Coronavrius (Covid-19)

How We Dealt with Coronavirus: Finland

Finland has fared well with a quick lockdown and reopening. ANTTI TUOMAINEN and TANELI PUUMALAINEN, chief physician at the Finnish Institute of Health and Welfare, share their thoughts…

Taneli Puumalainen

Chief Physician at the Finnish Institute of Health and Welfare

“Our position was that it was very unlikely that opening schools would impact the pandemic, and based on the follow-up information we now have we can see that it has not. There were a few cases in schools, but no subsequent spread of infection. If a teacher had a pre-existing medical condition, he or she could visit an occupational physician and make a risk assessment, and if the physician decided the risk was too high, this would be a justification for allowing them to stay at home. Infection rate among key workers was high, though this is probably due to the fact that, in the early stages of the pandemic, testing focused on health professionals. Currently, all those with mild symptoms are tested on a low threshold.”

Antti Tuomainen

Crime writer

Coronavirus restrictions began in earnest here somewhere around mid-March. It seemed to happen overnight and went so smoothly (we have had just 301 deaths) that it was almost as though it were the result of some practice. Come to think of it, maybe it was. There is a comic book here called Finnish Nightmares, which presents situations that would indeed be nightmarish for a Finnish person. One of these shows a Finn on a bus, sitting in a window seat. The nightmare? That someone sits in the aisle seat… and the first person has to speak to them in order to get past and get off the bus. Needless to say, our buses, trains and trams are, even in normal times, quite roomy.

As lockdown eases around Europe, I suppose the big question is: shouldn’t everybody be taking lessons from us? Because, really, doesn’t it seem we’ve been doing it right all along? To put it directly to you Brits: should you be more Finnish? It probably isn’t for us to say. We are famously modest. But I wouldn’t be a Finn if I didn’t give you the no-nonsense, practical, how-to list of how you might go about it.

First, try to live where no one else would want to live. Simple. Choose the most uncomfortable spot on the map, say, between Sweden and Russia, make a home and don’t tell anyone where you are. Finland is roughly 50 per cent larger than the UK; it is nearly the size of Germany. The UK has 66 million people. Finland has 5.5 million. In a country that is mostly dense forest and empty, well-maintained roads, it hasn’t been entirely impossible to accommodate these times.

Second, minimise social contact. Again, live where going outside is inadvisable anyway. And stop going to pubs and cafés and gatherings and dinners… and for heaven’s sake, stop talking. What good is it anyway? We never started talking and look what happened: we’re the happiest nation in the world, with – if we weren’t too modest to point out – the best healthcare, education and rye bread. Coincidence? We think not. If you absolutely insist on going outside, do it alone and in the woods.

Third, if you want to have a party, have it. Just do it by yourself. In Finland, we have a term for hard solitary partying: pantsdrunk. It’s where you sit on your couch alone, in your underwear, get drunk and pass out. A good time will be had by all.

Fourth, (this advice will come too late for some): keep family sizes small. One person is ideal. If there are more, you may have to talk to them. We have small families.

Finally, speak a language no one understands. This is a great trick for lessening any need to travel. Why go anywhere when nobody understands you there? Similarly, no curious foreigner will bother you for long when you mumble incoherently and try to drag him into a sauna.

I was in a public sauna, one of my favourite places to be, when I heard the news that, because of the virus, they were going to close all public saunas. I exchanged six or seven low-voiced words with a fellow bather. We concluded there was no need to panic. In a country of 5.5 million people, we have more than a million saunas. So now we find our own private one and sweat it out alone. For some reason, I haven’t had a problem with that.

TANELI PUUMALIAINEN is chief physician at the Finnish Institute of Health and Welfare.

ANTTI TUOMAINEN is a crime writer.

For the latest Nordic news, follow @FikaOnlineBlog on Twitter.

Extracts of this article have also been published in The Times and The Telegraph.

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