The prime minister of Finland has apologized for missing a text notification instructing her to isolate after a potential coronavirus exposure and instead went clubbing until 4:00 a.m., the BBC reported on Wednesday.
Sanna Marin, who at the age of 36 has held the record for youngest Finnish prime minister since she assumed office in 2019, has an explanation. After foreign minister Pekka Haavisto tested positive for the virus on Saturday, she says, she talked with the secretary of state, who passed on guidance that she did not need to isolate. A subsequent text message informing her that she did, in fact, need to isolate didn’t arrive until hours later on a specific work phone—which the prime minister had left at home to go clubbing.
“I did not question the information I received because FHL [the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare] has given a similar instruction to the citizens,” Marin wrote in a Facebook post. “If you have received two vaccines, those who were exposed are not scheduled for a test or quarantine. So on Saturday, I have understood that the work of the members of the government council will continue normally, unless the health authority is contrary to the instructions.”
“However, a text message has received some unusual information from the State Council’s work phone, which has been urged to avoid contacts and apply for the test,” Marin added. “I received this information on Sunday and immediately applied for a test, the result was negative.”
“I should have used better consideration on Saturday night and rehearse the instruction I got another time,” the prime minister concluded. “I’m really sorry that I didn’t understand how to do this.”
Marin says she didn’t see the text until Sunday; as the BBC reported, a local gossip magazine had published photos of her dancing with friends at Helsinki’s Butchers club until approximately 4:00 a.m. The origin of the mixup appears to be that while the FHL does instruct citizens who have received at least two doses of a coronavirus vaccine they don’t need to isolate after an exposure—similar to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance in the U.S.—Finnish government employees fall under a special category. According to the Helsingin Sanomat newspaper, internal government rules state that “personnel from the Government and its ministries are advised to avoid contact as soon as information on exposure is received.” The FHL also advises anyone awaiting the results of a viral test do social distancing on a voluntary basis.
Finland has been relatively unscathed by the novel coronavirus, which according to Johns Hopkins School of Medicine estimates has resulted in over 267 million confirmed infections and nearly 5.3 million deaths worldwide. The same tracker puts Finland at just under 195,000 cases, with nearly 1,400 deaths. FHL Director Mika Salminen has credited the success to rapid policy reactions such as lockdowns and travel restrictions, German broadcaster Deutsche Welle reported, as well as widespread adoption of a contact-tracing app. (One Helsinki University social psychologist, Nelli Hankonen, told the broadcaster another contributing factor was that Finns are “not very sociable and prefer to be alone.”)
However, the number of confirmed cases in Finland has been rising for weeks and the first case of the barely understood Omicron variant, which may be highly transmissible for some people, was recently confirmed in the country. The Finnish government states on its website that the “COVID-19 situation in Finland has once again deteriorated significantly.” While so far the Finnish government has largely left restrictions up to regional and local health authorities, it did recently announce mandatory vaccination requirements for health care workers.