The number of COVID-19 patients in hospital care increased in Finland from mid-March onwards, said the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) in a press release on Friday.
However, the increase has been moderate in comparison to spring 2022. The number of patients requiring intensive care also increased in the spring, but since then, the growth has halted.
Viruses of the Omicron XBB recombinant lineages are the dominant types circulating in Finland, and their number has increased since late winter.
Currently, XBB.1.5 is the most dominant variant, comprising 45 per cent of the sequenced samples. The ability of the XBB recombinant lineages to evade immunity better than previous variants may contribute to the rise in infection rates, thus also increasing the number of patients in hospital care. The new variants have not been found to cause more severe symptoms.
The majority of those who have been hospitalised have been elderly or have had underlying illnesses.
In Europe, the total number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalised patients has remained stable or decreased, although there are some differences in trends between countries. Even the highest levels are still low compared to the peaks of the pandemic.
Tuula Hannila-Handelberg, Chief Physician of THL, said that surges in case numbers are normal when the virus is circulating in the population.
“The spring wave of the coronavirus epidemic is currently under way in Finland, and THL is monitoring the situation. Infection rates tend to decrease towards the summer, but it’s important to identify those patients who are at risk of developing severe forms of coronavirus,” said Hannila-Handelberg.
On 5 May 2023, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared end to COVID-19 as a global health emergency.
However, COVID-19 is a disease that is here to stay. It is a threat similar to those posed by other viruses, such as influenza and RSV.
The number of people who have received a positive test result does not give an accurate picture of the actual COVID-19 situation in the population, as tests are carried out in a targeted manner according to risk assessment, for example for hospitalised patients. The majority of those infected are asymptomatic or have mild symptoms of coronavirus and recuperate at home.
According to THL's wastewater monitoring, the amount of COVID-19 in wastewater has increased slightly in recent weeks. However, wastewater results cannot be used to determine how many people infected with coronavirus have gotten symptoms of COVID-19 or how severe the symptoms are.
Those infected shed the virus for approximately three weeks, so the infection may show up in wastewater results long after being infected.
For those under the age of 65, three vaccine doses, including previous infections, provide high-level and long-term protection against severe disease. The protection against severe disease remains at a high level also for those over the age of 65 and in risk groups.
However, the vaccine does not protect against a mild infection, which may lead to hospitalisation for elderly people and those in poor condition.
Mika Muhonen, Specialist at THL, reminded of the importance of recommended vaccines.
“The recommended doses provide as good protection against severe disease as can be achieved through vaccination,” Muhonen said.
COVID-19 can be treated in the same way as other respiratory tract infections, such as influenza. Most people with coronavirus have mild symptoms and can be treated at home. The most common symptoms are fatigue, muscle pain, headache, sore throat and rise in temperature. However, in risk groups, the symptoms may be stronger, and the disease may be severe.
According to Tuula Hannila-Handelberg, it is recommended that COVID-19 is treated at home like any other infection. If you have symptoms, you can take a home test if you wish.
“Spring and summer parties can be enjoyed in peace. It’s a good idea to take the recommended vaccine doses and stay at home when ill. You should also assess your own risk and that of others. If you are planning to visit elderly people or people in risk groups, you can ask their opinions about the visit,” Hannila-Handelberg said.
THL monitors the development of the COVID-19 epidemic and outlines vaccine recommendations for the autumn by June at the latest.