Finland declares state of emergency over rising coronavirus cases

New legislation will now go to parliament to force all restaurants, bars, terraces, cafes and nightclubs to close in parts of the country where there's a high risk of coronavirus spread.

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Prime Minister Sanna Marin (L) and Minister of Labour Tuula Haatainen (R) at a press conference in Helsinki, 1st March 2021 / Credit: Finnish Government Flickr

Finland has declared a state of emergency, with immediate effect, because of the rising number of coronavirus cases – especially in the capital city region.

The government made the announcement on Monday, in consultation with President Sauli Niinistö, and after a cabinet meeting,

Under the terms of the Emergency Powers Act a state of emergency can be triggered when there is a serious infectious disease, “the effect of which is comparable to a major disaster.”

The overall number of coronavirus cases in Finland has been on the rise in recent weeks, but it’s the rapid appearance of new variants of the virus – which are spreading more rapidly than before – that have got public health officials, doctors and scientists alarmed.

The Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare THL reports 720 new coronavirus cases, and eight new coronavirus-related deaths in Finland on Monday, bringing the total number of deaths to 750 since the pandemic began in early 2020.

There is now a concern the spike in Covid-19 cases could threaten to put extra strain on healthcare, in particular the availability of intensive care beds, if measures aren’t taken to reduce the number of infections.

Although the PM is invoking some parts of the Emergency Act, she’s not invoking other parts which could allow the government to impose a curfew, or travel restrictions between different parts of the country as we say last spring when Uusimaa was locked down for a period of several weeks.

File picture of restaurant buffet line / Credit: iStock

So what happens next?

After the declaration of the state of emergency the government introduced a proposal to parliament which would allow authorities to temporarily close restaurants and other catering businesses for three weeks.

That legislation would take effect next Monday 8th March and remain in force until 28th March.

It would mean all bars, restaurants, nightclubs, cafes and terraces will have to close for in-person dining in parts of Finland where there’s an accelerated or community transmission phase of the virus,  however takeaway and delivery services are still allowed to continue.

Restaurants in workplaces, care homes, and in other locations not open to the public are not impacted by the new legislation. Businesses in parts of the country with a low or stable coronavirus state can open as normal provided they stick to protocols around hygiene and social distancing.

The government says it is separately preparing a compensation package for businesses affected by the new state of emergency restrictions.

Government of Finland meets on 1st March 2021 to discuss new State of Emergency powers / Credit: Finnish Government Flickr