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Defence Minister pledges military to help enforce curbs on movement

Government is considering isolating the Uusimaa region in the south to slow the spread of novel coronavirus.

Finnish military police. Image: Henrietta Hassinen / Yle
Yle News

Defence Minister Antti Kaikkonen has said that conscripts and Defence Force personnel can be rapidly deployed to help enforce movement restrictions in and out of the Uusimaa region in southern Finland.

Kaikkonen's comments came as government considers a new proposal to limit movement between the populous region in southern Finland and the rest of the country to slow the spread of novel coronavirus.

The region has recorded the highest number of coronavirus infections in Finland, accounting for 561 of around 800 cases reported nationwide as of 25 March.

On Tuesday Prime Minister Sanna Marin said that there were good grounds for sealing off the region. Kaikkonen said that as a result, the Defence Forces are already on standby to support police with enforcing the restrictions on movement.

"I have called on the Defence Forces to be ready for a request for official support," Kaikkonen added.

"If the competent authority issues a request, then in principle help will be provided," he continued.

The minister said that the number of conscripts and rank and file staff to be deployed would depend on the scale and duration of the support requested.

"Naturally they would not have the same powers as police," he pointed out.

Helsinki preparing for possible new curbs

Meanwhile Helsinki mayor Jan Vapaavuori said at a press conference on Tuesday that the city has already begun to prepare for a situation where movement is possibly limited.

Vapaavuori said that isolating the Uusimaa region would not be so straightforward however, as many doctors and nurses work in the city but live outside of the area.

He said local officials are operating with the assumption that it would be possible to ensure that critical personnel can travel to and from work despite possible curbs on movement.

As of 24 March, Helsinki had 274 novel coronavirus diagnoses, with 60 new cases reported on Tuesday alone.

NCP chair: New restrictions possible by Friday

According to Petteri Orpo, head of the opposition National Coalition Party, it might be possible to introduce restrictions on movement in and out of Uusimaa by Friday if needed. However there is no firm timetable for the measure, he noted.

The restrictions would be based on Article 118 of the Emergency Powers Act, according to which in exceptional circumstances and for health reasons, movement in a specific area can be limited for three months at a time.

About 65 percent of all cases reported nationwide come from the Helsinki and Uusimaa hospital district (HUS). Outside of the region fewer infections have been reported.

Limiting movement in and out of Uusimaa might potentially reduce the number of deaths from Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus.

If the spread of the virus can be controlled in different parts of the country, health authorities would be better able to move personnel around to areas where they are most needed.

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