Finland's plan to ease COVID restrictions set back by rise in infections in soccer fans

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First confirmed coronavirus case in Finland

HELSINKI (Reuters) - At least 300 Finns who went to cheer on the national team at the Euro 2020 soccer tournament have contracted COVID-19, health officials said on Tuesday.

The daily infection rate in Finland has gone up from around 50 a day to more than 200 in the past week and the figure is likely to grow in the coming days, they said.

It is evident that the returning fans caused a rise in Finland's daily infections, said Mika Salminen, head of security at the Finnish Health Institute.

"Looking at their age division, it is clear that not that many of them have gotten two vaccine doses yet," he added.

According to local health authorities, more than 200 infections caught in Russia have been detected in people living in the metropolitan area around the capital Helsinki.

"A key question is, will we see infection chains. It now looks like we cannot move to a level of lower restrictions in the Helsinki area," Salminen told Reuters.

The institute has estimated that 4,500-6,000 football fans went over to the Russian city of St. Petersburg to watch the games.

The authorities are still trying to track down everyone who attended the event and warn they may have passed the virus on to friends and family during the midsummer festivities last weekend.

Last week, Russian authorities blamed the new Delta variant for a surge in both new infections and deaths in major cities including St. Petersburg which is due to host a quarter final on Friday.

Finland remains among the countries least affected by the pandemic. The nation of 5.5 million people has recorded 95,387 infections, 969 deaths and has 29 people hospitalized due to COVID-19.

(Reporting by Essi Lehto; Editing by Angus MacSwan)