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Wednesday's papers: Safe travel, cutting out peat, endangered species comeback

Press items include concerns about novel coronavirus, reduced use of peat, and good news about some endangered species.

Peat being harvested near Seinäjoki. Image: Anna Wikman / Yle

With school winter holidays fast approaching, some people are concerned about the health risks of international travel because of the continuing spread of Wuhan coronavirus.

Oulu's Kaleva writes (siirryt toiseen palveluun) that the risk of contracting the virus is extremely small for anyone not travelling to China.

The paper quotes Taneli Puumalainen, the head of infectious disease control for Finland's National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) as saying that except for China, there have only been isolated cases of the coronavirus in other countries. For example, in Thailand, which is a popular holiday destination for Finns, there is very little risk of infection.

Kaleva points out that a bigger problem for travelers than the virus itself could be travel restrictions that are being imposed by some countries. Puumalainen urges anyone planning a trip abroad to follow official travel advisories which are being constantly updated by the Foreign Ministry.

Finland has registered one confirmed case of the coronavirus. According to the THL, the patient, a Chinese woman, is recovering and most of her symptoms have abated and she no longer needs medication.

Altogether 21 people in Finland are believed to have been exposed to the new strain of coronavirus.

Jussi Sane, THL's chief specialist in virology, told the STT news agency that officials have not been able to contact them all, and it is possible that some have left Finland.

After surveying some of the country's largest travel agencies, the tabloid Iltalehti (siirryt toiseen palveluun) reports that so far few have seen a fall in international holiday bookings.

Mari Kanerva of Aurinkomatkat travel agency told the paper that there have been some inquiries about health issues for some destinations, but the number of cancellations has not been unusual.

Airbnb in Lapland

The Rovaniemi daily Lapin Kansa (siirryt toiseen palveluun) reports on a project now underway to examine the impact and legal status of non-professional short-term rentals such as Airbnb in Lapland.

There is continuing confusion, the paper writes, about where to draw the line between operating a professional accommodations business and simply renting out a flat.

The study coordinated at the University of Lapland is looking at issues including current regulations governing short-term rentals.

Salla Jutila, who is heading the project, says that the problem is not that there is a lack of laws, but that the business is such a new phenomenon that there are really no precedents for how these laws should be applied.

Lapin Kansa points out that many of the problems that have come up are either caused by the rules of housing associations where flats are located, or by objections from the commercial hospitality sector that sees private rentals as unfair competition.

One aim of the project is to draw up a list of suggestions on how services such as Airbnb can operate in Lapland while complying with current rules and regulations.

Jutila says she does not see the need for new laws governing short-term rentals, but does see a need for better communication among all the parties involved. She also told Lapin Kansa that expanding Airbnb and similar operations could boost tourism in more remote locations in Lapland, keeping them inhabited and economically viable.

Farewell to peat?

According to the daily Helsingin Sanomat (siirryt toiseen palveluun), the Finnish government is looking a new taxes aimed at at least halving the use of peat in electricity production and heating by the year 2030.

A reduction in peat burning, it writes, is the largest single item on the government's list of means to meet its climate emissions target. A complete end to the use of peat would eliminate seven million tons of carbon emissions annually. That is more than present total emissions produced by cars.

The Centre Party opposes a fast timetable for eliminating peat use in power production. On the other hand, the majority state-owned peat company Vapo announced in December that it expects market demand for peat to fall by 50 percent by 2025, even without official action.

It says that a sharp rise in the cost of emission allowances has already pushed the cost of peat well above that of waste wood that can be used for energy.

Helsingin Sanomat reports that the government is now looking at a complex taxation mechanism that would cut peat use, but also prevent power companies from competing with forest product industries for timber.

Back from the brink

The tabloid Ilta-Sanomat carries a feature (siirryt toiseen palveluun) with some good news - a look at some of the formerly endangered species in Finland that have made a comeback.

Fifty years ago, the white-tailed eagle was on the brink of extinction in Finland. In 1972, WWF Finland started a rescue campaign.

Slowly, but surely the population revived. In 1975, a mere four white-tailed eagles hatched. Last year there were 550 eagle fledglings and the bird was taken off the list of endangered species.

Of the 22 species listed as facing extinction in 1982, most are doing well or very well today.

Among the animals mentioned by Ilta-Sanomat that have made a comeback are the Arctic fox, wolverine, wolf (siirryt toiseen palveluun), brown bear, lesser white-fronted goose, and the Finnish forest reindeer.

Some others, such as the Saimaa ringed seal have made progress, but are still endangered.

It is not all good news, though. The populations of a few endangered species, including the endangered Apollo butterfly and Siberian flying squirrel, continue to decline.