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THL: Border re-opening could increase infections

Finland moved another step closer to normality for incoming travellers from Monday, but is the timing right?

Kuvassa on hengityssuojainta käyttävä Finnairin työntekijä Helsinki-Vantaan lentoasemalla heinäkuussa 2020.
Finnish airports are expected to get busier from Monday. A Finnair employee at the Helsinki-Vantaa airport in July 2020. Image: Silja Viitala / Yle
Yle News

Travelling into Finland became easier from the early hours of Monday, but rising infection rates have left some people worrying that the relaxation of travel restrictions could worsen the epidemic situation in the country.

The decision to ease restrictions was made more than a month ago when infection rates were significantly lower across the world, according to health agency THL's research professor Hannu Kiviranta.

"It was a completely different situation then. The situation has changed quite rapidly over the last three weeks," Kiviranta said during an interview on Yle's morning talk show on Monday.

Kiviranta added that the opening of borders may see infections rise even further as cases may be brought into the country from abroad.

On the other hand, a silver lining can be found in the progress of vaccinations in Europe, the health expert said. Many European countries have already managed to fully vaccinate more than half of the population.

"Of course, it reduces the risk that may come through passengers," Kiviranta said, but added that stricter restrictions may have to be re-introduced if the world witnesses the emergence of "a virus variant that can spread easily and can circumvent the protection offered by vaccines."

Kiviranta also mentioned that preparations have been made for all incoming passengers to be reviewed and interviewed at border crossings. Monitoring on a local level may prove challenging, however, especially in cases where a second test is required. Health authorities may struggle to contact all arrivals in need of a test in places that attract big numbers of tourists.

"That is not an excuse to not get tested. It is a legal obligation, travellers must take the test even if they are not contacted by the authorities," Kiviranta said.

The new rules are not just recommendations, but legal obligations meaning that "a lot of the responsibility lies with the traveller," and failure to comply may result in a fine, Kiviranta added.

Here's what changed on Monday

From 00:00 on Monday 26 July, vaccinated passengers from any country are able to enter Finland without any restrictions.

Unvaccinated passengers from the Schengen area and low-risk countries can also enter Finland but may be subject to testing.

External travel, meaning travel from outside the EU- and Schengen area, is still banned from high risk countries such as the UK and the US, unless the traveller has a vaccine certificate.

Which vaccines are accepted?

Passengers that have received both doses of an approved vaccine (or a single dose of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine) can travel to Finland without restrictions from any country. This means that no coronavirus testing is required prior to or after arrival into the country. The rules do require, however, that at least 14 days have passed since the last vaccine shot.

Certification of seven vaccines is currently accepted at the border:

  • Comirnaty (Pfizer-BionTech), EMA and WHO approved, two doses required
  • Spikevax (formerly Moderna), EMA and WHO approved, requires two doses
  • Vaxzevria (formerly AstraZeneca), EMA and WHO approved, two doses required
  • Janssen (Johnson & Johnson), EMA and WHO approved, one dose is sufficient
  • BIBP / Sinopharm (China), WHO approved, two doses required
  • CoronaVac (China), WHO approved, two doses required
  • COVISHIELD (India), WHO approved, two doses required

The Russian Sputnik vaccine is not on the approved list, and the relaxed rules will not apply to receivers of non-approved vaccines.

Where can unvaccinated passengers travel from?

Internal border traffic, meaning travel between Finland and the EU- and Schengen area has resumed but unvaccinated passengers may be subject to testing.

However, the same rules do not apply to all Schengen countries.

Passengers arriving from "high-risk" countries, such as Bulgaria and France, will still need to undergo a test. There are two possible testing pathways:

  • If in possession of a negative coronavirus test certificate taken no more than 72 hours before arrival into the country, passengers will only need to get tested once in Finland within three to five days of arrival. The same rule applies to those who have received one dose of the coronavirus vaccine at least 14 days prior to arrival.
  • If a passenger lacks the aforementioned certificates, they will first be directed to testing upon entry and will be required to get a second test within three to five days after arriving in Finland.

Entry registration and test bookings can be completed via the online portal, Finentry. Testing is a legal obligation and failure to comply may result in a fine.

High-risk areas include: Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Liechtenstein, the Netherlands, Poland, Germany, Belgium, Spain, Italy, Austria, Greece, Malta, Slovakia, Slovenia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Portugal, Switzerland and Luxembourg, Andorra, Ireland, Croatia, Cyprus, Monaco, Romania and San Marino.

Travel from "low-risk" countries (including both Schengen and non-Schengen members) is restriction-free. Low-risk passengers can now travel into Finland without vaccination or any testing.

Low-risk countries and regions include Australia, Hong Kong, Israel, Macao, San Marino, Singapore, Taiwan, New Zealand and the Vatican.

The list is being constantly updated in accordance with the latest infection rates.

Travellers from high-risk countries must wait

Unvaccinated non-Finnish passport holders coming from non-Schengen high risk countries, such as the UK and the US, will not be able to cross the border.

Fully vaccinated passengers, who make up around 50 percent of the population in the United States and more than 50 percent in the United Kingdom, will however be able to enter freely.

Other exceptions include "necessary reasons" for travel, such as compelling family matters or other personal reasons. The reasons will be assessed on a case-by-case basis at the border.

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