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Tuesday's papers: Curfew models, restaurant payments, election uncertainty

The possibility of emergency curfews has led some papers to speculate what restrictions on movement might look like.

Ihmisiä äänestämässä äänestyskopissa.
Voters at a polling station in Finland's 2017 local elections. Image: Tommi Parkkinen/Yle
Yle News

The tabloid Ilta-Sanomat writes that a mention by Prime Minister Sanna Marin (SDP) on Monday that the government may have to consider measures restricting fundamental rights in practice was a reference to the possible introduction of curfews and restrictions on movement.

The paper notes that Marin added that preparatory work on the issue is being carried out by government officials, and that the work began before the start of this year.

One model for restricting the movement of the population could be a kind of curfew in the worst-affected areas of the epidemic, such as individual localities, according to the prime minister.

"Movement would be limited to meeting essential needs, for example grocery shopping, visits to the pharmacy, social and healthcare services, or similar essential needs," Marin told the media on Monday.

Ilta-Sanomat reports that its sources say a model has been under consideration with these exceptions, but which otherwise would restrict individuals to their homes or registered place of residence.

Minister of Justice Anna-Maja Henriksson (SPP) told Yle's Ykkösaamu morning tv show on Saturday that in practice, a curfew could restrict movement also according to the time of day.

This paper adds that another model would be measures similar to the closure of Uusimaa last spring, restricting movement, for example, between provinces in the base level of the epidemic and those in the spreading stage.

Plans, according to Ilta-Sanomat, are ready in the "desk drawer" of the government and could be rolled out at short notice, if necessary.

However, the paper states there has not yet been a formal discussion within the cabinet on imposing restrictions on movement.

The government will meet on Wednesday, and hear an epidemiological assessment of the situation and projections of how the epidemic in Finland may develop in the weeks ahead.

Call for compensation

Finland's largest Swedish-language daily, Hufvudstadsbladet, reports that the Finnish Hospitality Association MaRa is pressing the state for a pledge to fully reimburse restaurants for their fixed costs during the government-ordered three-week shutdown that is to begin on 8 March.

The paper notes that the Government Finance Committee has estimated that compensation of around 50 million euros will be paid out to the restaurants for those weeks.

The Hospitality Association expects restaurants to see significantly greater losses. According to MaRa fixed costs for the three weeks will amount to 140 million euros.

"If the compensation is only 50 million euros, the restaurants' losses during the closure can be close to 90 million. That money is nowhere to be found. The restaurants' own funds are starting to run out and they have already taken out as much in loans as they can," Mara's CEO Timo Lappi stated in a press release.

The Hospitality Association also points out that although workplace and student restaurants were allowed to stay open last spring when other restaurants were closed, demand for their services nevertheless dropped drastically, by 76 percent for workplace restaurants and 85 percent for student restaurants. But, because they stayed open, they have not been eligible for state compensation.

Lappi called on the government to include these workplace and student restaurants in the upcoming shutdown, pointing out that telecommuting and remote teaching has already destroyed their businesses, and their closing would give them the right to also apply for support.

Election uncertainty

Tampere's Aamulehti looks at some of the speculation that the municipal elections scheduled for April may be postponed due to the upswing in the coronavirus epidemic.

The paper writes that a decision to hold them as scheduled, or to delay will be made this week. Local government are still, however moving ahead with arrangements that assume that will be no postponement.

Aamulehti quotes Arto Jääskeläinen, director of electoral administration at the Ministry of Justice, as saying that last week's emergency and closure decision of the government will not directly affect the elections in any way.

A possible postponement of the election is a political decision and would requires a change in the law. Justice Minister Henriksson is reportedly meeting with the political party secretaries later this week to discuss the matter.

Kaisa Herne, Professor of Political Science at the University of Tampere, told the paper that the parties are likely to be unwilling to postpone the elections.

On the other hand, she expressed concerns about seeing a situation in which the exercise of voting rights is hampered or even impossible.

Herne says it would be worrying if, as a result of the epidemic, voter turnout were to seriously decline, for example, to well below 50 percent.

Welcome, but then not really

The day's local Helsinki daily Helsingin Uutiset includes an item perhaps indicative of how public services are struggling to sensibly deal with the pandemic.

The paper reports that the Helsinki Regional Transport system HSL has opened a temporary service point in the capital, but one that it is advising customers to avoid.

HSL closed its service points at Itäkeskus this year and the Pasila customer service point last year. Its service point at Helsinki's main railway station is now unable to handle demand due to restrictions on the number of customers allowed in at any one time.

On Monday, HSL open new temporary service point has been opened in Pasila.

However, according to Helsingin Uutiset, HSL hopes that customers will avoid service points as much as possible. Instead, it recommends purchasing tickets from self-service channels, from ticket machines, online and via its smartphone app.

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