A government-appointed scientific panel has recommended the use of protective masks in public and on public transportation in Finland to reduce the spread of coronavirus until a vaccine is found and made available, national broadcaster Yle reported.
The panel also noted a significant risk of a second, more severe second wave of the COVID-19 epidemic with further-reaching economic consequences. At the same time, work on an effective vaccine is expected to be completed by next year at the earliest. Until then, the general public has been urged to wear masks when out and about, possibly depending on infection rate levels in various regions.
However, while lending an ear to experts from the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) and the Hospital District of Helsinki and Uusimaa (HUS), who all recommended face mask use as well, the Finnish government said it won't issue any general recommendations.
The government acknowledged that masks can be worn to protect others in instances where avoiding close contact is impossible, such as public transport. However, Family Minister Krista Kiuru stressed that avoiding close contact with others and practising good hand and cough hygiene remain the primary methods to fight the coronavirus.
“A face mask doesn’t protect its user from an infection, but it can prevent a person carrying the virus from infecting others,” Kiuru summarised to national broadcaster Yle, reminding that citizens will also need instructions on how to put on, use and take off the masks, and how to change them frequently enough.
The debate over the necessity of mask use by the general public has continued in Finland ever since the onslaught of the coronavirus amid conflicting messages from various authorities. So far, the government has decided against mandating or even recommending face masks.
Last week, the Ministry of Health and Social Affairs presented a report that examined how well masks work to prevent the spread of upper respiratory infections. Remarkably, the report saw “no scientific evidence” to support the use of masks. However, on Monday, a Helsinki University academic noted that the report on mask use omitted the latest research by virologists on the subject.
On Tuesday, Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto said the use of face masks in international air travel seems to have become a regular practice.
“I think there is a new standard in European travel, at least for flights, and that these masks are demanded by airlines”, Haavisto said, urging Finland to prepare for this situation when the country's borders are further opened.
Earlier this week, a group of researchers self-labelled “Stop the Corona” urged the government to issue a recommendation for the use of face masks in active epidemic areas, arguing that masks were a beneficial and effective way of smothering the coronavirus epidemic.
“There is strong scientific evidence that using face masks helps to save lives, preserve jobs and slow down the epidemic” their open letter said.
So far, not a single Nordic country has made face masks mandatory in public places, unlike most European countries and Russia.
So far, Finland has seen close to over 6,900 confirmed cases and 320 deaths.