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Finland’s prime minister apologizes after partying all night despite coronavirus exposure

Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin speaks to journalists in Brussels this summer. (Valeria Mongelli/Bloomberg News)

It was Saturday evening when Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin learned that a cabinet colleague and close contact had tested positive for the coronavirus. That information, however, did not derail her weekend plans, and the leader proceeded to party at a Helsinki nightclub until the wee hours, with photos showing her maskless in a crowd.

Marin, who is fully vaccinated, later apologized for what she described as an indiscretion, yet images from that night have since gone viral, prompting both outrage at what critics deemed irresponsible behavior and international admiration for the stamina of the world’s youngest prime minister, who stayed out until 4 a.m., according to one report.

The 36-year-old Social Democrat did not violate the country’s public health rules, as Finland does not require vaccinated people to quarantine. But guidance does “strongly recommend that you voluntarily avoid contact with people outside your household” while waiting for access to a test or results of one.

Marin said a staffer initially informed her that there was no need to quarantine because everyone exposed was vaccinated. She did not question that instruction, she said, because it was similar to the health agency’s guidelines. A subsequent text message to Marin’s government phone asked everyone who came in contact with the positive case, Foreign Affairs Minister Pekka Haavisto, to avoid contact with others. She didn’t receive that message until Sunday morning, she said, because she had left her work phone at home during her night out, which included a long stint at Butchers, a popular club in the country’s capital.

“I should have used better judgement on Saturday evening,” Marin said in a Facebook post Monday. “I am very sorry.”

She tested negative for the virus Sunday, she said, and did so again Monday.

Even though Marin did not break any laws, she now joins a lengthy list of public officials — spanning the globe and the political spectrum — who have flouted pandemic best practices and faced accusations of hypocrisy and recklessness. Experts warn that leaders with tarnished credibility could undermine governments’ response to the pandemic just as the omicron variant presents a new and formidable challenge.

In recent days, scandal has been building in the British tabloids over accusations that Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s residence hosted a raucous Christmas party last year as virus infections and deaths soared and a strict lockdown was in place. Johnson has denied that the soiree happened, but Wednesday video emerged of his staff joking about the gathering.

Boris Johnson apologized after a video from Dec. 2020 was published by ITV showing staff talking about an alleged party at Downing Street. (Video: Parliament TV via Storyful)

Boris Johnson’s staff denied there was a 2020 Christmas party — except they joked about it on camera

Earlier in 2020, Johnson’s former top aide Dominic Cummings was defiant after he violated the country’s lockdown by taking a 260-mile road trip while he and his wife were infected with the coronavirus. Before that, epidemiologist Neil Ferguson resigned from his post advising the British government after reports surfaced that he broke protocol to meet his purported lover.

Leaders and officials in Norway, Sweden, Ireland, New Zealand and elsewhere have faced similar criticism after appearing to violate their country’s rules.

In the United States, some of the most publicized examples of this phenomenon include California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s (D) ill-fated trip to a famously pricey restaurant in Napa Valley, where a birthday party exceeded the limited number of households allowed to gather; House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D) indoor haircut in San Francisco during a time when such appointments were banned; and Austin Mayor Steve Adler’s (D) plea that residents “stay home if you can” — made while he was vacationing in Mexico.

The Trump administration also disregarded the advice from its own public health agencies with such regularity that it ceased to make headline news — except for when an October 2020 gathering in the Rose Garden became a suspected “superspreader event” after several attendees tested positive, including President Donald Trump.

Finland’s Marin, by contrast, has received relatively high marks for her handling of the crisis. Roughly 5.5 million people live in the country, and it has reported just under 1,400 covid-19 fatalities, one of the lowest per capita death rates in the world. Infections, however, have been trending upward in recent days, including a handful of omicron cases.

Mia Laiho, a Finnish Parliament member from the opposition National Coalition Party, called Marin’s excursion “irresponsible.”

“It obviously wasn’t smart,” she told the outlet Helsingin Sanomat.

As news of the night out spread online and began trending on Twitter in the United States, commentary became more complimentary than critical, as some marveled at the leader’s ability to pull a near-all-nighter. Others commended the work-life balance necessary to feel comfortable leaving her work phone at home.

“Not mad,” the activist and author Annie E. Clark said on Twitter, “just impressed.”

Coronavirus: What you need to know

Vaccines: The CDC recommends that everyone age 5 and older get an updated covid booster shot designed to target both the original virus and the omicron variant. Here’s some guidance on when you should get the omicron booster and how vaccine efficacy could be affected by your prior infections.

Variants: Instead of a single new Greek letter variant, a group of immune-evading omicron spinoffs are popping up all over the world. Any dominant variant will likely knock out monoclonal antibodies, targeted drugs that can be used as a treatment or to protect immunocompromised people.

Tripledemic: Hospitals are overwhelmed by a combination of respiratory illnesses, staffing shortages and nursing home closures. And experts believe the problem will deteriorate further in coming months. Here’s how to tell the difference between RSV, the flu and covid-19.

Guidance: CDC guidelines have been confusing — if you get covid, here’s how to tell when you’re no longer contagious. We’ve also created a guide to help you decide when to keep wearing face coverings.

Where do things stand? See the latest coronavirus numbers in the U.S. and across the world. In the U.S., pandemic trends have shifted and now White people are more likely to die from covid than Black people. Nearly nine out of 10 covid deaths are people over the age 65.

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