European country shielded from worst of COVID declares emergency after outbreak of UK variant

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·Senior news reporter, Yahoo News UK
·2-min read
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BRUSSELS, BELGIUM - DECEMBER 10: Finish Prime Minister Sanna Mirella Marin arrives for the first day of an EU Summit in the Europa, the European Union Council headquarter on December 10, 2020, in Brussels, Belgium. EU leaders to finalise concessions to Poland and Hungary on Thursday on rule of law conditionality to unblock MFF and Recovery Plan. (Photo by Thierry Monasse/Getty Images)
Finish PM Sanna Marin has announced a state of emergency after a spike in COVID cases. (Thierry Monasse/Getty Images)

Finland has declared a state of emergency after a spike in coronavirus infections driven by the UK variant – after having so far been one of the least affected European countries during the pandemic.

It means lockdown restrictions such as shutting restaurants, closing schools and limiting travel have been imposed for at least the next three weeks.

Prime minister Sanna Marin said: “The government sees it necessary that we all have fewer contacts.

“Everyone now has the opportunity to impact how the spring and summer will turn out."

Finland, population 5.5 million, saw cases continue to spike in February. As of Sunday, the seven-day average of new infections was 562, up from 387 at the start of the month.

In November last year, Yahoo News UK highlighted how Finland had managed to contain the second wave of COVID-19 even as it spread through Europe, with the country praised for the “really strong engagement” of its people and “rapid decisions” taken by the government.

Cases have now accelerated due to the presence of the more transmissible virus variant that was first identified in Kent, England, in December.

However, despite this spike in cases, Finland still has one of the lower infection rates in Europe.

Watch: Boris Johnson says 'massive effort' ongoing to contain spread of new variants

Oxford University’s respected Our World in Data website, which uses seven-day averages of new cases per one million people, measured Finland’s as 101.33.

By comparison, neighbouring Sweden is on 369.8, while the UK is on 128.89.

The Czech Republic has the highest case rate per one million people in Europe, at 1,098.16. Iceland is the lowest at 1.67.

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While infections are continuing to fall in the UK, which has had the most successful COVID vaccine rollouts of any European country, the picture on the continent as a whole remains gloomy.

Last week, Dr Hans Kluge, regional director of the World Health Organization in Europe, pointed out that while cases have almost halved since the end of 2020, they remain 10 times higher than they were after the first wave in May last year.

While England is aiming to come out of lockdown on 21 June, Dr Kluge warned it may be 2022 before Europe is “done with the pandemic”.

Watch: How England will leave lockdown

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