Tuesday. 31.03.2020
El tiempo

Finland in confinement

To date, 319 laboratory confirmed cases of coronavirus have been recorded. But official figures are far from describing the reality because Finland only tests people with severe symptoms. Health authorities justify it by arguing that "other Nordic countries, including the Netherlands and the United Kingdom" have adopted a similar strategy.

An empty Metro coach on Tuesday in Helsinki. Photo: Ali Abaday.
An empty Metro coach on Tuesday in Helsinki. Photo: Ali Abaday.
Finland in confinement

Finland has decided to close its land borders and confine its citizens, forced by the coronavirus epidemic (koronavirus, in Finnish).

As the epidemic progresses and the number of infected people increases, the Government headed by Prime Minister Sanna Marin held an extraordinary meeting on Tuesday to discuss these extraordinary measures. 

According to health authorities, there are already 319 people diagnosed with the disease, although the figures do not reflect the entire reality because the Government has chosen to test only severe cases.

After the meeting, the Government reported its decision to apply the Emergency Act from 00:00 on Thursday 19 March.

This exceptional law, which will be in force at least until 13 April, involves limiting cross border movements and also restricting several basic rights such as the right of assembly and people's movements.

The decision will have a significant impact on the operations of the Police, the Border Guard and other critical sectors, such as the emergency, rescue and social services. For example, the right to working leave and holiday may be limited and some retired official can be mobilized and sent back to work, if the government considers it necessary.

Travel restrictions

According to Government information, people may "not travel abroad at all during the closure" of the country.

This travel restriction applies to road, sea and air transport. In addition, any person returning to Finland from abroad will be requested to stay in quarantine conditions for a period of 14 days. Finnish citizens and people living permanently in the country may still return and foreign tourists will be allowed to leave.

It is important to clarify that these restrictions in principle only affect the movement of people. In order to guarantee the supply of basic products such as groceries and medicines and to prevent the economy's collapse, cargo and freight traffic will continue at all frontiers. Necessary commuter traffic will also continue at the internal borders of the European Union (EU).

The same will happen at the airport borders. The airports of Helsinki-Vantaa, Turku and Mariehamn will remain open for freight traffic, while the rest will be closed to international traffic.

Border crossing with Russia closed

On the eastern border with Russia, crossing points will limit their traffic an opening hours. Passenger traffic through the Vainikkala border point will be suspended.

On the border between Finland and Norway, Kilpisjärvi, Karigasniemi, Kivilompolo, Nuorgam, Näätämö and Utsjoki are open for freight and return traffic.

At the Finnish-Swedish border, Karesuvanto, Kolari, Muonio, Pello, Tornio and Ylitornio are open only for freight and return traffic.

Crossing the Finnish border and leaving the country will not be allowed for Finland's residents.

Gatherings of more than 10 people banned

The Government also decided to limit public gatherings and public events to ten people and has order citizens to avoid unnecessary public meetings. The special legislation provides the police with special powers to enforce the restrictions on assembly.

Event organizers have now the obligation to cancel any events. If they do not do it, the police will have the right to block, suspend or terminate them. This applies also to protests and demonstrations.Helsinki-Parliament-eduskunta-square by Ali AbadayHelsinki center was unusually empty on Tuesday. Photo: Ali Abaday.

Holiday canceled for key personnel

The Government also decided to derogate the provisions of the Working Hours Act and the Annual Holidays Act for personnel of critical sectors.

Where necessary, trained internal security personnel may be required to go to work.

This means that retired border guards and police officers can be called to work. Police and border guard students can also be recruited.

319 laboratory confirmed cases

Meanwhile, the epidemic is advancing in Finland and the number of those infected is increasing, despite the fact that the authorities have chosen not to carry out all the tests requested.

According to the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL, in its Finnish acronym), to date, 319 laboratory confirmed cases of the new coronavirus have been recorded.

However, the official figures are far from describing what is the reality of the spread of the disease. The reason is that, unlike what is done in most of the countries, the Finnish health authorities have recently changed the testing criteria and only a small percentage of people (those with severe symptoms) are tested.Coronavirus-infections-regionSource: THL.

As THL explains in its website, now, when an infection is suspected, "samples taken primarily from patients with severe respiratory symptoms."

People with just mild symptoms or those returning from travel are just requested to stay at home and only a physicians can decide at their discretion whether they should be tested.

THL justifies this way of acting by arguing that "other Nordic countries, including the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, have adopted a similar sampling strategy."

However, the World Health Organization (WHO) on Monday recommended that countries carry out all possible tests to stop the spread of the pandemic.

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