My point is that these restrictions are way too categoric— there should be a lot more flexibility and understanding in days, hours and bar/club types.

Photograph: Tony Öhberg/Finland Today

In our interview with Joni Bitter, restaurant manager at Bar Loose in Helsinki, he expressed his frustration for the rules imposed on restaurants and how he thinks the restaurant businesses have been unjustly branded as the scapegoats for spreading the coronavirus. We also spoke to Bitter about the restaurant workers’ protest held at the end of the week against the government’s restrictions on opening hours and customer capacity.

Your protest coincides with the government’s restrictions on restaurant opening hours coming into effect. Why are you protesting this move by the government?

I think that the government hasn’t really given any solid data that the nightclubs are causing the main corona risk in Finland. For example, today Taneli Puumalainen (head of the infectious diseases unit at the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare, THL) said that there’s now no doubt that nightlife is a significant source of numerous corona outbursts. Once again, there were no figures nor numbers to back up this statement, yet he did show numerous other graphics. I also need to underline here that it’s not only the time restrictions but the 50% rule that will be blindly applied to all the restaurants, cafes, diners and so on.

And please don’t get me wrong: I do think that there’s a need to control people during the weekends as there simply are too many people in too small areas, etc. That said, it truly takes a decent aim to hit another person on Sunday/Monday dancefloor. My point is that these restrictions are way too categoric— there should be a lot more flexibility and understanding in days, hours and bar/club types. And what frustrates me the most is that legislators ‘hide behind laws’ by saying that there’s no way to direct rules more closely as the current law won’t permit such actions. Hey, come on, you’ve had six months’ time to prepare legislation for a second wave.

What do you think would be the best (or better way) to handle the pandemic situation as it relates to restaurants and bars?

I think that some restrictions are needed but that the rulings should be much more detailed and acknowledge all the different factors within restaurant discourse. I also think that this extremely hard rule that comes into effect on Sunday is way too harsh. I mean, when the sales stop at 22:00 it kills all the nightlife and just moves parties to people’s private homes. Why couldn’t we just take the 50% rule on nightclubs and end the sale at 01:00? Even that would have been an extreme measure, but it would have given some space to be creative. Also, there’s plenty of room on weekdays to party until the early morning without bumping into a single soul.

How do you think the new measures will affect the restaurant industry?

At the moment, we can’t tell the time frame for these extreme measures. If this lasts a few months, the results will be devastating. The main difference to last spring is that all the bank accounts are now dry. Also, and most importantly, this hurts bar workers extremely hard: as a pretty low-income job, people don’t have huge savings or none at all. I can just hope that staff will find some replacing work from grocery stores, etc. Sad times, extremely sad.