Wednesday September 22, 2021

Life in northern Finland likely to get normal by autumn: Markku Broas

Published : 15 Jun 2021, 14:21

Updated : 15 Jun 2021, 18:41

  DF Report by Lisa Koenig

Infection diseases specialist Dr. Markku Broas expressed hopes about life becoming normal in the northern Finland by autumn after the rate of vaccination against the coronavirus goes higher.

Dr. Broas, who has been handling the coronavirus situation from the very beginning when the first case of infection in Finland was diagnosed in Lapland in late January 2020, also warned that people still have chances of virus infection even after being vaccinated twice.

“It is very hard to say for sure. But I am optimistic that in fall, when the vaccination rate will be higher, we would be very close to a normal life up here in the north,” Dr. Broas, Head of infection diseases of the Lapland Central Hospital, told Daily Finland in an exclusive interview.

He, however, said that even though infection rates are sinking within Europe since April, globally there are still some worrying developments as the Delta mutation B.1.617.2, first detected in India.

“I think that in Europe we are now going in a better direction. There are hotspots in Sweden but still the development has been good,” he said, adding that the recent incidence rate of 28 per 100.000 inhabitants is one of the lowest in Europe.

In Lapland area, there is no COVID-19 case in the society at all. A few cases are imported to Lapland from Southern Finland or Sweden, Broas said. The infections are usually decreasing during the summer and at the same time the vaccination rate is going up, which makes him optimistic.

In Finland so far about 51 percent of all people older than 16 have got at least one shot of vaccination. Among those over 70 years old it is even already 90 percent.

Pointing to the number of infection among the fully vaccinated people in neighbouring countries, he termed the reason for infection as a limitation of the vaccine.

“Even though you are vaccinated twice, there is still the chance to be infected and those people are also infectious to others. But, anyway, the protection rate even against new variants is about 80 to 85 percent. So, it is quite high and even if you get the infection it is milder,” he added.

He thinks that by the end of 2021, COVID-19 would be an ordinary disease such as influenza and it will not be as worrying as it is now. In his opinion, societies at least with a high vaccination rate will be able to get back to normal life. Particularly important thereby is the vaccination of people in the risk groups.

While other European countries are struggling with anti-vaccine movements, Dr. Broas sees that the acceptance of vaccination in Finland is high. “We are lucky because we Finns are quite vaccine-oriented people. I believe that the Finnish people can analyse information and make right decisions. But we, infection specialists and others who are working for prevention, should still remind people of the importance of vaccinations. That is our duty,” he added.

He, however, said that what is missing most now is an adequate number of doses. Pfizer-BioNTech recently announced that it could deliver fewer doses than planned.

“We calculate that we can reach a vaccination coverage of people over 16 years of about 70 percent here in Finland by August. If there is no delay in vaccine delivery, we could get even a higher percentage,” he said.

Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are now playing the most important role in vaccination in Finland.

He also warned that still the pandemic is not over yet. New variants are coming up and new clusters can still appear especially among young people who are not vaccinated yet.

“To prevent a fresh increase in infection, there are some measures that need to stay in place depending on the situation. In Lapland, the northernmost hospital district in Finland, life has turned quite normal again,” he said.

He emphasised wearing masks in public and inside when there is no possibility to keep the minimum distance of two meters. “The test strategy for people travelling from areas with higher incidence is stricter than in other parts of Europe. People can get tested easily even without symptoms. While these are the main guidelines up in the north, other parts of Finland with higher infection rates need to behave more carefully,” said Broas.

Pointing to a better situation in the low population density area of Lapland, he said that high incidence in Swedish Lapland, where society and population density are quite similar, shows that there is more to the success of Finnish Lapland’s infection prevention.

Broas also praises the good COVID-19 policy as one of the reasons the area is “somehow one of the winners in this pandemic compared with other parts of Finland and Europe.”