Finland is moving ahead in its specific de-escalation process. After the controversial decision to reopen schools last Thursday, now it is the turn of bars, cafes and restaurants, which have been closed since 4 April but soon may return to serve their customers.
However, the Covid-19 pandemic will force some changes to some of the traditional forms of service in the country, such as buffets, which will not be allowed.
The coalition government chaired by the socialist Sanna Marin agreed on Tuesday the conditions that the restaurants must meet in order to reopen. According to Marin, these rules should apply to the whole country. However, a gradual reopening at the regional level is not ruled out, if necessary.
The government's proposal was later presented at a press conference by the Minister for Family Affairs and Social Services, Krista Kiuru, and sent to Parliament for discussion in plenary and approval as soon as possible.
In general, restaurants can reopen their doors to the public from 1 June.
But while the pandemic lasts, they will have to meet a somewhat limited schedule. They should close their doors at 23:00 and stop serving alcoholic drinks one hour earlier, at 22:00. If customers have purchased alcoholic beverages before 22:00, they will be allowed to consume them inside until closing time.
In the morning, the early risers will be able to open their doors at 6:00 am, but they will not be able to start serving alcoholic beverages until 9:00 am.
Limited capacity and no buffets
According to the minister, all bars and restaurants will have to operate with limited capacity. Inside their premises, they must reduce the number of clients to 50%.
However, unlike what was agreed in other countries such as Italy or Spain, the terraces will be able to operate at 100% of their capacity and without mandatory distances between tables.
Another fundamental change is that all customers must remain seated at their tables and cannot be placed too close to each other. But the Government's proposal does not establish a specific distance. They will be able to get up and go to pick up their portions from a counter, so service at the table - which is very rare in Finland - will not be mandatory. But customers will not be able to serve their own portions, for example in buffets.
Customers arriving at restaurants should be told not to enter the establishment if they have symptoms of coronavirus. In addition, upon arrival, they must be provided with a visible facility for washing or disinfecting their hands. Cafe and restaurant owners must also ensure that surfaces touched by customers are clean.
According to Minister Kiuru, in principle these restrictions would be in force until the end of October, but they will be reviewed every two weeks and can be lifted when the evolution of the pandemic indicates that it is possible.
These restrictions do not apply to staff restaurants in the workplace or to take-out sales of food and beverages.