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Nightclub Milliklubi in Helsinki informed passers-by of its temporary closure with a notice posted on its door on 20 October 2020. (Jussi Nukari – Lehtikuva)

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THE SOCIAL AFFAIRS and Health Committee of the Parliament has finalised its proposal on restricting the operations of restaurants in Finland.

Markus Lohi (Centre), the chairperson of the Social Affairs and Health Committee, on Tuesday said the committee agreed unanimously that the restrictions should vary based on the primary purpose of the establishments as of 1 November.

The strictest restrictions, he said, would be targeted at bars, pubs, nightclubs and other establishments the primary purpose of which is to serve alcohol.

The decree drafted by the committee would enable regional authorities to prohibit such establishments from bringing in more than 50 per cent of their usual full capacity. The capacities of cafés and restaurants, in turn, could be limited to 75 of usual full capacity if necessitated by the regional epidemiological situation.

The division is justified by the heightened risk of infection in certain types of restaurant settings, argued the Social Affairs and Health Committee.

“The strictest restrictions will be targeted at restaurants that, from the perspective of combating the coronavirus epidemic, pose a highly likely risk of contact between customers,” Lohi was quoted as saying in a press conference by YLE.

The restrictions can also be scaled based on the regional number of coronavirus infections, according to Helsingin Sanomat. The decree will be formulated in a way that the restrictions will, in principle, only be in effect in areas where they are necessary, meaning they would vary depending on whether the area is in the basic, acceleration or spreading stage of the epidemic.

Lohi added that the term ‘area’ has not been delineated in the proposal, revealing that it can apply to a region, hospital district or municipality depending on the circumstances.

Regional authorities will also be able to limit the opening and serving hours of restaurants in an attempt to slow down the spread of the new coronavirus. High-risk restaurants, for example, can be ordered to close their doors at 11pm, 12am or 1am on grounds of a regional epidemiological assessment.

The restrictions will not be applied to restaurants in conjunction with service stations, for example.

The Finnish Hospitality Association (Mara) described the proposal as a step in the right direction in that it takes better into account the constitutional rights of entrepreneurs and employees in the restaurant industry.

It is nevertheless critical, however, that the restrictions are justified with accurate and up-to-date data on exposures and infections from the government and health care authorities.

Timo Lappi, the managing director at Mara, highlighted that the proposal provides the government with considerable leeway in deciding on the restrictions, which – he underlined – must be necessary and proportionate according to the Constitutional Law Committee.

“If the coronavirus situation is well under control in one region, it should have no restrictions,” he summed up in a press release.

Aleksi Teivainen – HT

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