Across Our Region: Top stories from the last seven days

The biggest stories, and other interesting news, from the eight Nordic and Baltic countries plus our eastern neighbour Russia.

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Across Our Region

Hej! Tere! Sveiki! Halló!

If you’re a regular News Now Finland reader then hopefully you’re well-versed in all the news that’s happening here at home. But do you know what’s going on across our region? What’s been hitting the headlines in Iceland or Lithuania? What are the top stories in Denmark or Estonia?

In our new regular Sunday morning feature we’re pulling together the most important stories – and some other interesting pieces of news – from the past week in seven Nordic and Baltic countries, plus our eastern neighbour Russia.

Everything’s in one place, with links to more information and sources clearly marked, so you can be sure there’s no fake news. Enjoy scrolling through the stories on your phone or tablet every Sunday, and catching up with the news Across Our Region.

The government in Sweden proposed a new law this week that would let it make broad restrictions on business and society in an effort to slow the spread of coronavirus. “We are not rid of the pandemic, even if the vaccines obviously brighten the prospects” says Minister of Health & Social Affairs Lena Hallengren. “We see a need to have regulation in place during next year.” After avoiding tough restrictions during the spring the country is now facing a big surge in Covid-19 cases and has already had to introduce some new measures including banning the sale of alcohol after 22:00 and limiting the number of people that can meet together in a public place. [Bloomberg]

The head of Stockholm’s health service says “we need help” coping with a second wave of coronavirus. Bjorn Eriksson told reporters on Wednesday. He’s asking national authorities to send specialist nurses and other staff to help the capital cope. [Reuters]

An online tracker shows the soaring number of Covid-19 cases around the country, by municipality. More than 300,000 cases have been confirmed so far in Sweden during 2020, with at least 7,514 deaths so far. [The Local Sweden] 

Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven says the new rules on meeting people at Christmas means limiting contact with people outside a household ‘bubble’. “This year Christmas will not be as usual. This year we will not be able to celebrate with all the people we want to celebrate with” the PM told a press conference this week. [Forbes]

Estonia‘s healthcare system is on the brink of a major crisis according to the head of West Tallinn Central Hospital. Speaking at a press conference this week Dr Arkadi Popov said bed occupancy for Covid-19 patients was already at 80-90% in his district with hospitals looking to shift other patients around, and hire more staff. [ERR]

The Estonian navy took possession of two new coastal patrol boats this week – the first to be built in the country since independence from the Soviet Union. The boats – christened Risto and Roland – were built at a yard on Saaremaa, and are armed with two machine guns and a remotely controlled weapons platform. [Estonian World]

And is winter swimming the answer to beating coronavirus blues during winter? Hundreds of hardy swimmers took to the waters in Tallinn port on Friday for a swimming relay in +4°C waters. [Reuters]

Russia is also struggling during this second wave of coronavirus hitting record high numbers of cases and deaths this week. On Saturday Russian authorities reported 28,137 new Covid-19 cases and 560 deaths. In total there’s been at least 46,453 coronavirus-related deaths in Russia so far during 2020. [Reuters] 

British and Russian scientists are teaming up on a new drug trial to combine two coronavirus vaccines, which they hope could lead to a better immune response. Teams working on the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine in UK and the Sputnik V vaccine in Russia will start trials in Russia involving patients aged over-18. [BBC]

Outside of Moscow, Russia’s regions are struggling to cope with rising infection numbers, with people starting to blame authorities for their inability to manage the pandemic. [Financial Times]

The Russian navy successfully test-fired four intercontinental ballistic missiles from a nuclear submarine on Saturday. The Vladmimir Monomakh sub in the Pacific Fleet launched the Bulava missiles from an underwater position in the Sea of Okhotsk, hitting dummy targets more than 5,500km away. [Associated Press]

In Denmark millions of decomposing mink, culled due to concerns about a mutated version of coronavirus infecting farmed animals, may now have contaminated groundwater. Danish authorities ordered the culling of up to 15 million mink on farms around the country – even if they hadn’t recorded any traces of the mutated virus. They were buried in shallow graves and now environmental authorities say groundwater in the area where these graves are located might already have become polluted. [Guardian]

Denmark’s Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen has issued a formal apology to 22 children who were removed from their homes in Greenland in the 1950s. They were used in a social experiment to be re-educated and turned into “little Danes” who might later return to foster cultural links. However when they turned 16 they were put into an orphanage and many never saw their families again. [BBC]

A Russian citizen has been charged by authorities in Denmark with espionage, and providing information about Danish energy technology to Russia in return for payments. The Russian Embassy in Copenhagen responded by characterising the arrest and investigation as “anti-Russian hysteria on the part of Copenhagen.” [Reuters]

The Danish government has announced a new support package for restaurants hit by lockdown rules. It involves wage compensation for businesses impacted during a partial closure in 38 municipalities. The scheme pays up to 75-90% of wages per month, and allows restaurants to furlough waiting staff while keeping on kitchen staff while businesses are still allowed to operate a takeaway service. [The Local Denmark]

Latvia has installed the world’s first vending machine for coronavirus tests. The new machine at a hospital in Riga is the first of 100 planned around the country. The machine dispenses PRC swab tests, and the samples are stored inside to be collected once per day by a technician. Results are available within 24 hours and while the first machine is for hospital staff only, with free tests, other machines will be available to the public charging €35 for a coronavirus test. [Reuters]

Meanwhile hundreds of people took to the streets of Riga on Saturday protesting against Covid-19 restrictions. [LSM – Latvian Public Broadcasting]

Award-winning South Korean film director Kim Ki-duk died in Latvia this week from Covid-19. He reportedly came to Latvia in November to buy a house and apply for residency. Kim won the top prize at the Venice Film Festival with his 2012 movie ‘Pieta’. [Associated Press]

Norway says it could stop British and EU fishing vessels in its waters from 1st January as talks on how to manage North Sea stocks have been held up due to ongoing Brexit negotiations. The Norwegians want a trilateral deal in place between the EU, Britain and Norway about North Sea fish that swim between the three regions. [Reuters]

A company in Norway says it’s planning to launch a new low-cost airline called Flyr. The airline will begin operations in the first half of 2021 and serve domestic destinations first with some European destinations as well. The company plans to take on Hungarian operator Wizz Air which is also going to start domestic services in Norway next year; and another low-cost carrier Norwegian, which has hit deep financial troubles. [Forbes]

An ongoing dispute between conservationists and hunters over Norway’s wolf population has been explored in a new documentary. The film-maker Kyrre Lien discusses the challenges involved in making his documentary. [Guardian]

A doctor in Iceland is facing criticism for refusing to take coronavirus tests or go into self-quarantine after arriving at Keflavik airport. Plastic surgeon Elísabet Guðmundsdóttir said “I’m just coming into the country. There is no legal basis for forcing people to do anything.” She reportedly attended an anti-lockdown and anti-vaccine protest in Reykjavik on Saturday that was attended by a few dozen others, mostly not wearing masks or keeping distance between each other. [Reykjavik Grapevine]

Iceland’s Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir presented her country’s new climate goals at a UN summit on Saturday. The country has three main targets: to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 55% from 1990 levels by 2030; making better use of land including more forestry, soil reclamation and restoring wetlands; and to be carbon neutral by 2030 with regards to emissions. [Iceland Monitor]

Authorities in Lithuania have raised the alarm with the EU about three incidence of equipment failure at a nuclear power station in Belarus, since it went online and started producing electricity in November. [EUObvserver]

Lithuania has received two ultra low temperature freezers this week, to store Covid-19 vaccines. “It had been planned that these freezers would be delivered to Lithuania early next year, but the Health Emergency Situations Centre under the Ministry of Health managed to acquire these freezer earlier and their were delivered to Lithuania on December 10” the Ministry of Health said in a statement. [Baltic Times]