Last year marked a second year of growing electricity consumption in Finland following several years of declines, says the Finnish Energy Authority, which notes that fixed charges make up a growing portion of electricity bills.
The average consumer in Finland paid 20 euros more for electricity last year than in 2016. The increase was due to higher electricity transfer fees – as the price of electricity itself went down.
For example, a household that used 5,000 kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity last year saw its electricity bills edge up by around three percent. However a household using electrical heating and consuming 18,000 kilowatt hours annually, would have only registered a rise of less than one percent. That is because fixed charges – which are the same for all customers regardless of consumption – now account for a larger share of utility invoices, the agency says. This is especially noticeable for customers with low usage.
In early 2017, fixed charges made up an average of 46 percent of individual households’ power bills, rising to 57 percent of those paid by apartment-dwellers. For homes relying on electricity for heating, the average share was 38 percent.
Domestic output declines
Finland’s electricity production went down slightly last year. Consumption grew marginally, outweighing the impact of improved energy efficiency. Last year was the second year of increased consumption following three years of declines, partly attributable to an economic downturn.
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Net electricity imports from Sweden declined while those from Russia held steady. Overall electricity imports were slightly higher, as exports to Estonia were lower than the year before.
Wind power, subsidised by feed-in tariffs, produced nearly 4 terawatt hours (TWh) of electricity last year, while biomass plants using wood chips generated about 1.5 TWh. These remain a tiny share of the nation’s total output of some 65 TWh. Overall consumption was nearly 86 TWh, with just over 20 TWh of that imported.
Feed-in tariffs paid to support renewable energy rose to 225 million euros. Finland’s contribution to the Nordic region’s wind power capacity remains far lower than that of Denmark, Sweden and Norway. Hydropower supplies close to one quarter of Finland's electricity.
An Yle survey of Finnish MEPs found that six parliamentarians are willing to accept a rise in Finnish contributions to the EU budget, four were opposed, two were unsure and one declined to answer the survey.
The Green, SDP and National Coalition Party MEPs were most positive about a rise in Finnish contributions, with the Finns Party, Centre and Left Alliance representatives opposed to a rise in Finnish payments.
When Britain leaves the EU, the bloc's budget will have to do without net contributions totalling some 13 billion euros per year. EU countries are currently starting negotiations on the first post-Brexit budgeting period, which will last at least five years.
The end of British payments could mean bigger contributions for others, but some MEPs had other ideas. NCP MEP Sirpa Pietikäinen said that come countries could end up with a smaller share of the cake, and authoritarian governments in central Europe might suffer.
"The question could also be where are we ready to cut if we don't want to increase net contributions," said Pietikäinen.
Transport infrastructure spending
"For example Poland and Hungary have received substantial transport infrastructure subsidies, and their share of the regional and agricultural funds is disproportionately large. It is relevant to ask how resources might be cut off to countries that don't commit to the EU's founding principles."
Green MEP Heidi Hautala, meanwhile, would endeavour to increase direct funding for the EU through a new union-wide sales, carbon or financial market tax.
Finns Party MEP Pirkko Ruohonen-Lerner said that Finland's net payments were already too large, while Leftist Merja Kyllönen (who is also running for president) said that there should be a limit to what Finland was willing to pay.
Swedish people's Party MEP Nils Torvalds and Centre MEP Hannu Takkula both declined to say whether or not they would be prepared to support increased contributions, while Paavo Väyrynen did not answer Yle's questions at all.
Waterways now have some ice cover even in the south of Finland, but it remains treacherous in most places. Ice expert Jouni Vainio of the Finnish Meteorological Institute (FMI) says that the ice situation remains poor even though temperatures in the south have dipped below freezing point in recent weeks.
"South of a line running from Vaasa to Lappeenranta, lakes and rivers are only just beginning to freeze," said Vainio.
According to Vainio ice cover could also be weak further north, thanks to the generally mild winter so far. Speaking on Yle's morning television programme Aamu-TV, he said that northern regions of the country, and northern parts of central Finland, should have ice strong enough to walk on.
Vainio says that snow cover is hampering the work of assessing the strength of lake and sea ice. According to Vainio the most dangerous points are where water is moving underneath the ice.
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A few centimetres of ice cover should in principle be enough to support a human walking on the surface, but natural ice is never even. Ice that is thick on the shoreline is often weaker further from the shore.
"For movement on ice cover to be safe, there should be at least 10 centimetres of ice," said Vainio.
At sea the ice situation is much worse than normal. The Bay of Bothnia has only relatively thin ice cover, close to the shore.
That data reveals the number of cars on the Länsiväylä motorway connecting western parts of the capital city region with the Helsinki city centre during the second week of January 2018. Measured from a Finnish Transport Agency station in Hanasaari, the team found that an average of 50,687 cars travelled on the road on weekdays, down from an average of 53,901 cars in October and November of 2017. The extension opened on November 18, 2017.
This translates into a six percent difference. Figures from Tuesday, January 9, when metro lines were down for an hour and a half, saw automobile traffic on the road grow by four percent, meaning that without this service interruption, numbers for the entire week would have been even better.
When compared to figures from the second week of January one year ago, however, the change falls to a decrease of just 0.2 percent. Traffic researcher Pekka Räty from Helsinki Region Transport (HSL) says this is because traffic had been predicted to grow by 3.5 percent in the absence of a longer metro route.
"There's a lot of building going on southern Espoo. Many residents, especially those living next to the Metro stations, will choose to use the underground service, while others might try their luck on Länsiväylä now that the metro has freed up some space on the motorway," he says.
An end to direct buses
But not all Espoo residents live near the Metro stations. Many are dependent on bus lines for public transport. The first phase of the Metro expansion has caused most of the buses that used to connect areas directly with the Helsinki city centre to be cancelled.
HSL has received plenty of angry feedback from people whose commute into the city is now longer. Räty says changes won't be coming any time soon.
"We'll gather the feedback until we have a sufficient amount, so we can see where the true problems lie. Then we'll consider what to do about it. We are talking about a massive infrastructure network here, so we can't jump to swift conclusions. We have to give everything careful consideration," he says.
Even so, the mounting dissatisfaction has propelled the Espoo city council to request immediate action to rectify interconnectivity problems.
Winners and losers
Tapani Iivanainen lives in Matinkylä, and he has just a few-minute walk to the Metro station. At the Ruoholahti stop, he transfers to a tram, which transports him to his workplace at Töölöntori. The whole trip takes a half hour.
"I don't have to sit in traffic in the mornings anymore. I've given up using my car to get around almost entirely," he says.
Anita Prusila lives in Espoo's Iirislahti district. She says the changes have made her work commute 20 minutes longer, for a total of 50 minutes one-way.
"I've got a mind to start using my car again because I have that option," she says.
Räty says HSL received a significant amount of angry feedback for the same reason back in 1982, after the Metro expansion to the east of Helsinki was completed.
"We were still being contacted a few years ago about restoring the direct bus connections there, but over time the feedback diminished. In the end, people were quite satisfied with the situation," he says.
An unexpected 75,000 weekday passengers
HSL's traffic research group leader Marko Vihervuori expects that a 'rail coefficient', familiar in other metropolises worldwide, will eventually attract more customers to the western extension of the Metro line. The principle is that the form of transportation is considered so smooth and efficient that people will be drawn to it, even if it does make their total commute time longer.
It's too early to say if the convenience of the underground option is behind the higher incidence of use, but either way, the extension has exceeded expectations in many ways.
HSL's original estimate of passenger numbers on the Metro once the long-awaited first phase of the extension started running was 60,000. New figures from the first week in January reveal that the average number of weekday passengers was 75,000.
Vihervuori says this number jumped to 80,000 in the second week of January, after people returned to work and school after the holidays.
The Lapland tourist season is in full swing, and travel businesses are once again worried about a shortage of labour. Helsingin Sanomat's business section leads with a story based on temp agency Barona's CEO Minna Vanhala-Harmanen's assessment of the employment situation.
She tells HS that in Finland, workers with the rights skills are often unavailable to fill the plentiful openings. While she dismisses suggestions that Finns don't want to work, she says that trained workers are unavailable, and that therefore more training is the way to raise employment rates.
That shift should, in Vanhala-Harmanen's opinion, involve a change in policy to ensure people are ready and able to re-train several times over the course of their working lives. She says employers are also now more willing than before to train workers, as trained labour is not always available.
Iltalehti, meanwhile, covers the other common solution to the labour shortage: immigration. Lapland is unable to provide all the workers required, so employees are arriving from Britain, China, Russia and elsewhere to service the travel industry. There are other issues too however, with a shortage of accommodation and low pay among the obstacles to attracting suitable workers.
Social media alcohol bootleggers
Helsingin Sanomat goes to meet a pair of alcohol merchants in a car park, aiming to uncover the modern face of alcohol smuggling: 'Tarmo' and 'Veiko'*. The pair advertise and reach customers on social media, particularly via an 8,000-strong Facebook group, and meet customers all over Uusimaa.
They moved to Finland from Estonia ten years ago, and claim they can make up to 4,000 euros a month selling booze illegally.
Or not quite illegally: they believe that offering to 'lend' alcohol against a deposit is not against the law. The deposit can in theory be returned if people return the drinks within 24 hours, but has anyone ever asked for their money back?
"Never," replies Veiko.
The National Police Board have a different view of the legality of the 'lending' system, saying that the alcohol is changing hands and therefore the transaction is against the law.
Veiko and Tarmo, however, blame the Finnish state for restricting alcohol sales: if people want booze they will get it somehow.
* Names have been changed by Helsingin Sanomat
Ski tracks finally open
HS has happy news for skiers in Helsinki, reporting that the Paloheinä centre has opened a one kilometre-long cross-country skiing track to enthusiasts. The snow is artificial, as there hasn't yet been significant snowfall in the capital, but temperatures are well below zero and those desperate to get their skis on can now get a taste of winter sports.
The paper says that Helsinki, Vantaa and Espoo all have ski tracks open to punters now. Paloheinä staff are now aiming to open a 1.8 kilometre track next, although there's no major snowfall on the horizon until at least the weekend.
Finland’s largest labour organisation is planning a national demonstration to protest government moves to limit access to unemployment benefits. The protest march is to take place on February 2 at a so-far-undisclosed location in Helsinki.
The blue-collar Central Organisation of Finnish Trade Unions (SAK) is calling on the government to withdraw the scheme. Under the so-called "active model", jobseekers’ benefit payments could be reduced unless they can prove that they are either doing temporary work, pursuing entrepreneurship or taking part in training.
More than 125,000 people have already signed a citizens’ initiative opposing the programme, meaning that Parliament will have to consider it. The three-party centre-right government has a narrow majority in the 200-seat legislature.
White-collar unions to weigh participation
“There will certainly be people from the provinces who want to join in. We’ll arrange transport, but it remains to be seen exactly how this will be done,” SAK President Jarkko Eloranta said on Monday. He said that no space had yet been reserved for the event, but that the process was underway. Eloranta said he expects thousands of people to take part.
The SAK has called a meeting next week of the leaders of all of its 18 affiliated trade unions to discuss details of the February protest.
The white-collar Finnish Confederation of Professionals (STTK) also rejects the government’s "active model", but says on Monday that each of its 17 member unions can decide for itself on any organised action to oppose the system.
The SAK represents about a million workers, while the STTK represents just over half a million. Altogether there are nearly 2.5 million working people in Finland, or close to half of the total population.
Two sociology researchers at the University of Turku say that the oft-quoted results of the OECD's Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) are a poor indicator of Finnish educational quality.
Sociology professor Osmo Kivinen and researcher Juha Hedman make the claim in an article published in the journal Politiikka. Its English-language abstract is entitled Ambitious PISA results and their problematic interpretations in education policy.
The piece, for which Kivinen and Hedman analysed international critiques of PISA, sternly criticises the assumption that high PISA results indicate that a country's education system is working at its best.
"PISA has not been designed to assess how well students master the contents of the school curricula, yet opinion leaders in Finland keep reading PISA results as schools' report cards indicating the excellence of education policy in a country," the article's abstract begins.
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) organises a standardised triennial exam that 15-year-olds take in 72 countries and regions. The test aims to gauge the literary, mathematical and scientific skills of schoolchildren worldwide.
When testing began in 2000 there were only 32 countries in the programme. One issue raised by the researchers about the test's reliability is that some highly performing regions such as Singapore and Shanghai only signed onto the programme at a later stage, skewing earlier comparisons.
"The biggest problem is that PISA doesn't actually describe how well, say, a Finnish school is being directed or how effective the teaching is," says Kivinen. "The OECD has from the very beginning wanted to conduct a test to see how children and teenagers are equipped to handle their adult life after their basic education is over. That isn't the same as measuring how well curricula themselves develop."
Finnish PISA reports are drawn up at the universities of Helsinki and Jyväskylä. The lead professor at the latter, Juhani Rautopuro, defends the test by saying that the OECD's programme has used legitimate research units to help develop a better understanding of national education policy.
"But PISA alone isn't a basis for national legislation," Rautopuro emphasises. "You need domestic research results for that as well."
Boys left behind
Kivinen adds that another indication of the unreliability of PISA results involves the plummeting literacy of Finnish boys. Fifteen-year-old boys, whose average report card grades have declined for years, tend to perform more acceptably when their test results are compared internationally. Girls tend to test better on average in all categories.
Poor grades may preclude students from attending the high school or polytechnic that would best suit them, leading to a rise in social exclusion in the long run, researchers say.
"School needs to be changed. It currently does not work for the good of teenage boys," Kivinen says.
Even Helsinki University's PISA producer, Jarkko Hautamäki, agrees that the education sector is failing many of those it should be elevating.
"Other research has long indicated that boys are testing worse compared with girls. It is an empirical fact that boys on average are doing worse, and denying that will only aggravate the problem. But if we choose to acknowledge the facts, we can help the young people of today sculpt better futures for themselves," Hautamäki says.
Anti-sexual harassment social media campaigns like #metoo have raised heated discussion about the topic around the world for months. Various campaigns from people in different countries and professions have made it clear that sexual harassment is a big problem — including in Finland.
Those social media campaigns also reached the country's Minister of Employment, Jari Lindström, who said his eyes were opened by the stories shared via #metoo and others last year.
"I knew that sexual harassment and abuse happened in the workplace, but I did not know that the problem was so extensive," he said.
In December, the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment and the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health urged labour market groups to discuss the issue of workplace sexual harassment.
Lindström said that concrete measures will be put into place to fight the problem, and that December's meeting was just the beginning.
Minister likens workplace sexual harassment to drinking on the job
The ministries and labour groups have now met for a second time and are addressing the issue under the umbrella of a larger employment ministry strategy called Worklife2020 — a project which aims to "make Finnish working life the best in Europe by 2020".
Lindström said that sexual harassment and surrounding issues will be addressed directly in the programme, although the ministry has not yet specified exactly how that would take place.
The first concrete measures and proposals are being discussed this month, he said, adding that initially efforts will be made to change attitudes about the issue.
"In the past, the elephant in the room was the use of alcohol at the workplace, until we understood that it's everyone's responsibility to intervene," he said, comparing the two difficult topics.
Aviation authority Finavia's passenger statistics do not accurately reflect the nationalities of tourists who visit Lapland from abroad. Registering the nationalities of travelers is problematic for the company.
Most international airline passengers visiting Lapland are routed there through the main Helsinki-Vanaa Airport. Finavia, however, counts all passengers on Helsinki-Rovaniemi flights as "domestic travelers" whether or not that is that case on any given flight.
Only passengers arriving at Rovaniemi in Lapland on direct charter flights from foreign airports are counted as international. Therefore figures from last year that say 123,881 international and 455,589 domestic flyers arrived at Rovaniemi cannot be trusted.
Travel agents aware of snag
CEO Sanna Kärkkäinen from tourism firm Visit Rovaniemi is direct in saying that Finavia is actively distorting travel figures by counting layover passengers as domestic travelers.
"The travel industry needs hard data in order to develop and for their investments to pay off," Kärkkäinen says.
The problem has apparently been a common subject among travel agents for years.
"We get the challenge, and other stats from Finavia make it to us fair and square," Kärkkäinen says.
State labour mediator Minna Helle announced an agreement in a long-running contract dispute in the paper sector on Monday afternoon. Helle tweeted that the Trade Union Pro and the Finnish Forest Industries Federation had both accepted the settlement proposal that she issued on Sunday.
The Pro union said that strikes planned for January 17-24 and January 31-February 7 are cancelled. It says that agreement includes a new wage deal as well as a boost to the status of shop stewards and a greater role for local pay agreements. The new contract is to remain in force until November 2019.
The employers’ federation said that the pact includes an average pay hike of 1.55 percent this year and 1.6 percent next year for salaried employees.
The contract covers some 2,400 employees in the paper industry, traditionally one of Finland’s most powerful sectors.
“The deal includes reforms of contract conditions for salaried employees that are essential for companies and improve competitiveness and expand local agreements,” the Forest Industries Federation’s labour market director Nina Pärssinen said in a statement.
A Finnish politician in Somaliland says that his son, who went to Syria to fight with ISIS, has been killed.
Faisal Ali Warabe says that his daughter-in-law reports that his son was killed, apparently in an airstrike, on December 29 at the age of 24. Warabe had last heard from his son five days before that, when he said he intended to head back to Finland. He went to Syria in 2013 after serving in the Finnish Defence Forces.
He appeared in an ISIS video the following year, using the name Abu Shuab as-Somali. In the video, he urged other Finns to join ISIS. The video was apparently filmed in the ISIS stronghold of Raqqa. US-backed forces pushed the militants out of the city in October.
Warabe confirmed toYle that it was his son, Sayid Hussein Feisal Ali, in the video, adding that he and his Finnish wife had gone to Syria, where their two children were born.
Supo: 80 fighters from Finland
Born in British Somaliland, Warabe studied in Russia and served as a Somali ministry official before moving to Finland and becoming a Finnish citizen in 1999.
Warabe is now leader of an opposition party in the self-declared Republic of Somaliland, which broke off from Somalia. In November, he ran for president of the region.
The Finnish Security Intelligence Service (Supo) says that at least 80 adults have left Finland to take part in the conflict in Syria and Iraq. It estimates that 15-20 of them have been killed.
Paul*, a young father with joint custody of his infant child, says he is concerned that the youngster will grow up without getting routine childhood vaccines because the child’s mother opposes inoculation.
The situation poses a dilemma, because vaccinations in Finland are not compulsory - authorities will not force parents to take their youngsters in for regular jabs. In cases like Paul’s where the parents have separated, there is no simple solution when they disagree on the importance of childhood vaccines.
Three years after Paul met his partner, they welcomed their new baby into their family in 2015. Soon after the birth, Paul found that getting the young child vaccinated -- something he assumed would be a no-brainer -- proved to be an obstacle that would aggravate tensions between the parents.
“My child has not received any kind of vaccinations apart from the first ones. Vaccinations are just suggested in Finland, not compulsory like in other countries. Even though we have joint custody and I want my child vaccinated the mother says no and since the child lives with the mother the child won’t be vaccinated,” Paul said.
Paul told Yle News that he doesn’t understand why Finnish health care and child welfare authorities will not intervene to ensure that his ex-partner gets the child immunised.
“I feel frustrated, disappointed in every way. I really don’t think that people understand this situation. People are always coming back to the point that vaccinations are dangerous, they cause autism and disease but the reality is different.”
Anti-vaxxer sentiment in parts of Finland
Finland has a comprehensive national vaccination programme that offers children under the age of 15 a schedule of shots to protect them from a host of communicable diseases. Although childhood vaccinations in Finland are voluntary -- parents can decide whether or not to take their little ones for regular jabs -- officials say that overall vaccination coverage in the country is reassuringly high at around 95 percent.
That’s the level the National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) targets to maintain ‘herd immunity’ against measles, mumps and rubella.
But cases like the young family’s are a cause of concern for public health officials who have noted that in some parts of the country, coverage has dipped as low as 70 percent as parents opt out of taking their tots in for their roster of shots. These trends have been especially evident in the Ostrobothnia region and the Åland Islands, Pietarsaari hospital pediatric specialist Markus Granholm told Yle News.
“One reason is that nowadays we have a lot of possibilities to read stuff on the internet. We get a lot of news and a lot of fake news. If you have an idea that something is wrong or right you can find information that speaks the same language you do.”
Granholm added that in the immunisation-shy regions, low vaccination coverage rates eventually weaken herd immunity and increase the likelihood of outbreaks of long-forgotten diseases.
“It’s very important for communities that a lot of people are vaccinated. At 95 percent everyone is safe and we have been under that for a number of years now and this creates a risk for an epidemic. If we don’t change these numbers we won’t have to wait and see if it happens, but when it happens,” Granholm cautioned.
According to the pediatrician some communities appear to have been influenced by the growing reach of the “anti-vaxxer” movement that sees vaccinations as harmful.
The movement gathered steam following a now-debunked study by a discredited British doctor, Andrew Wakefield, who wrote a paper linking the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine to autism. Feverish media coverage of the claims fueled fear and mistrust of the vaccine that lingers to this day.
The paper, published in 1998, was withdrawn in 2004 by the Lancet, the prestigious medical journal that originally published it. Wakefield was eventually struck off the British medical register over the affair.
Health officials call in child welfare
For Paul, the warning signals that his former partner might be experiencing what experts now term “vaccination hesitancy” emerged when the couple learned that the expectant mother had been diagnosed as a carrier of a viral infection. They were told that the baby would need a course of treatments -- including vaccines -- soon after birth.
When doctors pressed the case, the infant received the initial treatments, but pediatricians were forced to involve child protection officials when the mother once more refused the vaccinations and medication. Social workers intervened to escort mother and child to have the second round of inoculations. Health care workers justified the intervention by citing the perceived risk to the child’s health of not getting the required vaccination.
In Finland, it falls to the National Institute for Health and Welfare, THL, to develop vaccination programmes and to help local authorities ensure they are implemented. Poor uptake of the vaccines is not only a concern for the organisation, it also bears responsibility for addressing the issue.
“We have been concerned about the measles mumps rubella -- MMR -- vaccine coverage in the Ostrobothnia region on the western coast. Recently we have observed an increase in the numbers of pertussis [whooping cough] in that very same area,” Nohynek said.
“When you look back to 2011 - 2012 and 2013 - 2014 it seems that the booster doses were not taken as frequently as elsewhere in Finland so that might be reflected in the increased cases of pertussis that we are seeing now - but we don’t know for sure,” she added.
Voluntary vaccination system here to stay
Sari Ekholm, medical chief of staff at the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, said that the ministry’s position on the debate is clear - for now at least, Finland will stick to voluntary vaccinations. While that remains the case, it’s up to organisations like the THL to ensure that parents fall in line and take their kids for recommended shots.
“We negotiate with the THL and with them we try to get the message through and try to encourage vaccinations. We support those who take action. The ministry’s main task is to draw up legislation and support execution of legislation and that is where we focus,” Ekholm commented.
Still Paul insisted, if the role of social and child protection workers is to safeguard the child’s best interests, why don’t local officials intervene in cases like his family’s to ensure that infants are vaccinated?
“They know that it’s not compulsory, since it’s not compulsory they let the mother decide. It’s like the mother has full custody of the [child’s] health,” he charged.
Social worker Natalja Ugbah said that child welfare workers must balance their duty to ensure children’s best interests with the law. She noted social workers rely on the expert opinions of health professionals in such cases.
“If we receive a child welfare notification from the hospital or health clinic that the parents don’t agree on vaccination we can discuss with the parents to find out why they don’t agree. That’s the main thing we can do because it is the health professionals who can evaluate how necessary the vaccination is for the child’s health and how big the risks are for the child’s health,” Ugbah explained.
According to the health ministry’s chief physician, Parliamentarians have also raised concerns about lower vaccination coverage rates in some parts of the country and have even pondered ways to address the problem:
“Members of Parliament have been asking questions that the ministry has answered. Sometimes they have asked about compulsory vaccinations and about sanctions for parents who do not vaccinate but general vaccination acceptance is very good in this country. So we still think we’d rather stay with free choice because otherwise it may stiffen those who oppose vaccines. We should try to address the issues that cause this hesitance.”
Vaccine crackdown in parts of Europe
Officials in other European countries are also grappling with the re-emergence of diseases such as measles as parents demur from inoculating their children. In light of rising vaccination hesitancy, some European countries have turned to mandatory vaccination programmes, including penalties for non-compliance.
In France, new laws that took effect from the beginning of this year now make it mandatory for parents to vaccinate their children against 11 diseases. The move followed a rash of measles deaths across Europe. Meanwhile in Italy, as of September last year, new rules call for children to receive 12 shots if they want to be enrolled in school, while in Germany although no legal mandate exists, parents now face a hefty fine of 2,500 euros if they don’t immunise their children.
Back in Finland the official position of local authorities offers no comfort to Paul, who said he has seen the vaccination dispute escalate. With both parents locked in a stalemate on either side of the now-radioactive issue, Paul said he sees little only hope for safeguarding the health of his toddler -- and that of other children -- with a full course of childhood vaccines.
Yle News contacted the mother of the child for comment, but she declined an interview.
*Names changed to protect the identities of the individuals involved. In addition to interviews, the story is based on official documentation from healthcare and social services.
A majority of the candidates in the upcoming presidential elections have yet to report on the origins of their campaign funds, tabloid Iltalehti writes this Monday. Their campaign budgets typically run into the hundreds of thousands of euros.
With only two weeks to go until the first round of voting, only Left Alliance candidate Merja Kyllönen and incumbent president Sauli Niinistö have made use of a pre-campaign fund reporting service to announce their figures. The National Audit Office of Finland (VTV) told the paper that the practice is crucial to the openness of the elections.
"Voters should have access to information on candidates' funding at an early stage, as such information may affect whom citizens choose to vote for," the quoted VTV line goes.
The audit office does not oversee the use of its online report form.
Kyllönen announces her campaign funds have run up to some 148,000 euros, of which 30,000 euros was given to her campaign by private donors. Kyllönen reports that she has not received any individual personal or corporate donations of above the 1,500 euro maximum.
She has, however, received some 10,000 euros from the Industrial Union and a total of some 7,000 euros from two small and little-known associations, Pohjolan yhteisö ("Nordic community") and Punajuuri ("Beetroot").
Fellow presidential hopeful Niinistö's sums are shown in the IL article to be downright inflated by comparison, with the premier gunning for a second term with no less than 1.5 million euros. About 727,000 of that comes, he says, from private donors and some 513,000 from corporate coffers.
Flu season claims child
In health news, a child died from complications from an influenza virus infection in Finland, writes daily Ilta-Sanomat. The age and gender of the otherwise healthy child are not specified, but the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) confirms the death as a rare casualty of the ongoing national flu season.
"Influenza-related deaths in children of otherwise sound health are extremely uncommon, but not impossible," says THL doctor Hanna Nohynek.
She says that THL does not receive specific reports on the number of flu-related fatalities, but that the flu season tends to claim anywhere between 500 and 2,000 lives each year depending on the strain of flu.
Both so-called A and B variants of the current flu are in circulation, with doctors recommending flu shots even this far into the season, writes IS. Last flu season 32 percent of young children (aged 6-25 months) and 47 percent of over 65-year-olds were vaccinated.
Amos Rex intrigues BBC
Finnish architecture is a cultural export staple, and international broadcaster BBC has pegged one ambitious ongoing project that puts a new spin on the idea of underground art.
No pedestrian in downtown Helsinki will have likely missed the building work going on in and around (and indeed under) the Lasipalatsi commercial compound and square. The Amos Rex complex represents a complete overhaul of the Amos Anderson Museum, expected to occupy some 2,000 square metres once it's finished on August 1, 2018.
"Sculpted skylights clustered around a streamlined 1930s clock tower mark the museum's presence," the BBC feature page describes the coming structure. "The exhibition hall connects to a cinema-auditorium and restaurant housed in a much-loved Modernist pavilion (1936) designed by the young Finnish architects Viljo Revellin, Heimo Riihimäen [sic: Riihimäki] and Niilo Koko [sic: Kokko], and since sympathetically renovated by JKMM."
The museum is set to feature contemporary art on the fringes of technological expression.
"There will be brand new pieces as well as very old works on display," says museum director Kai Kartio in HS. "We're quite prepared to take some risks with the formats, bringing in cinema, music and VR artwork alongside more traditional paintings and sculptures."
New research from a team of Finnish psychiatrists has shown that at the same time criminal offenders in Finland are receiving fewer mental health assessments, the number of prisoners in Finland's correctional institutes diagnosed with psychotic or schizophrenic disorders has increased ten-fold.
Thirty years ago in Finland, between 200 and 300 mental health assessments were carried out on suspected lawbreakers each year. In 2017, this number fell to the lowest it has been in years: 73. Most of the criminals that were evaluated last year were suspected of either committing homicides or a violent crime.
Alo Jüriloo, chief physician at the Vantaa psychiatric prison hospital is worried about the development.
"It easily leads to people just looking through their fingers at offenders who need psychiatric care and not a prison sentence," he says.
Mental health assessments examine the suspected offender's health with numerous studies of their physical, psychological and social situations and a detailed analysis of their life story. It normally takes two months to carry out the testing, at a cost of about 20,000 euros.
Jüriloo says Finland's system for assessing the state of people's mental health is among the most comprehensive and expensive evaluations in the world.
In recent years, assessments have determined that about 30 individuals were of unsound mind and therefore unable to understand the ramifications of their criminal actions. The number of psychiatric evaluations that reach this finding among criminals has steadily increased in Finland.
Severe mental illnesses on the rise
Research from Jüriloo and his team has determined that the number of prisoners in Finland with either psychotic or schizophrenic illnesses has risen ten times over in the last decade. The results were recently published in the Nordic Journal of Psychiatry.
In 2017, there were 160 prisoners in Finland with a psychotic disorder and 84 that were diagnosed with schizophrenia. This number is ten times what it was just over ten years ago, in 2006.
Hannu Lauerma, chief physician of Turku's psychiatric prison, says he has calculated that the number of prison sentences that have been suspended for psychiatric reasons has also doubled in Finland. In the last few years, there have been four or five of such cases annually.
The number of criminals serving time in Finland's prisons has fallen slightly in recent years. In 2017, there were about 3,000 inmates in 26 prison establishments or institutions.
Average prison sentences for inmates that are later diagnosed with psychotic disorders are notably long.
"This begs the question of if they are in the right place to begin with. Maybe a mental health assessment before the sentence would have been a better idea," says Jüriloo.
Further studies are being conducted into the rise in psychotic prisoners in Finland, and results are expected before the year is out. The National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) is starting up an investigation into the new findings in the autumn.
Faults in the system
Jüriloo says one reason for the growth in psychotic disorders is increasing substance abuse. His research found that this was the case with only 39.5 percent of prisoners, however. He blames failures in the nation's psychiatric services for another share of the problem.
"Patients in prison's psychiatric care are not just criminals, they are also victims of an insufficient care system," he states.
Finland has systematically taken steps to cut psychiatric care to thousands of needy people in the last few decades. The number of beds in care facilities has dramatically decreased, as the country has tried to move towards a more outpatient-oriented care paradigm.
Jüriloo says the mechanisms for determining who receives outpatient care in Finland are wanting.
"We can't have a situation in which people are only getting the care they need in prison. I hear our patients saying it every once in a while."
Just a few years ago, suspected criminals in Finland often requested a mental health assessment in the hopes that it would lower their sentence. Since then, things have been inverted: people diagnosed with mental health disorders end up being confined for a longer period, which leads many to hide their mental health history.
"That way they avoid psychiatric hospitalization, which can be much longer than a possible prison sentence. According to THL data, typical treatment periods for voluntary or involuntary psychiatric care handed down by the courts can continue for 7 to 9 years."
President Sauli Niinistö is open to the idea of a constitutional court in Finland. In an interview with the Keskisuomalainen newspaper, the president said the matter should be investigated seriously and thoroughly before proceeding.
"There's no hurry, better to take our time and really devote ourselves to exploring and discussing the matter," the president said to the paper.
Unlike many other countries, Finland does not currently have a separate judicial body for assessing constitutional compliance. A parliamentary committee currently serves this function, which is problematic because its members are MPs.
Niinistö said he was in favour of investigating the possibility when he sat on the parliamentary constitutional law committee as an MP in the 1990s, but later abandoned the idea. He told the paper he had since returned to his original stance on the issue and said that he believes that the establishment of a constitutional court should be examined.
Sipilä and Orpo opposed
Other prominent politicians that have publically expressed their support for a separate judicial body for overseeing constitutional compliance include the Foreign Minister Timo Soini and the Swedish People's Party chair Anna-Maja Henriksson. Prime Minister Juha Sipilä and Finance Minister Petteri Orpo have both gone on record as being against it.
Many countries, including Germany, France and Russia for example, have created independent constitutional courts for assessing whether newly enacted laws are in contradiction with their constitutions.
Since taking office in 2015, Sipilä's government has been repeatedly accused of fast-tracking legislation that is in opposition to the Finland's constitution. The overhaul of the social and health care system has been delayed several times for this reason, among others.
In December 2016, Finland's then-Chancellor of Justice Jarkko Jonkka accused the centre-right government of subverting constitutional law in many of its drafts of legal reforms.
The Association of Finnish Pharmacies surveyed over 700 pharmacists from all parts of Finland to determine which non-prescription medicines they felt were commonly misused and abused by customers. Up to half of the respondents report customers buying over-the-counter (OTC) medicines for the wrong purposes on a weekly basis. One in four witnesses misuse at least once a day.
The advocacy association surmised that some customers are just too laid back about self-medication. The majority, 77 percent, were aware that non-prescription medicines had adverse effects, but were still less careful about following the dosage directions than in the case of prescription medicines.
Pharmacists agree that OTC medicine wrongly chosen or misused may be harmful or even dangerous. That is why they recommend that customers should always ask a pharmacist for an assessment before buying them.
"Some pharmacists say they feel as if certain customers' misuse of the products will continue no matter what they say. Customers don't stop to think about the potency of the medicines in question," says the group's communications manager Elina Aaltonen.
The survey finds that some customer misuse products designed for short-term use by using them long-term or continually, while others use them as intoxicants. The following is a list of the nine most misused and abused non-prescription medicines in Finland.
1. Cough medicine
Close to 70 percent of pharmacy workers in Finland see customers misusing cough medicines. Some end users even use the products as intoxicants, as many of the products contain codeine.
"If a pharmacist suspects drug abuse, the cough medicines are transferred to a place where they are out of reach to the customers and sold on request only. We assess sales of the products to problem customers on a case-by-case basis." says Aaltonen.
Cough medicines are also commonly misused in the treatment of coughs.
"A cough brought on by an influenza virus shouldn't be treated with a mucus relief medicine, as the cough in question is usually triggered by irritation. In addition, research has shown that the efficacy of mucus relief medicines in general is quite negligible," Aaltonen says.
2. Nasal decongestants
Misuse of nasal sprays and drops to clear up a stuffy nose is almost as widespread as cough medicine misuse. The pseudoephedrine often contained in nasal decongestants can be used as an intoxicant, but the medicine is addicting in another way, too. Long-term use could mean that the nose eventually stays congested without it. Important mucus membranes are also destroyed.
Many Finnish residents are guilty of using anti-inflammatory drugs or paracetamol for too long or at doses that are too high. The study shows that many customers also chose the wrong painkiller to treat their ailment.
"People are really carefree about using painkillers because they are so widely used. Customers don't want to heed advice from the pharmacists if they are used to using a certain product," says Aaltonen.
The Finnish Medicines Agency Fimea has earlier estimated that hundreds of people in Finland die each year from painkiller abuse. For example, the mistaken notion that painkillers can be used to treat stomach pain caused one-third of bleeding and deaths from ulcer complications in 2013. On the other hand, paracetamol doesn't harm the stomach, but long-term use can do damage to the liver.
"Use among people with heart diseases increases their risk of cardiac arrest, and new research shows that long-term use of painkillers reduces male fertility," Aaltonen says.
4. Drinks for treating flu symptoms
Finnish pharmacies sell powders that can be dissolved in hot water for treating flu symptoms. People forget that the oral solutions also contain ibuprofen, for example, and drink them in tandem with other medicines. This means the recommended dosage is often exceeded and the risk of harmful effects grows.
Pharmacists say customers often drink the medicine just to be soothed by the warm drink, but advise people without a fever or pain to avoid using it. Professionals have also noted that many Finns believe that drinking the oral solutions will somehow prevent a cold or the flu.
"Influenza is brought on by a virus, which cannot be killed or blocked. The only choice is to try and alleviate the symptoms," says Aaltonen.
Two non-prescription drugs are available in Finland for self-care. Pharmacists have noted that many people that suffer from chronic constipation use medicines designed to treat acute cases instead because they are easier to use. Unfortunately, misuse of laxatives in this way can eventually cause the bowels to become more relaxed, worsening the problem.
6. Cortisone lotions
Medicinal lotions such as cortisone are intended for the treatment of sun-burnt skin and mosquito bites. Many Finns use it regularly "just to be sure", however, as they believe it can help with a variety of skin issues. Long-term use of cortisone thins the skin and can cause permanent damage.
7. Antibiotic ointments
Lotions containing antibiotics are misused in the same way.
"At worst, they can cause an allergic reaction. In general, the use of all unnecessary antibiotics should be avoided, in skin creams too. Lotion cannot heal a wound that is not infected, for example," says Aaltonen.
8. Motion sickness medication
OTC medicines used to treat nausea and vomiting caused by motion sickness are often abused because they contain drugs that affect the central nervous system. High doses are taken to induce intoxication in the same way that medicines with codeine are abused. Finnish pharmacies keep these non-prescription medicines behind the counter, available by request only, for this reason.
The Finnish Medicines Agency Fimea maintains that abuse of these kinds of OTC medicines in Finland is not enough to warrant them being reclassified as prescription drugs.
Acetylsalicylic acid, better known as aspirin, is a familiar pain reliever and fever reducer that is regularly used by some Finns in small amounts to prevent blood clotting. When taken in too-high doses or for too long a period, however, use of the medicine can trigger aspirin poisoning. Excess use can also cause bruising and thin the blood too much, increasing the risk of internal bleeding.
"A neighbour or acquaintance might have given someone the advice that it prevents strokes. People don't go to a doctor for an aspirin prescription because [the state benefits administrator] Kela doesn't reimburse them," says the pharmacy association's Aaltonen.
The Payments Services Directive 2 (PSD2) was approved by the EU two years ago already, but it only comes into effect in Finland and other parts of Europe starting on January 13. Among other things, the changes allow retailers and consumers to bypass banks by authorizing payments directly from personal accounts. This will reduce the future role of powerful banks as the sole facilitators of money transactions in Europe and encourage third-party money service providers.
The European Commission says the change is intended to give bank customers more services and opportunities to use various payment accounts. The new options also focus on making future transactions safer and easier. It sets up a necessary legal platform for the introduction of a Single Euro Payments Area (SEPA) that will make electronic payments in the internal market better integrated.
Harmonised safety standards for the industry are still being finalized, but are expected to reach the EU Parliament in the autumn of 2019.
The new rules also lift any added merchant charges when paying by credit card or bank transfer for online purchases and limit fees on debit and credit card transactions. Representatives of Nordea Bank, for example, confirm that consumer liability for unauthorised credit card payments will fall from 150 to 50 euros.
Making e-commerce more secure
The new revision of the first version of the Payment Services Directive will introduce strict security requirements for electronic payments and for the protection of consumers' financial data.
Finland has taken steps to prohibit so-called screen scraping, or the practice of reading text data from a computer display terminal's screen. The country's Financial Authority sought fit to ban it because it also allows third parties to access financial account data that is not included in the scope of the new directive.
Still approved by the European Banking Authority (EBA), screen scraping is widely used in Europe to copy a customer's bank codes for conversion into a table that can be easily read. It allows service providers to access customer accounts without them having to go in and verify each transaction.
The PSD2 revision strengthens the role of European Banking Authority moving forward. Among other things, it will have leave to develop a central register of authorised payment institutions and develop more rigorous customer authentication techniques.
Top members of the Centre Party meet in Helsinki this weekend with a mission: to talk their regional chairs into spending the next two weeks encouraging party members to vote for the party's official presidential candidate, Matti Vanhanen, and not Paavo Värynen or Sauli Niinistö.
The latest Yle poll from late December-early January indicated that Vanhanen is attracting just two percent of the total vote. This is hardly a good result from the party that won the largest share of the vote in the 2015 parliamentary elections. Honorary Centre Party chair Paavo Väyrynen, who left the party in 2016 to form his own party, is currently polling at four percent, or twice that of the party's official choice.
69% of party members plan to vote for Niinistö
The situation is unusual, as the poll suggested that just 17 percent of the survey respondents that identified as Centre Party supporters planned to vote for Vanhanen, while 69 percent were planning to cast their ballot for President Sauli Niinistö in order to see him serve a second term.
At nine percent, Väyrynen's support percentage among the party loyal is smaller than Vanhanen's, but still enough to chip away at securing a decent result.
The Centre Party elite that met in Helsinki on Saturday took turns convincing each other that Vanhanen's performance in Yle's televised election panel on Thursday had turned things around.
"There's been a turning point. The incumbent said this week that a second round of voting won't be necessary, but we're here to make sure that it will be," said the Centre Party secretary Jouni Ovaska.
Ovaska referred to an article in the newspaper Savon Sanomat that quoted President Niinistö confidently stating that the race would be decided already in the first round. He later commented that he made the remark as a joke.
Vanhanen highlights key differences
In his speech to his colleagues on Saturday, former prime minister Matti Vanhanen criticised the man who was stealing his votes and emphasized his Centre Party values.
"President Niinistö has been speculating lately on closer cooperation between EU and NATO potentially leading to a need to consider NATO membership for Finland. I don't understand this logic, as both the EU and NATO seek to keep their individual mandates clear. Each has its own role, and actively seeks to avoid competing activities. It is not in Finland's best interests to go mixing up the two," Vanhanen said.
He was also careful to point out contradictions in Niinistö's stance on regional politics in Finland, one of the agrarian-based party's most important issues.
"We differ in our approach to maintaining the entire country's well-being. This is apparent when you read our responses to the newspaper Helsingin Sanomat's election compass questions. Niinistö was the only candidate to stand in support of the idea that the country's major cities play a more important role. Although yesterday in Tampere he also said he would like to keep the whole country populated," Vanhanen said.
18% in 2006, 2% in 2018?
The last time Vanhanen ran for president in Finland was in 2006. At that time, he received 18.6 percent of the vote in the first round, putting him in third place overall.
If the Centre Party's choice in the presidential elections gains fewer votes than Värynen, it would mean a major loss of face for the party elite that insisted he was their man.
Time is running out for the party to convince people, however, as preliminary voting in the 2018 presidential elections begins already next week - on Wednesday, January 17.
Energy drinks are responsible for growing numbers of underage people being admitted to hospital in Finland. In the southeast city of Kouvola, youngsters have been admitted complaining of pains in their chest, rapid heart rates and general agitation.
"They play computer games while drinking energy drinks or cola. Then they drink too much without even noticing it. The only explanation for the symptoms is the abundance of caffeinated beverages," says local paediatrician Timo Sillanpää.
He says his patients have tended to use energy drinks long-term or in binges.
"The treatment is to just cut back on the use of the caffeinated drinks. I don't think children should be using energy drinks at all," he says.
While there are no statistics on nationwide hospital care for such young people, Finland's Poison Information Centre reports of dozens of calls each year from parents who are concerned about their children's energy drink habit.
Deaths in Sweden, Canada and the US
The high caffeine content of energy drinks makes excess use dangerous to anyone. Too much caffeine can cause arrhythmia or even lead to heart attacks.
"People have different sensitivities to heart palpitations. For some, it can be a cause of death," says Heli Kuusipalo, a nutrition expert with Finland's National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL).
It is not known that anyone in Finland has died from overconsumption of energy drinks, but there have been deaths reported in the US, Canada and Sweden. For example, in Sweden two young people died from heart problems after drinking alcohol mixed with energy drinks, and another died after drinking too many energy drinks after playing in a sports event.
Southeast Finland is epicentre of excess use
A 2017 health survey of Finland's schools found that students in the southeast region of Kymenlaakso reported drinking the most energy drinks. There, young people admit to using energy drinks as a substitute for alcohol. Youth centres in the area have responded by banning the sale of energy drinks.
"So now it's quite common that they just chug them outside the building before they come in. Sometimes they'll vomit because they feel so ill," says Niina Soisalo, a youth counsellor that works for the city of Kouvola.
Youth centre employees in the region say they've met young people who boast of drinking 12 energy drinks a day. Soisalo says use among young people that play multi-player games online is particularly widespread.
"A lot of kids say they drink energy drinks to stay awake so they can play all evening or through the night. Their consumption is off the charts," she says.
As young as fourth grade
Seventh-grader Vilho Nikula says he drinks an average of two energy drinks every day.
"I started using energy drinks in secondary school so I could cope better during the school day and in my free time," he says.
Kids younger than Nikula have also taken to the drinks. Soisalo says they drink it as if they would any other soft drink.
"It's just another fizzy drink to many. Our survey shows that many even prefer energy drinks to a cola because it makes them feel alert and funny," the youth worker says.
Young Vilho Nikula has noticed the same trend.
"In a way its like a primary school fad. I spend a lot of time downtown and I see fourth graders buying energy drinks.
Soisalo is worried that the energy drinks will be a gateway towards irresponsible alcohol use.
"Children learn a drinking culture already in primary school: for example, that they should always have a drink in their hand when they spend time with other kids. It would be all too easy to swipe the energy drink for a can of beer," she says.
A new phenomenon in Finland is 'pärinäbileet', translated as shaking parties. Kids get together to drink energy drinks and the name of the party comes from the agitated, trembling state that comes from the high caffeine content.
"They party like grown-ups, drinking ten cans of energy drinks a piece. They think its cool; 'as if we were drinking beer'," Soisalo says.
Youth are easily addicted
Young people grow addicted to energy drinks easily. Finland's Food Safety Agency Evira recommends that the daily caffeine intake of children under 18 should be limited to 50 milligrams. Just one half-litre can of energy drink contains 160 milligrams.
THL has set a 15-year age limit on the sale of energy drinks, but not all retailers follow the recommendation.
Finland's Ombudsman for Children Tuomas Kurttila condemns the marketing of energy drinks to children and adolescents. Advertising often focuses on the energy boost the drink gives, along with improved performance, strength, and sustainability. However, the only thing that sets energy drinks apart from other soft drinks is their higher caffeine levels.
Forgetting to eat and drink water
Oftentimes young people are sustained by the caffeine in the drinks so well that they forget to eat.
"One secondary school pupil told me that he drank an energy drink for breakfast because he had been up all night playing online. At school, he wasn't hungry and so he drank another one. Then he comes home and starts playing again, drinking up to five cans in the evening and through the night," says Soisalo.
Energy drinks contains lots of sugar, one half-litre can holds the equivalent of 20 sugar cubes. THL's Kuusipalo is concerned about the health effects of regular consumption at so young an age.
"They don't provide any of the nutrients a body needs. The acids and sugar they contain eat away at tooth enamel and are a hazard to dental health," she says.
THL's nutritional expert doesn't recommend that anyone consume energy drinks.
"Energy drinks weren't even permitted in Finland until we joined the EU. They are full of additives and nothing else. They are completely unnecessary, on par with tobacco products."
Health officials have seen an alarming increase in the number of cases involving HRSV infections, according to the National Institute for Health and Welfare, THL. Specialist Niina Ikonen said that more than 500 cases were recorded in the infectious diseases register last week alone.
The HRSV virus can cause respiratory tract infections in people of all ages. However in small children and the elderly, it can cause complications such as pneumonia. Older children and other adults may experience milder symptoms of infection, including a runny nose or throat pain.
According to Harry Saxén, a professor of paediatric infectious diseases and medical chief of staff at Helsinki’s Children’s Hospital, the HRSV outbreak has so far been mainly confined to Helsinki.
Saxén told Yle that there are currently just over a dozen children under the age of 12 months with HRSV infections at the hospital.
“At the moment we are treating about 15 children. In my view that’s a lot. In worse years we have had 30 patients at a time,” he added.
Biennial peak in infections
The physician said that it is difficult to estimate whether the contagion has peaked or if more cases will emerge. He noted that it is typical for infections to decrease every other year and for the disease to occasionally rear its head.
“We have seen annual cases of HRSV but the epidemic is greater every other year. So this would be a time for a bigger outbreak so to speak. We have to assume that this winter will produce more infections that the same time last year,” added the THL’s Ikonen.
The viral infection is especially intransigent among children under the age of 12 months. The first symptoms usually include difficulty eating, so children cannot breast feed and they wheeze, Saxén explained.
There is no known treatment for the disease. Patients are treated at hospital with oxygen and by aspirating any phlegm that accumulates. Saxén urged the parents of young infants to reconsider visiting homes or other locations where others have flu-like symptoms.
“The disease is generally transmitted by family members. I would not deliberately go to places where a lot of people have the flu, but that may be difficult in practice. After all, you can’t bottle up children,” he remarked.
The THL said that health centres across the country have also reported a significant rise in patients of all ages coming in with the flu.
Ikonen said that four strains of the virus are currently circulating in Finland: two type A strains and two type B strains, with one of the type B infections outstripping the others.
The Helsinki District Court decided on Friday to dismiss fraud charges against Merja Kasoi (formerly Aulis), a former CEO of the pensions insurance company Keva.
The prosecutor had called for the court to slap Kasoi with a heavy fine as well as a conditional prison sentence if she was found guilty.
Kasoi was paid a nearly 19,000 euros by the Norwegian state for child allowances over a 10-year period although she no longer lived in Norway. However the court ruled Friday that there was enough evidence to convince the judge that Kasoi was not guilty of criminally concealing her move from Norway.
Saved by change of address notification
Kasoi had moved to small town in Norway with her then-husband and children but returned to Finland in 2002. She said that she had lodged a change of address notification and had assumed that the information would be relayed to the Norwegian Labour and Welfare Administration, NAV.
Kasoi told the court that she was not aware that Norwegian officials continued to pay the child benefits into her bank account. She said she first learned of the ongoing payments from a reporter, who revealed that she had been receiving the benefit for more than 10 years.
She noted that with an annual salary of 300,000 euros, she had no interest in jeopardising her position or career over child allowances from Norway.
In the end the change of address notification swayed the court, which said that it supported Kasoi’s account that she did not intend to conceal her move and that she had not deliberately sought to continue receiving the benefit.
The court added that fraud is only punishable if it is found to be intentional.
The Finnish data security firm F-Secure reported on Friday about a new security issue which could affect millions of laptops used in the corporate world. The company said that the issue affects most, if not all laptops which support Intel Management Engine or Intel AMT tech and is not related to the recently-reported vulnerabilities known as Spectre and Meltdown.
In a press release issued Friday the company's senior security consultant Harry Sintonen described the issue as "deceptively simple to exploit."
"In practice, it can give an attacker complete control over an individual’s work laptop, despite even the most extensive security measures," he said in the statement.
30 seconds of physical access
The issue permits an attacker with physical access to a laptop to bypass having to enter passwords and to access and remotely exploit the laptop later, the company said.
The security flaw exists within Intel chipsets using Active Management Technology (AMT), the chip firm's hardware and software tech that enables the upkeep of (usually corporate) laptops by tech support staff remotely. AMT is hard wired into the motherboard and uses strong encryption, but F-Secure said it is relatively easy for hackers to bypass the security surrounding it.
"The essence of the security issue is that setting a BIOS password, which normally prevents an unauthorised user from booting up the device or making low-level changes to it, does not prevent unauthorised access to the AMT BIOS extension. This allows an attacker access to configure AMT and make remote exploitation possible," F-Secure said.
"To exploit this, all an attacker needs to do is reboot or power up the target machine and press CTRL-P during bootup," the security company wrote.
The firm goes on to describe a few steps hackers are then able to change the device's default passwords, enable remote access and to disable AMT's security measures.
"Evil maids" could do it
"The attacker can now gain remote access to the system from both wireless and wired networks, as long as they’re able to insert themselves onto the same network segment with the victim," the company wrote.
Sintonen said that even though the first breach on a laptop needs physical access, because the process is so quick — less than 30 seconds — it would be very easy for anyone to carry it out, even an "evil" hotel maid, he said.
“You leave your laptop in your hotel room while you go out for a drink. The attacker breaks into your room and configures your laptop in less than a minute, and now he or she can access your desktop when you use your laptop on the hotel (wireless system). And since the computer connects to your company VPN (Virtual Private Network), the attacker can access company resources.”
In a freshly-released economic outlook released on Friday, Finland’s largest mortgage lender Hypo praised the government for new measures introduced to activate the unemployed to find work.
According to the so-called "active model", unemployed persons run the risk of having their benefit payments cut by 4.65 percent if they fail to satisfy employment officials that they have either worked for 18 hours, participated in training or pursued entrepreneurship in a 65-day period.
According to Juhana Brotherus, Hypo chief economist, while the new model will assist the employment market, it could add to fake employment that distorts the actual situation.
“Just one hour of work a week would be enough to classify a former jobless person as employed. The number of “fake employed” created this way could quickly multiply and significantly reduce unemployment figures,” Brotherus pointed out in a release.
The economic outlook said that even if the model were to reduce real and reported unemployment, the real problem of structural unemployment would not be eliminated, even during the current economic upswing.
Peak of economic upswing over
The mortgage lender said that the Finnish economy has emerged from a ten-year economic downturn, but noted that the peak of the recovery, which occurred last year, is now over.
The organisation said that exports have recovered and that domestic consumption and investments are still supporting the economic upswing. It added that along with the tourism sector, the forestry and metallic industries are also performing well.
The outlook said that current economic growth deviates from previous gains in that construction and consumption were the first areas to lead the recovery, while exports only picked up after some delay. Hypo attributed this situation to the troubled Russian economy, the structure of Finnish exports and weakened price competitiveness.
The lender said that economic growth in 20018 would be reflected in households as salaries improve, employment increases, unemployment falls and purchasing power grows.
At the same time, Hypo predicted a record number of new housing construction and speculated that the economy would inspire investors as well as new first-time buyers.
In addition the lender said that the government’s current account will strengthen and while it forecast that the government might even be able to correct the debt ratio, it warned that of the need for budget discipline as well as the need to guard against ebbing enthusiasm for reform.
Asylum seekers in Oulu have been baptised as Christians in quick ceremonies in public swimming pools, according to reports in the Kotimaa Pro publication.
It appears however that not all of the new converts understand which denomination they have converted to, with some erroneously assuming that they were baptised into the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Church.
A Lutheran pastor working in Oulu, Arpad Kovacs, told Kotimaa Pro that he is familiar with the phenomenon.
"Independent Christian congregations baptise asylum seekers and give them a certificate of baptism after a course lasting just one hour," said Kovacs. "This is misleading people."
An independent Christian group, Oulun Lähetysseurakunta, baptised about 10 asylum seekers in the Raksila swimming pool last year, according to Kotimaa Pro.
Jari Ruonala, a pastor at the congregation, said the baptisms had been administered without a big fuss, and is surprised that the issue has received so much attention.
“This is not something people need to know about. The matter should be buried.”
Amid controversy over the conversions, Finland's Immigration Service published guidance on how it treats conversion to Christianity by asylum seekers.
The National Church Council considers the practice of 'express baptism' worrying if asylum seekers do not understand the meaning of the ceremony.
“If the baptism is very quick and asylum seekers are uninformed about its symbolism and the community performing the baptism, of course it is troublesome,” said Marja-Liisa Laihia from the Council.
For persons coming from Islamic countries, for example, the many different denominations within Christianity can be confusing. Therefore the Council recommends that religious teaching of the new converts should last several months.
Naturally, there are asylum seekers who think that converting to Christianity will help their application with immigration authorities, but churches cannot promise anything like that, Laihia adds.
City not keen on baptisms
Ruonala said that the baptisms are performed at quiet times when not many visitors are at the pool. In the summer he says they baptise outside in lakes and rivers.
Oulu city authorities said they were surprised to hear about baptisms administered in public pools. Jari Leviäkangas, an estate manager for the pool at Raksila, said he was confident that common sense would prevail. “If this matter comes up again, our position is that the pool is reserved for swimming,” he said.
Helsingin Sanomat leads on Friday with a look at the measles outbreaks across Europe, and their possible spread to Finland. The paper reports that some 14,000 people have been struck down with measles over the last year, the vast majority in Romania and Italy, as more and more parents decide not to vaccinate their children.
The ongoing measles outbreak in Gothenburg has brought the prospect closer to home for Finns, and HS asks if a similar cluster of cases is possible here. The answer, unfortunately, is yes: anti-vaccination ideas have also spread in Finland and immunisation levels have dropped low enough (below 95 percent) to endanger herd immunity from measles in around a third of Finnish municipalities.
The Europe-wide epidemic has caused a reaction among some Finnish parents, reports HS, as they look to immunise their children early if they are heading abroad. The MMR vaccine is usually not given to children in Finland until they are one year-old.
HS recalls the days when measles was widespread in Finland, with tens of thousands getting sick each year. That stopped in the 1970s when a vaccination programme began.
Investors to enjoy the spring
Kauppalehti takes a look at the prospects of a bumper payday for shareholders this spring, as the Finnish economy continues its rebound. Dividends were paid consistently through the recession, but now there is even more cash to distribute, the paper thinks 2018 could be a record year for dividend payments.
The current record was set in 2007, just before the financial crash, when firms listed on the Helsinki stock exchange paid out some 12.26 billion euros to their owners. Analyst expectation as reported by KL is that dividends could rise by some five percent this year to 12.33 billion euros.
The paper also publishes a list of the biggest dividend payers listed in Helsinki, with investment group Privanet topping the charts.
Sportswear under the microscope
As the Winter Olympics approach attention is turning to medal expectations and chances of success, but also to all the trappings of a modern sporting extravaganza. Finland tends to do much better at the winter games than the summer ones, and the ice hockey tournament is usually a highlight of the sporting year in Finland, so excitement is certainly building here.
HS on Friday takes a look at how Finnish competitors will look in Korea. Not their performance on the ice, slopes or ski tracks, but their kit. The retro look unveiled last year for the official team uniforms had its defenders and detractors, so the paper decided to compare the 2018 outfits with those won by Finnish Olympians in years gone by.
You can take a look, and vote for your favourite, in their online poll.
Since Christmastime, seven Finnish freighters have been stopped in Russian harbours to be thoroughly inspected by local officials, according to the ministry.
Finland's Minister of Transport and Communications Anne Berner told news agency STT that an increase in harbour checks is causing delays and hurting the shipping firms' bottom lines.
Berner said that the ministry would be contacting Russian officials about the matter soon.
She said arrangements were being made to organise a conference call between the ministry's permanent secretary Harri Pursiainen and Russian vice communication minister Sergei Aristov to discuss the issue.
Unsuccessful attempts by Finnish traffic safety agency Trafi have reportedly already been made to contact Russian authorities to discuss the increased harbour checks.
Russia has not explained why the increased checks are being carried out.
Before the increase, Finnish freighter vessels that traverse international waters and harbours are usually only checked by officials a couple times per year.
Berner told STT that she does not think that the increased inspections were due to Finnish officials halting a Russian ship because of an oil spill last November.
Two years ago, Meri Pitkälä, 30, got a cold. In the pharmacy she found a nasal spray that seemed to help with her stuffy nose.
“I got rid of the flu for about a week but then it returned. I started to use the nasal spray again until my nose got blocked again.”
Finally, Pitkälä was using the nasal spray many times a day, but her nose remained congested.
“I became worried that there could be some indoor-air problem in our home or in the kindergarten where I work. But the kids were not getting ill very often, so the air quality could not be the reason.”
With less energy to play with the kids at work or exercise, Pitkälä was becoming desperate. The doctors she visited told her to drink tea with honey and to use nasal spray.
“I will never buy nasal spray again”
After the cold had continued for one-and-a-half years, Pitkälä again made a stop at a nearby pharmacy to buy more nasal spray. A pharmacist pulled her aside and asked how long she had been using the medicine.
The pharmacist was appalled and explained to Pitkälä how the long-term use of nasal spray destroys the mucous membranes.
Finally the pharmacy refused to sell the spray to her. Instead, Pitkälä was given sea salt spray, which moisturises the membranes and gradually the cold eased.
“I will never again buy nasal spray for a cold. My quality of life has improved significantly and I’m doing much better since I discontinued its use.”
A common problem
According to the Association of Finnish pharmacies, nasal sprays are among the medicines most commonly misused. “We tell our customers to visit a doctor if their cold symptoms don’t ease. While many do, there are some people who just switch to another pharmacy,” pharmacist Elisa Halttunen says.
Doctor Klaus Tamminen warns that treating a nasal spray addiction can last for a long time and require strong medication.
“The mucous membranes in the nose can be damaged very badly if a nasal spray is used for a full year. It may take another year to heal.”
Ratiopharm and Orion, which both manufacture nasal sprays remind patients not to use the products longer than recommended.
On Thursday, the website of Norway’s biggest circulation newspaper Verdens Gang published a link to a video that the daily said includes images of an armored personnel carrier being used in the war in Yemen. The paper identified the vehicle as an armored modular vehicle (AMV) manufactured by Patria, the Finnish state defence contractor. The source of the video was said to be a news organisation in the United Arab Emirates.
Two years ago, Patria sold 40 AMV 8x6 personnel carriers to the United Arab Emirates. The country is involved in the war against the Houthi rebel movement, a conflict that has inflicted great suffering on civilians.
The Norwegian-based high tech Kongsberg Group owns 49.9 percent of Patria, with the Finnish state the defence firm’s majority owner.
Personnel carriers delivered unarmed
Patria’s president of land systems Mika Kari admitted in an interview with Verdens Gang that the vehicle in the video was a Patria armored carrier. He told the paper that he had heard rumours that a Patria vehicle has been used in the war in Yemen.
On Thursday, Kari told Yle that in 2016, Patria had delivered unarmed personnel carriers to the United Arab Emirates. He added that he had no information about what kind of weapons the customer had installed on the vehicles.
He said that apart from spare parts, Patria had not applied for any export licenses for goods bound for the United Arab Emirates or Saudi Arabia.
According to Norwegian officials there is no evidence to suggest that Norwegian-made weapons have been used in the Yemeni war. However last week, Norway announced that it would suspend the sales of arms and ammunition to the United Arab Emirates, in part because a Norwegian unmanned submarine was alleged to have participated in hostilities.
Human rights organisations said an alliance led by Saudi Arabia has bombed targets such as schools and hospitals and contributed to one of the world’s most intractable humanitarian crises.
One half of a Swedish rapper duo, Simon Gärdenfors, escaped having to pay fines — and a possible jail term — for trespassing on Russian state property in Åland in 2015. The case was dismissed after a couple hours of deliberations at Åland District Court on Thursday.
The charges they faced stemmed from an incident in September 2015 when the rappers, known as Far & Son (Father & Son), went on the Russian-owned property to build a primitive structure, calling it "a gay bar on Putin's land."
It may not be widely known, but the Russian state owns land on Åland, and some of it officially belongs to the Russian presidency. That particular parcel has been under Russian ownership since 1947. Under President Vladimir Putin, Russia has introduced new legislation that would criminalise what it calls gay propaganda, meaning activities that openly promote a gay lifestyle.
When the shack-like structure was complete, the video production team took pictures of scantily-clad men dressed in construction worker outfits and shot their video.
Story continues after photo.
Appeal up in the air
The lean-to was christened "The Blue Oyster," in honour of the gay bar featured in the 1984 comedy movie Police Academy.
After the building was completed, Gärdenfors issued a press release, writing: "it is Russian land and in that case, one is not allowed to promote homosexuality."
The other half of Far & Son, Frej Larsson, wrote on Instagram that Putin was angry because they'd built the gay bar and brought homosexuals to his summer cottage property.
Larsson, however did not show up to court on Thursday, because he was never suspected of criminal activity.
"We've been called to court," he wrote on Instagram. "I feel a little like this; if Putin doesn't come, neither will I."
However Gärdenfors appeared for the hearing, testifying that he didn't have anything to do with building the structure personally. Instead, he blamed the production company, Swedish television channel TV4, which was in charge of the programme they were making.
The joke rappers and the TV firm appear to be embroiled in a war of words and counter accusations back home in Sweden.
Before the case was dismissed, prosecutor Henrik Lindeman had demanded that Gärdenfors pay fines for trespassing. Lindeman also said the charges had the potential to amount to a jail sentence of up to three months, according to Swedish tabloid Aftonbladet.
It is unclear whether the Russian state will appeal the case.