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President Niinistö defends role in coronavirus crisis

Critics have noted that the President's remit is to lead on foreign policy rather than on domestic issues.

Sauli Niinistö
President Sauli Niinistö said that he was active behind the scenes as the government considered declaring a state of emergency. Image: Tiina Jutila / Yle
Yle News

President Sauli Niinistö has defended his role in Finland's handling of the ongoing novel coronavirus crisis against critics who note that his leadership is required in foreign and security policy issues.

In an interview with Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter, Niinistö pointed to his active role in decision-making during the crisis, adding that it was clear to him that Finland needed to declare a state of emergency.

"I did my part. I was active and I warned [them]," Niinistö told the paper.

According to DN, Niinistö had been working actively in the background to ensure that the government would invoke the Emergency Powers Act.

"Declaring a state of emergency required cooperation with the government. I informed the government that we should do it [declare a state of emergency]," he added.

The President disclosed that the government faced a huge task, for example in reviewing all of the legislation related to a state of emergency.

DN reported that Niinistö had also come in for criticism for intervening too much during the crisis, given that his main remit relates to foreign policy matters. Domestic politics, they argued, are the governments responsibility.

"What would [people] have thought if I had remained silent all along? I am the President after all," Niinistö responded.

Finland's "policies are working"

The paper wrote that Niinistö's role as the father of the country has been emphasised during the pandemic. He has spoken to the public about solidarity and scolded others who think they are immune to the disease.

DN also mentioned that Niinistö has used his diplomatic ties to get additional protective gear from China into Finland.

Unlike neighbouring Sweden, Finland opted to impose sweeping restrictions on movement and gatherings of people to try and rein in the spread of the virus. He did not want to say which country chose the better course.

The President said that the government wanted to be consistent in its decision-making. For example, it would not make sense to urge people not to go to restaurants if they were allowed to operate. Restaurants and other public places have remained open for business in Sweden.

"It appears that our policies have worked," Niinistö said and he pointed out that the number of Covid-19 patients who have died or were receiving intensive care was relatively low.

On Sunday the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare, THL, reported that Finland had 2,974 lab-confirmed novel coronavirus cases, an increase of 69 since Saturday. The number of fatalities stood at 56. Some 235 patients were said to be receiving hospital care, with 77 of them in hospital.

Meanwhile in Sweden, local authorities reported 899 deaths, with nearly 10,500 confirmed cases of infection, up by 300 since Saturday.

The population of Sweden is about 10.2 million people, compared to 5.5 million in Finland.

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