I started my job as the Minister of Defence in June 2019. It has been almost a year now. Then, almost a year ago, I couldn't have imagined what the situation would be now.
We live in historic and challenging times. On 16 March 2020, the government of Finland aligned several actions to control the spread of coronavirus. For the first time in peacetime, our country was set to a state of emergency.
These measures affect everyone in one way or another. Schools were mainly closed and the pupils and students were moved to distance learning. Gatherings of more than 10 persons were prohibited. Visits to nursing homes and hospitals were prohibited. It was recommended that people over the age of 70 and people in risk groups should live under quarantine conditions.
The borders of the Uusimaa region were closed from 28 March to 15 April. This restriction measure was made to prevent the spread of the virus from Uusimaa to other parts of Finland.
Most people have had to make changes in their everyday life. Families are required to be hugely flexible in the face of the new situation. Up to a million people in Finland have switched to remote work. At the same time, many parents have to take care of their children’s distance learning.
Nursing staff are working around the clock to take care of people and to keep our healthcare system in order. Entrepreneurs are in an extremely difficult situation. Due to restrictions, many companies have lost their customers and orders. Employees have been laid off. The state strives to help companies with financial support as quickly as possible. It doesn't compensate for all losses but seeks to help companies get through the acute phase of the crisis.
The restriction measures which have been made are extremely heavy and extremely difficult. But they have been necessary to save human lives and to protect our healthcare system.
The state of emergency and the challenges of everyday life have caused people’s ingenuity to flourish. Many entrepreneurs have been forced to innovate new businesses quickly as the old customers have gone due to restrictions. To give some examples, a distillery and a ski wax company have started to manufacture hand sanitizer. Many restaurants have innovated new menus to take away and home delivery. A bakery started to bake cakes looking like toilet paper roll. These cakes were a huge success.
Many parents and teachers have noticed that actually, distance learning is suitable for many children. Many kids with special needs manage to do their studies better at home. They can concentrate better and they don't have to play the role they would play at school. Teachers try different distance learning tools and methods. Despite the challenges, things have gone pretty well. It's no wonder, as we have the best teachers in the world.
In my role as the Minister of Defence, it has been especially important that our conscripts can continue their military service despite this challenging time. Conscripts are divided into three different groups: one group is in training at the barracks, one in field exercises and one is on leave. It has worked well, although the change was made quickly.
When avoiding physical contact, the mental sense of community increases.
The challenge of coronavirus is huge. But greater than that is the power of our society. We have tough times ahead. But we will manage this. Together. As we have done before.
Antti Kaikkonen, Minister of Defence of Finland
This article was written for MP Talk, a regular column from the Helsinki Times in which Members of Parliament are encouraged to contribute their thoughts and opinions. All opinions voiced are entirely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoints of the Helsinki Times.
Adam Oliver Smith - HT (Ed.)