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What does the updated mask recommendation in Helsinki region actually mean?

Experts answer four questions about Helsinki's new face mask recommendations announced on Tuesday.

Käytettyjä kasvomaskeja pöydällä.
City of Helsinki and health authorities announced a new set of measures on Tuesday to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Image: Derrick Frilund / Yle
Yle News

A coordination group formed to manage the greater Helsinki area's Covid response announced a new set of measures to curb the spread of coronavirus on Tuesday.

The first recommendation is that business owners who meet customers indoors should require everyone to wear a face mask.

Yle asked experts what this updated recommendation actually means in practice at establishments and indoor public spaces across the region.

What does this new recommendation mean to the average resident?

"It's just a moral statement. A strong recommendation has no legal basis. If someone does not use the mask, then they do not use it," Matti Tolvanen, professor of Criminal Law and Procedure at the University of Eastern Finland said.

"What matters is whether the person is in a public premises or on the premises of a private trader or service provider. A private service provider may require that a mask be worn on his or her premises, but this must be clearly communicated to consumers in advance," Kristiina Vainio, a specialist at the Finnish Competition and Consumer Authority said.

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With case counts rising, we reported that Finland wants to close pubs early, looked at hockey crowds during the pandemic and asked if we really live in 'Finntopia'.

Can service providers ask customers who are not wearing masks to leave?

"If the client is on the premises of a private service provider whose contract terms include a face mask requirement based on the instructions of the health authorities, the provider can refuse service, claiming the terms of the contract were not met. However, this is a very new situation. We need to monitor the kind of practices that will be followed in the future," Vainio said.

However, a service provider must treat all customers equally on the premises, according to Vainio.

"The question then remains can a customer be removed from the premises? Is this possible and by what means — I cannot comment on this," Vainio added.

Can you be fined if you don’t use a face mask?

"You can't be fined for not using a face mask," Tolvanen said.

"Penalties cannot be imposed even if a person who does not wear a face mask is subsequently found to be a carrier of the coronavirus. This is assuming of course that the person did not know that he was carrying the coronavirus," Tolvanen added.

The criminal justice professor said he is not aware of any case where someone has been convicted for spreading the virus in a public setting.

He said the situation is different if a person intentionally infects other people with the virus.

"In this case, there may be criminal liability for say, causing bodily harm. In the past, such cases have involved dangerous sexually transmitted diseases or hepatitis, for example," Tolvanen said.

Could Finland introduce a mandatory mask ruling?

"It is entirely possible to legislate the use of masks. This may raise the question of restricting people's freedom. If people can be quarantined for two weeks, then why can’t a mask mandate be made into law?" Tolvanen said.

According to him, the mask ruling could be regulated by law with or without the threat of punishment.

"An example of a non-punishable law is the helmet law for cyclists. It has proven to be quite ineffective. Therefore, a small fine should be imposed for those who don’t comply with a compulsory mask ruling for more effective enforcement," Tolvanen said.

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