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Finnish local authorities rebel on curbs

Finland’s local authorities have refused to implement strict isolation measures to stem coronavirus infections in schools despite advice from the government, with test and trace capacity already overwhelmed by the fast-spreading Omicron variant.

Finland’s minister in charge of the COVID response, Krista Kiuru, warned on Friday that long COVID-19 could become Finland’s largest chronic disease and that children were also at risk.

She said she feared returning to school was not safe and called for local authorities to implement strict quarantines at schools in which one pupil’s COVID-19 infection would result in quarantine for the entire exposed class.

But Taina Isosomppi, Helsinki’s chief epidemiologist, told Reuters the capital region’s municipalities were not going to follow the minister’s advice.

“It would be disproportionate to implement large-scale quarantines at schools when they have not been a high-risk environment to begin with,” Isosomppi said.

“Mandating quarantines is no longer an effective way to control the epidemic,” Isosomppi said.

For more than a year, the government’s main strategy to counter the pandemic has been to test and trace infections throughout society but this week local authorities began to openly rebel against the measures.

“Tracing infections has lost its effectiveness due to delays in testing and in contacting the patients,” they said in a statement.

Helsinki and 11 other municipalities in the capital region had already said on Monday that they were giving up on mandating quarantines on infected patients in most cases, focusing their efforts only at health care units and elderly care units.

Instead, authorities recommended anyone with symptoms, including children, to remain at home on voluntary basis.

Last week, Isosomppi and nine other leading Finnish infection specialists published an open letter against a plan proposed by Kiuru’s ministry to reintroduce school closures and going back to remote learning.

Finland’s government was not immediately available for comment.

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