PM calls for more EU coordination to tackle coronavirus

Finland hopes that unified action on Covid-19 can help ease border restrictions - but Sanna Marin's message is a departure from Finland's usual line.

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Finnish PM Sanna Marin (SDP) talks to reporters in Brussels, 20th February 2020 / Credit: European Council Newsroom

Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin (SDP) has called for a common European strategy on test and trace, quarantine, and other areas of public health to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic.

Writing in Politico Europe, the PM says the only way to save the economy is by defeating the virus.

“Europe, still feeling the impact of prior restrictions, cannot afford a long-term economic recession with the resulting bankruptcies and rise in unemployment” she says.

Marin urges EU Member States have to step up measures on contact tracing, noting Finland’s success with the Koronavilkku app, now downloaded by around 50% of the population.

By early December more than 20 EU countries will have interoperability between their coronavirus apps meaning if someone in Finland is visiting France and comes into close, prolonged contact with an infected person, they will still get a notification on their app even when they come home to Finland again.

Easing travel restrictions

The Prime Minister also takes aim at cross-border travel restrictions and says they can only be lifted when there’s a common testing and tracing regime in place for passengers.

For example there’s no single, agreed period for self-quarantining across the EU, and the Finns want to see more digitalization of coronavirus testing records.

“In cases where traveling requires a negative test result, we must develop an international, secure and digital solution for collecting data on whether a passenger has already contracted the disease or, in the future, possibly a vaccination certificate” she says.

PM Sanna Marin talks to reporters ahead of EU budget talks in Brussels, 17th July 2020 / Credit: European Council

Marin’s text is out of character for Finland

The text from Marin seems at odds with Finland’s stance so far on tackling the coronavirus pandemic: instead of seeking a unified approach, Finland has achieved success by charting its own path, for example having stricter virus limits for unrestricted travel than all other EU countries.

And Marin’s new calls for vaccination certificates as proof of health for travelers flies in the face of Finland’s usual position on individual rights and non-discrimination – would a traveler be banned from entering another EU country if they didn’t have such a certificate? Marin doesn’t address this issue in her op-ed piece.

The PM’s comments about more coordinated quarantine rules also don’t fit with the practicalities in Finland – while some countries have strict fines and control procedures in place to ensure people do actually quarantine when they’re supposed to, in Finland self-isolation is just a suggestion for arriving passengers and not legally enforceable without a specific doctor’s order for individual passengers.

Meanwhile the Finnish government has proposed yet more changes to its own test-to-travel system: while the previous limit was 25 confirmed Covid-19 cases per 100,000 population in the last two weeks, Finland has long resisted EU calls to raise the limit to 50 – but is now proposing its own new revised limit of 100 after pressure from airlines, regional travel promotion authorities and business lobby groups.