A SERIES of sweeping restrictions on social life and interaction came into effect today in four municipalities in the capital region of Finland: Helsinki, Espoo, Vantaa and Kauniainen.
“The proposed measures are harsh, there’s no denying that. They’ll put our ordinary lives on hold in many ways, but that’s precisely what they were designed to to,” Mayor of Helsinki Jan Vapaavuori (NCP) acknowledged in a news conference on Friday.
Designed to contain the rampant coronavirus, the restrictions will principally remain in force for three weeks, until 18–20 December.
Helsingin Sanomat on Sunday highlighted that the incidence of the virus has spiked in the capital region in recent weeks, jumping from 107.7 to 189.7 cases per 100,000 inhabitants between 15 and 29 November. The incidence was even higher in the capital city, standing at 251.4 cases per 100,000 inhabitants.
Vapaavuori on Friday viewed that the capital region has a special responsibility because its effort will serve as an example to decision-makers in other regions. Local residents, he stressed, must take the recommendation and restrictions seriously.
“We’ve gotten a lot of feedback about there not being proven chains of infections in, for instance, libraries, theatres or hobby facilities. While this is true, we’re only as strong as our weakest link. This means that general caution is no longer enough,” he argued.
Locals urged to reduce social contact outside home
The coronavirus coordination group for the capital region decided that all indoor and outdoor public events will be banned in Greater Helsinki until 18 December. Events and meetings with a maximum of 10 participants will nonetheless be allowed as long as certain precautionary safety measures are in place.
Local residents are encouraged to limit close social contact to people living in the same household and loved ones.
The authorities recommend that people refrain from organising other private gatherings and family meetings, including anniversary, birthday and graduation celebrations. Funerals and memorial services should similarly be organised only for a small group of close relatives.
“Infections spreading within families are a threat especially to people in the risk groups. The Christmas holidays pose another challenge in this regard,” said Mayor of Espoo Jukka Mäkelä (NCP). “It’s principally inadvisable to meet anyone who you don’t come into close contact with regularly in your ordinary daily family life.”
Markku Mäkijärvi, the chief medical officer at the Hospital District of Helsinki and Uusimaa (HUS), added that people should also refrain from travelling from the capital region to other parts of Finland between 30 November and 20 December.
Libraries to offer limited services
All organised indoor leisure activities, including basic art education, and organised outdoor leisure activities for over 20-year-olds will be suspended to limit social contact between people in Greater Helsinki. Indoor sports will similarly be cancelled for everyone and outdoor sports for all over 20-year-olds with the exception of professional and competitive international sports.
Also private service providers are urged to adhere to the restrictions until 20 December.
“It was decided that also children’s activities should be suspended indoors because the junior [athletes and teams] account for most of the use of sports facilities. It’s now absolutely crucial to avoid all social contact,” said Mäkelä.
All public spaces open to customers will be closed, including all indoor sports facilities, cultural centres, museums and municipality-run youth facilities. The only spaces that will keep their doors open for the next three weeks are social and health care facilities, early-childhood education, basic education and essential upper-secondary education institutes.
The services of libraries will also be limited to, for example, picking up materials from reservation shelves and theme-specific shelves using the self-service machines. People using library services will be required to wear a face mask.
Vocational and general upper-secondary education institutions will shift completely to remote teaching, although necessary in-person teaching will be available to disabled students and students in need of individual support. The period of remote teaching will begin on 3 December and end on 31 December.
Restrictions on restaurants unchanged
Vapaavuori on Friday said no additional restrictions will be imposed on restaurants as they fall within the purview of the central administration.
Restaurants in the capital region can thereby be open between 5am and 11pm and serve alcoholic beverages between 7am and 10pm. Restaurants serving primarily alcohol will be required to limit their capacity to 50 per cent and restaurants serving primarily food to 75 per cent of their usual maximum capacity.
They will also have to provide customers an opportunity to wash hands and avoid close contact with others both indoors and outdoors.
Aleksi Teivainen – HT