UPDATED:

The Finnish government has decided to begin lifting restrictions regarding slowing down the coronavirus pandemic, they announced following two-day discussions on Monday evening. Their decisions are based on a report by an expert group dedicated to creating a strategy to tackle the spreading of the virus.

The government’s negotiations regarding lifting restrictions against the coronavirus spread at the House of the Estates in Helsinki on May 4, 2020. Picture: © Laura Kotila | The Finnish government

Here are the highlights of the strategy:

  • Travel for work in the Schengen area will be allowed beginning May 14. “The statutory restrictions on border traffic will be lifted in cross-border traffic across the Schengen internal borders by allowing employment or commission-related commuting and other essential traffic,” the government says. The government still doesn’t recommend traveling abroad for leisure. The Ministry of the Interior will draft more specific guidelines on the gradual opening of border traffic. According to the government, Finland considers it important that the lifting of the restrictions on border traffic be coordinated at the EU level.
  • Restaurants will open gradually, beginning June 1, “provided that this is supported by the effects of lifting the current restrictions and by the subsequent general epidemiological assessment.” The government states that “this requires legislative amendments that would enable imposition of restrictions on, for example, the number of customers and the alcohol serving hours.” Legislative proposals to that effect will be brought for the government’s consideration no later than May 13.
  • Outdoor recreational facilities will open May 14. Maximum of 10 people allowed to join the game or workout.
  • Beginning on June 1, the limit for public gatherings is raised to 50 people. The situation will be reviewed again by the end of June. According to the government, “the 50-person limit applies not only to public gatherings (the recommendation-based guideline) but also to events organised by private and third-sector operators, to cultural, recreational, exercise and sports events and to religious events. As concerns indoor spaces and enclosed outdoor spaces, such as amusement parks, zoos, libraries and cinemas, safety will be ensured by limiting the number of visitors, ensuring safe distances and providing guidance on personal hygiene. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Health will issue a circular to the regional authorities on implementing these restrictions to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease under the Communicable Diseases Act.”
  • Sports competitions and sports series can be resumed. A maximum of 50 people are allowed to attend, and other special arrangements are to take place.
  • Libraries, museums and many other cultural and sports venues are to reopen “in a gradual and controlled manner” beginning June 1. Here’s a full list:

National and municipal museums, theatres, the National Opera, cultural venues, libraries, mobile libraries, services for customers and researchers at the National Archives, hobby and leisure centers, swimming pools and other sports facilities, youth centers, clubs, organizations’ meeting rooms, daycare services for the elderly, rehabilitative work facilities and workshops.

  • The borrowing of books and other materials from libraries will be immediately permitted.
  • Mass events of over 500 people are banned until July 31.
  • Comprehensive schools will reopen beginning May 14. However, the government recommends that upper secondary schools, polytechnics, universities and others continue distance education until the end of this academic year. Here’s the government’s statement on the matter in full:

Restrictions concerning general upper secondary schools, vocational schools, higher education institutions and liberal education will remain in force until May 13. From then on, starting on Many 14, the use of the premises of the above-mentioned educational institutions for teaching will be controlled through measures in line with the Communicable Diseases Act. Contact teaching can be resumed in a controlled and gradual manner. However, the government recommends that universities, universities of applied sciences, upper secondary schools, vocational schools, liberal adult education and basic adult education institutes continue distance teaching until the end of the semester. Restrictions on the organization of basic education in the arts will remain in force until May 13, after which their premises will be opened correspondingly for contact teaching.

  • Telecommuting is the current recommendation. The recommendation will be reassessed after summer.
  • Anyone aged over 70 years should continue to avoid physical contact as far as possible. The government emphasizes that those who belong to the risk groups should use own discretion in observing the guidelines.
  • The restrictions concerning visits to healthcare and social welfare units will remain in force until further notice and the matter will be next reviewed by the end of June. For example, care units are looking for new practices to enable safe social contacts.

Prime Minister Sanna Marin (the SDP) said at the press conference that we must prepare for the fact that the coronavirus will prevail in our society.

“We are moving toward a new normal,” she said.

And the goal is to protect the people.

The report

The government is basing its decisions on a report by a working group led by Permanent Secretary Martti Hetemäki. The working group has been solely focusing on the coronavirus exit and reconstruction strategy. The report is called “Impact of the coronavirus crisis and plan for a hybrid strategy to manage the epidemic.” It’s an 80-page plan published in Finnish only. The government’s decisions are based on the first phase of the report.

More info

The government opens up their thinking “on the exit strategy” in a statement published on Monday evening:

In Finland, the growth of the coronavirus epidemic has been halted through restrictive measures and a clear improvement in hygiene behaviour. Although the spread of the epidemic has currently stalled, there is still a risk that it will escalate again.

The measures proposed by the government have aimed and will aim to prevent the spread of the virus in Finland, to protect the capacity of the healthcare system and to shield and protect people, especially those who are most at risk. The aim of the hybrid strategy is to curb the epidemic effectively while minimising the detrimental impact on people, businesses, society and the exercise of fundamental rights.

In the hybrid strategy, this will involve a controlled shift from large-scale restrictive measures to more targeted measures and to enhanced epidemic management in accordance with the Communicable Diseases Act, the Emergency Powers Act and possible other statutes.

Moreover, the hybrid strategy focuses extensively on a “test, trace, isolate and treat” approach, alongside the controlled dismantling of restrictive measures. This will help curbing the spread of the epidemic. The approach can be further enhanced using a mobile application, with the precondition that it must be voluntary and ensure data protection.

The emergency conditions continue to prevail in Finland, and the government has decided to issue decrees on the extension of the application of section 86 (direction of the operations of healthcare and social welfare units), section 87 (other direction and management of healthcare), section 88 (compliance with the time limits for the provision of non-urgent care, assessments of the need for social welfare services), section 93 (derogation from terms of employment), and section 94 (restricting the right to terminate employment) of the Emergency Powers Act.

Tony Öhberg