Wednesday 10/28/20

Government angers bar and restaurant owners with semi-dry regulation

Five regions of the country, whose territories include Helsinki and other major cities, tighten restrictions even further: bars must stop serving alcohol at 22:00 and close at 23:00.

Minister of Family Affairs and Social Services Krista Kiuru. Photo: Jussi Toivanen/Vnk.

Finland further tightens restrictions on restaurants in many of the major cities of the country, to the despair of entrepreneurs in the tourism and hospitality sector, who do not understand this new twist on their freedom to do business while stores and other businesses can operate normally.

The Finnish Ministry of Social Affairs and Health indicated on Wednesday five regions, which are home to some of the largest population centers, where the recently approved restrictions on hospitality businesses will be applied in the strictest version. 

From Sunday 11 October, bars, restaurants, nightclubs and other food and drink businesses in Uusimaa (the area which includes Helsinki, Vantaa and Espoo), Southwest Finland (Turku and surroundings), Pirkanmaa (Tampere region), Kanta-Häme (Hämeenlinna) and Ostrobothnia (Vaasa) will have to close at 23:00. And they must stop serving alcohol one hour before, at 22:00. In addition, food and beverage businesses will only be allowed to serve half of the maximum number of customers.

The reason for applying this semi-dry regulation is that these provinces have entered an "acceleration phase" of the epidemic, top government officials said.

For the rest of the country, the restriction on hospitality business will be softer: bars and restaurants must stop serving alcohol at 23:00 and be closed at midnight.

"Currently Uusimaa, Southwest Finland, Pirkanmaa, Kanta-Häme and Ostrobothnia are in an acceleration phase (of the Covid-19 epidemic) and it actually seems they are already in the spreading phase. In these regions, restaurants and bars should stop serving drinks at 10 pm and close at 11 pm," ministry permanent secretary Kirsi Varhila said at a press conference on Wednesday.

Restaurant owners angered

Minister of Family Affairs and Social Services, Krista Kiuru, justified this tightening of measures because in recent weeks new clusters of infections have originated in bars and restaurants. "Nobody wants us to go back to the state of emergency," she pointed out.

Hospitality business owners reacted angrily to the government's announcement. The Finnish Hospitality Association MaRa, which represents a wide range of companies in the sector, complained in a press release that the Government has not provided any legal basis explaining why the new restrictions are proportionate and necessary.

"Restrictions constitute a very serious interference with the constitutionally protected freedom of establishment and the right of the workers to work," the lobby said.

"We have asked (the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health) STM and health authorities for information on the number of coronavirus exposures and infections in nightclubs and mainly in food-serving restaurants. Despite our requests, we have not received any answers." 

The Finnish government is expected to issue the regulation on Friday.