Finland’s biggest ski resorts announced early closures on Friday after reports of two new coronavirus cases that were linked to resorts in Finnish Lapland.
The big Lapland resorts are now to close on Friday 27 March, more than a month earlier than usual.
"Two cases have been linked to vacationers returning from a ski resort in Lapland," Ministry of Family Affairs and Social Services Krista Kiuru said at a press conference. The minister did not name the centres where the infections occurred.
The establishments that are closing its ski operations next week include Levi, Pyhä, Ylläs, Pallas, Olos and Luosto, Ounasvaara in Rovaniemi and Ruka.
On Thursday it was reported that domestic tourists were going about their holiday plans as usual, despite the coronavirus epidemic.
Doctors in quarantine after Levi trip
More than 20 doctors in the Helsinki and Uusimaa Hospital District have been quarantined, revealed Jarkko Pajarinen, chief of division at the Hospital District of Helsinki and Uusimaa (HUS)
The doctors had attended an orthopaedic and traumatology training day in Levi in early March. A doctor who was diagnosed with coronavirus infection after the trip was present at the event.
As a result of the potential exposure, it was recommended that all 125 persons who had undergone the same training be quarantined. A total of 26 orthopedics from HUS participated in the course. The infected person does not belong to HUS staff.
"Six doctors have had symptoms suggesting a respiratory infection. We have tested them and we expect results in the next few days," Pajarinen said.
Some quarantined doctors are on study leave. However, about 15 were expected to return to work at HUS Hospitals.
This matter was first reported by daily Helsingin Sanomat
Infections linked to Levi ski area
The infections most likely came from the Levi area, but it cannot be confirmed, according to Markku Broas, Chief Physician in Infectious Diseases at Lapland Central Hospital.
"We cannot rule out the infection originated from elsewhere, but both infected individuals have visited the Levi area," Broas said.
According to Broas, both the infected people who stayed in Levi in the first half of March belong to different tourist parties.
"This comes as a shock"
Visit Levi’s CEO Yrjötapio Kivisaari described the news of Levi’s coronavirus infections as shocking.
"We are worried and we hope that the sick will be healed. Now we are waiting for the authorities' instructions and of course, we will follow them," Kivisaari said.
It was announced on Friday that the ski resort in Levi will be closed from 27 March, but authorities have not yet announced any other measures since news of the cases.
According to Kivisaari, Levi currently has hundreds of holidaymakers.
"By now, everyone knows how serious and contagious a disease is," says Kivisaari.
Domestic tourists were going about their skiing activities as usual on Friday, at least before news of the infections from Levi broke out.
Laura Rajala arrived in Levi from Helsinki on Thursday, and said that earlier in the week she wondered if there will be a curfew imposed in Finland.
"No such news came. I thought there is at least room to breathe here. You are in your own cabin which is more than a metre away from other cabins," Rajala said.
"Decision to close unrelated to coronavirus cases"
The decision to shut the ski resorts were not influenced by the discovery of the coronavirus cases, according to Ville Aho, CEO of Rukakeskus ski resorts.
"There were rumours and doubts, but I can assure you with that I didn't even know about them in advance.
The closure of ski resorts was announced shortly before information on the resorts' link to infections became public. However, Aho said entrepreneurs in the industry had been discussing closing the resorts early this year and came to a decision around the same time.
"This was one of the most difficult decisions of my life, but we have no other choice. The safety of our customers and our staff is now taking precedence over financial results," Aho added.
According to Aho, this shutdown can prove disastrous for Rukakeskus and other companies in the area.
Jouni Palosaari, CEO of Levi's lift company and ski resort added that the decision to close was made before news of infections broke.
"The decision was made this morning and the information about infections only came in the afternoon. We want to comply with THL's regulations and take responsibility for protecting our staff and customers. Financially, of course, this will be a big financial hit," Palosaari said.
No simple task to shut ski resorts
The closure of large ski resorts cannot happen instantly, said Harri Lindfors, managing director of the Finnish Ski Area Association.
"Our large centres have dozens of entrepreneurs, hundreds of employees and a lot of tourists," Lindfors said.
According to Lindfors, it is up to each centre to make its own decision on the end of the season unless there is a separate order from the authorities to shut activity on the slopes.
North European Invest Oy, the owner of Lapland Hotels, Lapland Safaris, Lapland Ski Resorts and Ylläs-Ski is closing all Lapland Hotels' chain of hotels in Lapland and Southern Finland. It is also closing its restaurants and program services. Lapland Hotels is the largest hotel chain in Lapland.
Pertti Yliniemi from North European Invest Oy said he regrets the inconvenience caused to customers.
"We chose this solution based on an overall consideration of all the issues at stake. Economic aspects are secondary in the current situation," Yliniemi said.