kirp, professor of public policy at the University of California, Berkeley, is a writer for the Helsinki Times.

David Kirp

David Kirp, professor of public policy at the University of California, Berkeley, is a writer for the Helsinki Times.

Source: The Nordic Page

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