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Thursday’s papers: Coronavirus response, travel bans under the microscope

Many newspapers want the government to bring in stronger social distancing measures.

Donald Trump pitää tiedotustilaisuutta Valkoisessa talossa
US President Donald Trump announced restrictions on travel to the US from the EU. Image: Doug Mills / EPA
Yle News

The coronavirus pandemic once again dominates the newspapers on Thursday. The government’s reaction is in the spotlight, after Prime Minister Sanna Marin said on Wednesday evening that Finland would not introduce social distancing measures at this stage.

Rural paper Maaseudun Tulevaisuus publishes a column from its duty editor Niklas Holmberg outlining the seriousness of the situation.

"Hand-washing is no longer enough, the corona pandemic tests democracies’ ability to handle crises," reads the headline, before a text that details the challenges faced by Finland and other countries as the pandemic tightens its grip.

The text makes the point that China appears to have stopped the virus in its tracks in Hubei, the epicentre of the outbreak, using strict social distancing measures to stop the spread of infections.

Although Finnish officials still say such measures are not yet necessary here, the text argues that time will soon be upon us.

"Within a week at the latest Finland will move to an emergency situation for the first time since the second world war," argues Holmberg.

Democracies are now to be tested, and the results could be far-reaching because, as Holmberg says, "if China succeeds and western countries fail, it will change the global balance of power".

Flattening the curve

Helsingin Sanomat, meanwhile, looks at the numbers. The growth rate in Finland is on the same trajectory as Sweden, which suffered its first coronavirus fatality on Wednesday.

That means hand-washing and travel restrictions won’t be enough to reduce the infection rate and ease the burden on healthcare systems, says HS.

Italy has placed the whole country in lockdown, and China did the same in Hubei province — but western responses have been criticised by medical journal The Lancet as 'too little, too late'.

The HS column recommends that sport events and concerts are streamed online instead of in front of live audiences, that people work from home as much as possible, and that meetings and events are cancelled.

The goal is to 'flatten the curve', that is, delay the peak of the epidemic and reduce its extent to ease the burden on healthcare systems.

Otherwise, says HS, Finland will have more victims of the virus than necessary.

Stubb v Trump

The paper also reports on one example of social distancing that is already taking place: police are to cease the checkpoint drink-driving breathalyser tests they often perform in the spring.

That doesn’t mean motorists are free to drink and drive, however — if police suspect a driver of behaving erratically, they will still stop and breathalyse them.

The online editions were also full of coverage of US President Donald Trump’s move to ban travellers from the Schengen area countries from travelling to America -- with many exceptions to the rules.

Finnair told IS that they would hold a meeting to discuss the policy on Thursday, while former PM Alexander Stubb’s tweet also brought some coverage in the papers.

Stubb noted that it was not entirely logical to exclude Britain from the ban, calling the decision ‘irresponsible’.

"Viruses do not recognise borders. Decisions should be based on facts, not politics," said Stubb.

At the time of writing, former Apprentice host Trump had not replied to the tweet.

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