Minister of Family Affairs and Social Services Krista Kiuru (SDP) went through her notes at a presser in Helsinki on Wednesday, 22 December 2021. (Jussi Nukari – Lehtikuva)

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THE FINNISH GOVERNMENT on Wednesday employed the so-called emergency brake to assume control of the effort to manage the coronavirus epidemic, effectively signalling a return to sweeping recommendations and restrictions.

The government had agreed a day earlier to scale up the effort significantly, slashing the serving and opening hours of restaurants and shelving the coronavirus passport temporarily.

A means for service providers to circumvent any restrictions affecting their operations, the passport will not be available at medium and high-risk events, such as large concerts without seats for all attendees, for three weeks as of Tuesday, 28 December.

Restaurants in so-called community transmission areas will similarly not be able to use the passport to circumvent restrictions but will be required to stop serving alcohol by 9pm and close by 10pm as of Friday, 24 December. The restrictions will be tightened further next week, with restaurants that primarily sell alcohol having to stop serving by 5pm and close by 6pm as of Tuesday.

Almost all parts of the country are presently classified as community transmission areas.

“We’re now buying more time nationally so that omicron doesn’t cause a national threat and we can promote vaccinations,” commented Minister of Family Affairs and Social Services Krista Kiuru (SDP). “This is why the package also includes elements that temporarily limit using the coronavirus passport when it comes to high and medium-risk events.”

“That won’t be done for low-risk events.”

The restrictions will remain in effect for three weeks. Minister of Science and Culture Antti Kurvinen (Centre) stated in the press conference that the government is preparing to compensate for the direct and unavoidable costs incurred by businesses as a consequence of the restrictions.

Although the government is recommending that the use of the coronavirus passport be limited temporarily at events where the risk of transmission is estimated to be considerable, regional authorities can adopt a stricter approach based on their assessment of the epidemiological situation, reminded Helsingin Sanomat.

“If the situation exacerbates very dramatically in some area, health care authorities and regional state administrative agencies will look into it. But the national guidelines are that you can organise low-risk exercise and cultural activity in a health safe manner,” told Kurvinen.

Kiuru predicted that “extremely strict” restrictions would be adopted in four regions, calling attention to the situation in Pirkanmaa, North Ostrobothnia, Uusimaa and Southwest Finland.

The Regional State Administrative Agency for Southwest Finland on Monday ruled that it will prohibit all public events and shutter certain facilities. Authorities in North Ostrobothnia, in turn, unveiled a list of tough restrictions on Wednesday.

The government also decided to make pre-entry testing a requirement for entering the country also for passengers from the European Union and Schengen Area. The requirement does not apply to Finnish citizens, permanent residents, people travelling for essential reasons and members of communities stretching across the border between Finland and Sweden or Finland and Norway.

The requirement will stay in force until 16 January 2022.

Remote instruction is recommended until the same date in higher education, liberal adult education, basic adult education and adult art education. In-person instruction is thereby set to continue only in primary education, general upper-secondary education and vocational education.

The government also stated that coronavirus vaccines will be offered to all over five-year-olds and that the legislation be amended to increase the number of occupational groups that have the right to administer the vaccines.

Kiuru underlined that the government is ready to make new decisions if the restrictions fail to have an impact, telling that the plan is to monitor the situation for two weeks before making any necessary decisions.

“We’re in full readiness at every hour of every day. I’ve thought that it’d be reasonable to rest a bit on Christmas Eve.”

Aleksi Teivainen – HT