The coronavirus information team at the Itis shopping mall.

Coronavirus information team meets citizens – even at a shopping mall

The City of Helsinki communicates about the coronavirus Covid-19 situation in many languages and does its best to reach out to people where they naturally spend time. A team of 14 coronavirus advisers started patrolling the city at the beginning of December. Six of them are City employees, and the remaining eight represent various organizations including societies.

The lobby area of the Itis shopping mall in eastern Helsinki is home to a coronavirus Covid-19 information point, which is manned by coronavirus advisers Sami Ouarab and Ahmed Khalil. They inform and advise Itis visitors on questions related to the virus and disease in Finnish, English and Arabic, and Quarab also speaks French and Berber. Some members of the touring coronavirus information team also speak Somali. 

The men are more than familiar with helping people, as they normally do so at the Helsinki-info information and advisory service. Helsinki-info provides general information on questions related to City of Helsinki services. Helsinki-info service points around the city include service desks at Helsinki Central Library Oodi and International House Helsinki.

“We now inform and advise people on questions related to Covid-19. If necessary, we direct people to social and health care services,” Khalil says.

Itis is still quiet on the weekday morning of the interview, but the pair knows that it’ll be busier at the shopping mall in the afternoon.

“For example, Friday 27 November was both a holiday for Muslims and Black Friday, and there were a lot of people here. Itis is a good place to reach out to people,” they believe.

The touring information team plans to visit mosques and societies. They plan to tour areas with the highest numbers of reported Covid-19 cases. The Itis coronavirus Covid-19 information point is open from Monday to Friday 10:00–18:00. As of the week of 7 December, another information point will be serving at the Columbus shopping centre in Vuosaari. The coronavirus Covid-19 information service is an experiment that will be continued at least through 18 December.

Many things on people’s mind 

People have asked the information team about many things: the general coronavirus Covid-19 situation, related restrictions, and how to request an appointment for a coronavirus test. 

“We have told them about the Omaolo online symptom checker and advised them on how to book an appointment to be tested. We have instructed some people to call Coronavirus Helpline at 09 310 10024.”

According to Quarab and Khalil, a large section of people wear face masks inside the shopping mall, but not all. 

“One person passing by said to me that he didn’t need a mask. I had a talk with him and told him that even though he was young and strong, not everybody around him are the same. He could by accident infect somebody to whom the disease could be really serious. I gave him a mask and he put it on,” Khalil says appreciatively. 

The men believe that a good way to spread the message about coronavirus Covid-19 is to talk to people. This could even be a better way to get the message across than by people only reading about it. 

There is also a mobile coronavirus testing station in Helsinki, so as to make it as easy as possible for people to be tested. Through December, the testing station operates in Kontula on every Tuesday and alternates between Malmitalo in Malmi and Vuotalo in Vuosaari on Thursdays serving at either location for the day. Anyone can be tested without an appointment and referral, and they only need to show an identity document. 

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Photo: Heta Ängeslevä