The peak of the coronavirus epidemic still lies ahead, Professor Mika Salminen, the director of the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) has warned.
According to Salminen, actually suppressing the pandemic is unlikely.
“We’re trying to suppress the seriousness of the illness as much as possible, but it’s completely unrealistic to think that we could somehow rid the world of this coronavirus,” Salminen told national broadcaster Yle. He also stressed that even according to the most optimistic estimates, a vaccine will not be available for at least a year and a half.
According to Salminen, the slower course of the pandemic is a direct consequence of Finland's restriction policy, that has included a lockdown of the capital area that has lasted several weeks.
“Now the epidemic is going so slowly that the peak of infection is far away. At this rate, it will not come this summer but it will be somewhere in the autumn. That's the negative side of the restrictions,” Salminen told the news channel MTV. “When the restrictions were introduced, we couldn't know for sure how the epidemic would develop. Now it may have slowed down more than we had imagined”, he added.
Still, he stressed that the merit of a slower the spread is that it guaranteed that healthcare didn't suffer a dramatic overload of patients. With 4,576 confirmed cases, 2,500 recoveries and 190 deaths (median age 84), Finland remains the least-hit Scandinavian country.
However, Salminen expected a much larger spread in the future.
“If we talk about a longer period of time, such as several years, then a larger part of the population will be infected by the virus,” he said, venturing that this may be about half of the nation's 5.5 million residents.
Last week, six weeks after declaring a state of emergency, Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin said the government was planning to re-evaluate its coronavirus measures and considered moving toward a hybrid strategy.
Salminen urged people to get tested for COVID-19 even if they only have mild symptoms. According to Salminen, this is part of a new strategy through which authorities aim to significantly increase the testing and tracing of those who may have been exposed to the virus.
So far, nearly 75,000 people have been tested in Finland so far. In relation to Finland’s population, it suggests an incidence of 79 cases per 100,000 people. In its renewed emphasis on testing, Finland has followed recommendations from World Health Organisation (WHO) Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who has urged countries to “isolate, test, treat and trace" in order to “suppress and control the epidemic”.
Worldwide, the extent of COVID-19 is nearing 3 million sick, with over 850,000 recoveries and over 200,000 deaths.