Tuesday. 31.03.2020
El tiempo

Government proposes isolating Uusimaa and closing bars and restaurants

Parliamentary groups have met at the House of the States to discuss the application of new restrictive measures that could take effect on Friday.

Prime Minister Sanna Marin. Photo: Lauri Heikkinen/Vnk.
Prime Minister Sanna Marin. Photo: Lauri Heikkinen/Vnk.
Government proposes isolating Uusimaa and closing bars and restaurants

Finally, the Finnish authorities have decided to take further restrictive measures to curb the coronavirus epidemic.

After weeks of hesitation in government offices, with bars and restaurants full of people, crowded stores and even the opening of a new shopping mall in Helsinki last week, now some harsh measures have been agreed to try to avoid a disaster similar to what is happening in other countries in Europe, if even it is possible.

In view of this global tragedy and while the epidemic progresses in Finland too (Finnish health authorities reported on Tuesday 92 new infections and the total number now is nearly 800), the Government met with the Parliamentary groups at the House of Estates to discuss new measures to fight the spread of Covid-19.

Those measures consist mainly in the isolation of Uusimaa (the region around Helsinki, where most of the infections have been found) and the closure of pubs, restaurants and entertainment venues. This has been demanded for days for example by health sector workers, by some politicians and also private citizens through social media. At this point, it is not yet clear if nonessential stores and shopping malls will be included in the closure.

The meeting of the Parliamentary groups began at 10:00 in the morning and lasted for around three hours. At her end, the Prime Minister, Sanna Marin (Social Democrat), said the Government would meet around 16:00 to review this new set of restrictive measures, which will be proposed to Parliament (Eduskunta) on Wednesday.

If Parliament gives the go-ahead, the new measures could go into effect on Friday.

-"We will close restaurants, bars and similar spaces where social contact occurs," the Prime Minister explained.

Isolating Uusimaa

The Government will have to send this proposal to the Parliament because the current legislation does not allow additional restrictions. Under the Emergency Powers Act which is now in force, for example restaurants cannot be closed. Marin herself admitted on Tuesday she was surprised about the rigidity of the Finnish law.

Marin also confirmed that the Government is also preparing to isolate the region of Uusimaa (Helsinki area and its surroundings) from the rest of the country. In this case, people's movement could be restricted under the section 118 of the Emergency Powers Act.

“We have strong grounds for isolating the Uusimaa area, but it is legally difficult to accomplish because our emergency legislation is locked out,” Marin said.

In fact, Uusimaa has become now a sort of frontline in Finland's fight against the Covid-19. Almost two out of three infections are diagnosed in the capital area, which is also the region with more health personnel infected.

Health personnel work obligation

Third, the government intends to introduce a supplement to the decree on the labor obligation of health personnel.

This proposal also needs to be approved by the Parliament.

Opposition party leaders, included those of the True Finns Party, said they would support these tougher restrictive measures.