Finland declares state of emergency over coronavirus epidemic
The Government approves a package of emergency measures to protect the population, especially the elderly and children. School must close and gatherings of more than 10 people are prohibited. The number of people infected by Covid-19 was 272 on Monday.
This time they did it. After a long week of hesitation, the Helsinki Government and the President of the Republic agreed to declare a state of emergency in Finland due to the coronavirus (koronavirus in Finnish) epidemic, informed the Government communications department. Emergency law will be brought before the Parliament on Tuesday.
The Government also agreed on a package of important measures to tackle this public health crisis, which has so far infected 175,000 people and claimed nearly 7,000 lives worldwide.
In Finland, the number of people infected by Covid-19 was 272 on Monday, according to the data released by the Institute for Health and Welfare (THL). Precisely, the Helsinki-Uusimaa (HUS) hospital district reported on Monday the admission of the first patient, a retired person, in intensive care.
In the midst of this changing landscape, it took the coalition government led by the social democrat Sanna Marin more than four hours to agree on a package of protection measures in line with those already agreed in other countries. Those measures are specifically aimed at curbing the epidemic and protecting defenseless population groups, like the elderly and children.
At the same time, the government (made up of five parties) thus puts an end to the criticism issued by some opposition groups, especially the True Finns, who have been accusing the Prime Minister for days of endangering children by not closing the schools.
Until now, that was a decision that some schools or municipalities had made individually, but now it is a mandatory order that affects all of them from Wednesday 18 March. The measures will be in force until 13 April 2020.
Prohibited meetings and quarantined elders
At the same time, the Government of Sanna Marin has banned the gatherings of more than ten people and has also ordered the closure of places of leisure and culture such as museums, theaters, the national opera, libraries, swimming pools and gyms and sports centers.
Those over 70 years of age, who are the main risk group that has paid the highest toll in human lives worldwide, should stay away from other people whenever possible, preferably in quarantine conditions.
To date, unlike in other countries such as Italy or Spain, the Finnish elderly have not been affected on a large scale by the disease. Most of the infected patients in Finland are middle-aged people who contracted the virus on their trips to Europe and this may explain why there have been no deaths in the country yet.
An expansion of the Covid-19, for example in nursing homes, could be lethal now. For that reason, they must stay at home and daycare services for the elderly will be closed.
Children, although according to the WHO are not a special risk group in terms of casualties, they are a part of the population to protect especially. And schools, where hundreds of them gather daily for education, are to be closed.
According to the Government's plan, only the early childhood units and pre-schools will remain open. The reason is that the staff working in critical sectors (hospitals, police, armed forces, emergency services, state and municipalities officials...) may need a place to leave their kids when they go to work. But those who are able to arrange home childcare must do so, the Government emphasized.
The rest of the country's educational premises, such as schools, colleges, universities and polytechnics (or universities of applied sciences, as they are called in Finland) and other free education facilities will be closed. Some exceptions may be agreed, for example in the case of children with special needs.
The closure also extends to all public sports and leisure centers. Museums, theaters, the National Opera, cultural houses and premises, libraries (including the mobile ones), the National Archives, swimming pools and other sport facilities, recreational and youth facilities will also have to close.
Visits to hospitals and health care units are prohibited except on a case-by-case basis for critically ill relatives and a spouse or support person in the maternity ward.
And the call to closing facilities is not limited to the public ones. The Government recommends private and third sector and religious communities to do the same.
According to the Prime Minister, the movement of people can be also restricted in case of serious danger for people's life and health. When not going to work, the movements of people must be limited to the essentials: going out to buy food and other basic utensils, going to the pharmacy to buy medicines or walking the dog.
Passenger's transport must be suspended "as soon as possible", except for the return of Finnish citizens and persons residing in Finland, who are advised to "return immediately." And those who are in the country should not travel abroad. Cargo and freight traffic continues normally, in order to guarantee the supply or products.
Emergency Powers Act
The Prime Minister also announced she would bring emergency law before Parliament on Tuesday. The Emergency Powers Act defines various emergency conditions, including an attack on Finland, a particularly serious major accident or a widespread infectious disease, such as the coronavirus pandemic.
The purpose of the Emergency Powers Act is to secure the livelihood of the population and the national economy, to maintain legal order and fundamental and human rights, and to safeguard the territorial integrity and independence of Finland in emergency conditions.
The Emergency Powers Act lays down provisions on the powers of authorities in emergency conditions. The powers defined in the Emergency Powers Act can be exercised only if authorities cannot control the situation with regular powers. Under the Emergency Powers Act, the rights and everyday lives of individuals shall be restricted only if this is necessary to protect the population.
The decision to adopt the powers laid down in the Emergency Powers Act for a maximum period of six months shall be made by Government Decree (enforcement decree) when the Government, in cooperation with the President of the Republic, has declared that there is a state of emergency in the country.