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Prime Minister Sanna Marin (left) and Minister of the Interior Maria Ohisalo on Monday announced the government will begin relaxing the measures adopted to fight the new coronavirus on 1 June 2020. (Emmi Korhonen – Lehtikuva)

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THE FINNISH GOVERNMENT on Monday said it will begin gradually tearing down the restrictions adopted to slow down the spread of the new coronavirus on 1 June.

Prime Minister Sanna Marin (SDP) announced in a press conference late yesterday evening the ban on public gatherings will be relaxed to apply to gatherings of more than 50 instead of 10, while cafés and restaurants are to be allowed to re-open in a “controlled and step-by-step” manner.

The decisions were made based on a report drafted by a task force led by Martti Hetemäki, the permanent secretary at the Ministry of Finance.

Marin said Finland has succeeded in containing the coronavirus outbreak well enough that it is possible to switch to the so-called composite strategy and lift some of the restrictions while placing further emphasis on testing and tracing possible infections and imposing targeted limitations.

Outdoor hobby and exercise facilities, the government said, will be allowed to re-open on the same day that children in early-childhood and basic education are set to return to classrooms, on 14 May. The facilities will be required to conform to the restrictions on public gatherings by limiting groups to 10 until and to 50 after 30 May.

The gathering restriction will also apply to cultural, leisure, religious and sporting events, as well as to events organised by the private and third sector.

Events with more than 500 attendees, however, will not be allowed until the end of July.

The government said the restrictions on cafés and restaurants will be relaxed on the condition that such measures are supported by impact and epidemiologic assessments. The gradual re-opening of the sector, it highlighted, will necessitate that the legislation be amended to enable the adoption of limitations based on customer numbers and opening hours.

The amendments are to be discussed by the government no later than on 13 May.

Libraries will be allowed to lend books and other materials to citizens effective immediately. Also a variety of other public indoor facilities – such as museums, theatres, cultural centres, hobby and sports facilities and sites, and the meeting facilities of organisations – will start re-opening on 1 June.

The safety of indoor facilities and confined outdoor facilities like amusement parks, zoos and cinemas will be ensured by limiting customer numbers and providing instructions on hygiene and social distancing, according to the government.

As of 14 May, the restrictions on cross-border travel will be relaxed to allow work and assignment-related and other essential travel inside the Schengen Area. Finns, however, are still advised to refrain from free-time trips abroad by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs.

The government viewed that it is important to co-ordinate the lifting of restrictions on cross-border travel in the European Union.

Upper secondary and higher education institutions will be allowed to resume in-person instruction on 14 May, although they are encouraged to continue remote instruction until the end of the spring term.

The recommendation on remote work will remain in effect until further notice, with the government set to re-examine it in the autumn.

Over 70-year-old people are advised to limit physical contact with others as much as possible. The restriction on visiting social and health care facilities will remain in effect for the time being and will be discussed by the government by the end of June.

Minister of the Interior Maria Ohisalo (Greens) on Monday revealed the government is considering issuing guidelines for the use of face masks, underlining that the coronavirus has yet to disappear from the country.

The government also decided to extend the state of emergency declared over the outbreak and issue decrees for extending the powers granted to it under sections of the emergency powers act dealing with the operations and management of health care services, compliance with waiting times for non-urgent care and deviating from the terms of employment contracts.

Aleksi Teivainen – HT

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