Tuesday 10/26/21

Kiuru's ministry prevented THL from guiding citizens on mask use

The Minister of Social Affairs and Health will face a vote of no-confidence in Parliament on Wednesday.

Minister of Social Affairs and Health Krista Kiuru. Photo: Jussi Toivanen/Vnk.
Minister of Social Affairs and Health Krista Kiuru. Photo: Jussi Toivanen/Vnk.

Finland is experiencing a new controversy regarding the use of masks to stop the spread of the coronavirus, according to the country's main newspapers.

Last week the opposition accused Prime Minister Sanna Marin of "lying" in spring regarding this issue. Now, it has been known that the National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) attempted during the first wave of Covid-19 to provide some basic instructions to citizens on the use of masks, but the initiative was stopped by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health headed by Minister Krista Kiuru.

According to Iltasanomat, last spring, amid the disparity of opinions that existed in different government offices on the use of masks, Director General of THL Markku Tervahauta made an attempt to explain to the Finns the convenience of using face shields in public spaces. 

He did so in mid-April in an interview with Helsingin Sanomat, in which he said that even asymptomatic people could wear masks in order to protect others.

At that time, the official position of THL and the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health was that there was no solid evidence that using masks would reduce infections and that face shields could even increase the risks, even though most countries in the world had already recommended their citizens to wear them to fight Covid-19 spread.

Kirsi Varhila, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, even said that Tervahauta's statements only represented his own opinions.

Initiative blocked

Kirsi-Varhila-Ministry-of-Social-Affairs-and-Health-Permanent-Secretary-by-Lauri-Heikkinen-VnkKirsi Varhila, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Health. Photo: Lauri-Heikkinen/Vnk.

On Monday 12 October, with the country immersed in a much more intense second wave of coronavirus infections, Tervahauta told Iltasanomat that THL wanted to instruct citizens about the use of masks already in the spring, but the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health blocked the initiative.

They said there was "no reason to communicate it in more detail."

Kiuru faces no-confidence

The origin of this controversy is in the statements of Prime Minister Sanna Marin last Thursday in question time in Parliament. Marin admitted that last spring the government decided not to recommend the use of masks to the general public because there were not enough supplies in the country.

Since then, opposition MPs and citizens on social media accused the government of knowingly lying to people about the usefulness of the masks. 

The National Coalition Party (Kokoomus) harshly criticized Minister Krista Kiuru, whom it accused of spreading misleading information about the use of masks. Kokoomus has promoted a vote of no-confidence against Minister Kiuru in Parliament next Wednesday.

“The coronavirus crisis is likely to continue for a long time. Parliament and Finns should be able to trust the minister responsible for managing the crisis. This is not the case now," Kokoomus leader Petteri Orpo tweeted on Friday 9 October.