In Brief

Coronavirus: how Finland became a Nordic Covid-19 success story

Finns have kept the worst of the pandemic at bay despite enacting a shorter lockdown than many other countries

While armchair epidemiologists have focused their attention on Sweden’s distinctive response to the coronavirus pandemic, another Nordic nation has quietly found an effective way to protect lives and livelihoods from Covid-19.

“Finland has had 90% fewer coronavirus deaths per capita than Sweden and its economy contracted by less in the first half of 2020 as well,” the Financial Times reports.

Indeed, Finland and nearby Norway boast “the West’s lowest rates of mortality linked to Covid-19 and a low incidence of coronavirus infections, even though they have kept their economies and societies largely open”, adds The Wall Street Journal.

While Finland has not been immune to the second wave, with the country’s infection rates rising during September, new cases seem to have steadied at a lower level than elsewhere on the continent. In the past 14 days, Finland has recorded 55 cases per 100,000 people, compared with 505 in the UK, 557 in Sweden and 1,242 in Luxembourg, according to the European Centre for Disease Control.

One reason for this relative success is “that for Finns, social distancing comes naturally”, says Reuters. “While a remote Nordic location and one of Europe’s lowest population densities play in its favour in the fight against Covid-19, it helps that many Finns like personal space and solitude.”

In fact, according to Mika Salminen, the director of Finland’s public health authority, his countrymen and women “like to keep people a metre or more away” even in normal times, “or we start feeling uncomfortable”.

Another “big distinction”, says the Financial Times, is Finland’s “focus on preparedness and how to act in national emergencies, born out of its collective experience during the Winter War in 1939-40 against the Soviet Union”. As a result, Finnish hospitals have had ample supplies of PPE throughout the crisis.

Even Anders Tegnell, Sweden’s outspoken state epidemiologist, has acknowledged how well Finland has fared. “Their level of preparedness is just way beyond anything we would even dream about in Sweden,” he said in September.

While Finland’s shops have remained open and curfews have been avoided, the government in Helsinki enacted “some of Europe’s strictest travel restrictions”, says Reuters. Visitors from all but a handful of countries outside Europe were banned, and a regime of quarantine and testing was required for EU arrivals.

Domestic travel was restricted too: Helsinki and its surrounding area were effectively sealed off, with no one allowed in or out for several weeks.

According to Johan Strang of the University of Helsinki, this approach worked because of clear communication and a national tendency towards stoicism. As a result, he says, the government “can implement quite drastic measures without anybody questioning them”.

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