Government imposes new Uusimaa travel restrictions

Police could impose fines for anyone caught traveling without a good reason - although ministers are placing a high degree of personal responsibility on Uusimaa residents.

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Government ministers announce Uusimaa travel ban at Helsinki press conference on 25th March 2020 / Credit: Lauri Heikkinen, VNK

The Finnish Government has announced new travel restrictions affecting some 1.7 million people in the Uusimaa region – which are planned to come into effect on Friday after a confirmatory vote in Parliament, and last until 19th April.

When the restrictions come into place it means Uusimaa residents will be able to travel around the region; return to their homes if they are in another part of the country; or travel out of the region for some work reasons – but otherwise they’re being told to stay in place.

At a Wednesday evening press conference ministers explained how the new system will work in practice – but it’s already clear there will be more emphasis on people taking personal responsibility to limit their travel movements, rather than on police enforcement.

“Of course police will be there to instruct people, first of all to instruct and tell them to come back, come back to your homes here, don’t leave this area because corona[virus] is at this area, right now, at a much bigger, higher level than it is in the other regions” explained Interior Minister Maria Ohisalo (Green).

“Police will be there, but police resources will not be enough to tell everybody to turn back. That is why we are going to need people’s responsibility in this question, we need people to hear us and hear the healthcare professionals saying that you should now really look carefully at this thing, we don’t want to spread the virus as fast as it’s spreading right now” she said in reply to a question from News Now Finland.

Although there won’t be roadblocks on all the routes in and out of Uusimaa, nor security checking the reasons for everyone to get on a train or bus, police will be monitoring the situation in general terms and could impose fines for violating or failing to comply with instructions – and they’ll be asking people to explain why they need to travel.

Some movement to/from Uusimaa allowed

Government ministers expect the capital city region to be much quieter during the next three weeks when the travel restrictions are in place.

But there will still be services running – as people such as entrepreneurs or self-employed workers are allowed to travel in and out of Uusimaa for business reasons, as are those people with a “compelling personal reason” like legal access to children or the death of a family member.

“In practical terms it will be much quieter. So there will be much less traffic. But the trains and buses will be operating, to a lesser degree than previously” says Minister of Transport and Communications Timo Harakka (SDP).

Harakka says someone driving a private car who needs to go to work for necessary reasons could expect congestion – possibly at a checkpoint on a main highways.

“We will make sure that the freight traffic will continue, that the distribution of mail and goods will continue as much as possible and they will definitely be a priority” the minister adds.