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Foreign tourist Covid quarantines could be costly for Lapland

If foreign tourists test positive but are inadequately insured or don't have enough money, it is up to municipalities to arrange their quarantine accommodations.

Kuvassa näkyy luminen maisema
There are currently only 20 foreign tourists with known Covid cases in Lapland, but that number could rise as more arrive this season. Image: Vesa-Pekka Hiltunen / Yle
Yle News

Foreign tourists' visits to Finnish Lapland can incur huge extra costs if their travel insurance isn't up to snuff, particularly if they test positive for Covid-19.

People diagnosed with the upper respiratory disease are subject to 10 days quarantine, according to Markku Broas, Chief Physician of Infectious Diseases of the Lapland Hospital District (LSHP).

"According to the Infectious Diseases Act, isolation and quarantine costs are ultimately the responsibility of the municipality and the return flight home is the tourist's responsibility," Broas explained.

Earlier this week it was reported that the number of Christmas holiday tourists arriving in Lapland and the Kuusamo region this year is likely to hit pre-Covid levels.

As of Friday morning, around 35 people from abroad had been diagnosed with coronavirus infections in the LSHP, most of whom have been fully vaccinated.

For many travellers in such situations it feels most natural to self-isolate in their familiar hotel rooms, but that's not always possible.

Guest responsibility

Accommodations across Lapland are almost fully booked at this stage of the season, with hotels sometimes not prepared for guests' Covid diagnoses and unexpected extensions.

The manager of Lapland Hotels Sky Ounasvaara, Mira Söderlund, said efforts are made to assist guests who find themselves needing to self-isolate.

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Nainen seisoo joulukuusen vieressä
Mira Söderlund Image: Pekka Viinikka / Yle

"If customers don't have insurance or enough money, or we don't have accommodation to offer, we try to help them find temporary accommodation elsewhere," she explained, noting that finding accommodation is the responsibility of customers.

"Customers are always primarily responsible for arranging quarantine accommodations. If they are unable to do so, the authorities will assist them, we are intermediaries," Söderlund said.

The managing director of tourism outfit Visit Rovaniemi, Sanna Kärkkäinen, said that the city has sorted out quarantine facilities, in order to provide such accommodation in other places than hotels.

Meanwhile, the City of Rovaniemi's Educational and Recreational Department Director, Antti Lassila, said the alternative is to arrange accommodation in existing locations, such as hotels. But if a room is unavailable, the city seeks assistance from the social services department, asking whether other facilities are available.

Testing and more testing

Guests at local hotels are almost without exception tourists from Europe. For example, the Ounasvaara hotel is serving guests from the UK, Ireland and France. But the hotels have not commented about possible coronavirus cases at the establishments.

The majority of foreign guests who have tested positive for Covid have come from the UK, a country that has increasingly tightened its pandemic-related border crossing restrictions.

Upon returning home, British tourists need to take a PCR test, and are required to quarantine as they wait for the results.

Before they head home, major tour operators in Lapland have been delivering home testing kits to their customers' places of accommodation.

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Koronaviruksen pikatesti. Koronaseulonta alkamassa Turun Varissuon jäähallissa.
Part of the Covid-19 home test kit. A result showing the top single strip is negative while two stripes indicates a positive outcome. Image: Johanna Manu / Yle

"If the home test is positive, a new test must be carried out immediately at a municipal testing centre and they must self-isolate while awaiting the result. If the second test turns out positive, it will trigger normal infection chain tracing," chief physician Broas explained.

Strategy streamline

The region's hospital district has invited tourism industry and municipality representatives, as well as communicable disease authorities, to agree on common rules and procedures for visitors' coronavirus infections.

Visit Rovaniemi's Kärkkäinen said that tour operators need to keep up with current practices.

"Up-to-date information is important to ensure that travellers do not have to wait for calls, they receive relevant information and feel as comfortable as possible under the circumstances," Kärkkäinen.

According to the LSHP, the number of tourists with Covid in the district was low at the moment, but the situation could quickly change as more visitors arrive.

The work involved in infection chain tracing takes a good deal of resources and, according to chief doc Broas, infection tracers are already under intense pressure, particularly in Rovaniemi and Inari.

"This poses challenges and municipalities also need to prepare for it. When it comes to tourists, information and clarification also takes resources. It is worth preparing for, as there are a lot of foreign tourists in Lapland, and more are coming," Broas said.

Updated at 14:16 to reflect there were 35 tourists with Covid in the hospital district as of Friday morning.

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