Haavisto joins EU meeting with Russia on the agenda
Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto (Green) joins his EU colleagues in Brussels today for the first Foreign Affairs Council of 2021. Ministers will be discussing the situation in Russia, where mass protests over the weekend against Vladimir Putin’s regime saw thousands of people arrested by police. Among those detained were the wife of opposition activist and long-time Putin critic Alexi Navalnyi who was himself taken into custody last week when he arrived back in Russia, after receiving hospital treatment in Germany for apparent Novichock nerve agent poisoning. Navalnyi has pointed the finger at the Kremlin for being behind the attack, and EU leaders have called for the Russian government to fully investigate what happened. “Arrests of peaceful protesters in Russia, including Yulia Navalnaya, are not acceptable” Haavisto said in a weekend statement. “Those detained should be released. Safety and working conditions of journalists should also be guaranteed. EU Foreign Ministers will discuss latest events on Monday”. EU foreign ministers are also due to discuss climate and energy issues with Japan’s foreign minister in Brussels today.
Vaccine rollout “significantly delayed” amid drug production problems
Finland’s plans to launch a mass vaccination programme for healthy working-age people could be delayed until the autumn. The current strategy from public health authorities has been to vaccinate people in high risk groups first, like the elderly or those with underlying health conditions, and front-line healthcare workers. After that, healthier and younger people would have been offered the jab, with a possibility that the majority of Finns who wanted it, could have been imunised by the end of summer. That now looks optimistic since drugs manufacturer AstraZeneca announced major delays to vaccine deliveries in the EU after problems at one of their production facilities. Now THL says they’ve had to give up the goal of summer vaccinations for everyone. “In the best case, maybe you can get vaccinated in the summer. Of course, this is a lot of jostling, as companies announcements about upcoming vaccine volumes change on a weekly basis. It may be that vaccinations will continue well into the fall” Hanna Nohynek from THL tells Ilta-Sanomat. Finnish authorities had been set to begin mass vaccinations during the week of 8th February but that schedule is likely to be delayed if sufficient numbers of vaccines are not received by then.
Finnair re-starts UK flights on Monday, with extra tests required soon
Finland’s national carrier is re-starting flights from the UK and Ireland from this morning, after suspending them in December when a new strain of faster-spreading coronavirus was first emerged in England. That strain has now spread to all parts of the UK, and into other countries, with predictions from public health experts that it will become a significant percentage of Finnish coronavirus cases by March. Finnair’s had been operating a limited timetable of flights to the UK but its decision to fly passengers in the other direction now comes after Traficom gave the green light to begin services again after testing capabilities were ramped up at Helsinki Airport. Although THL considers that passengers arriving from the UK and Ireland “pose a significant risk factor for the new coronavirus variant to spread to Finland […] health security measures at Finnish airports have been significantly increased and the risk related to travel can therefore be effectively limited.” Since early January, arriving passengers have been offered a free coronavirus test, and from 28th January all passengers coming into Finland will need to show proof of a negative Covid-19 test before they are allowed entry.
Covid brings the capital’s cleanest air for 30 years
The coronavirus pandemic is being credited with producing the cleanest air in Helsinki for the last 30 years. According to Helsinki Regional Environmental Agency HSY the decline in traffic on the city’s streets, as people increasingly worked from home last year, showed markedly in measuring stations with exceptionally low concentrations of nitrogen dioxide from exhaust fumes, and low levels of street dust too. “At HSY’s busy monitoring sites, nitrogen dioxide concentrations were halved in the early stages of the pandemic. At the full-year level, nitrogen dioxide concentrations were about a third lower than in previous years” says Jarkko Niemi from HSY.
Monday morning weather
A new area of precipitation is moving into southern and central areas of Finland on Monday morning, and heading further north as the day goes on. Temperatures in the southern half of Finland hover just around freezing so when there’s precipitation in Turku, Tampere, Helsinki, Espoo, Lappeenranta, Jyväskylä or Joensuu it’s going to fall as wet snow, sleet and slush. Temperatures only start to fall further below zero as far north as Oulu at -5°C and then drop much more sharply through Eastern Lapland with Enontekiö starting the week at -16°C and lots of snow in the forecast, and -15°C for Kilpisjärvi. There’s -13°C forecast for Inari and -8°C for Rovaniemi on Monday morning.