Finland will begin lifting some of its coronavirus-caused emergency measures on 1 June, Prime Minister Sanna Marin announced on Monday evening.
Following lengthy cabinet discussions the cabinet began on Sunday morning, Marin said a timetable has been set to roll back some of the measures meant to curb the spread of the coronavirus epidemic.
A full list of the changes was published on the government's website (siirryt toiseen palveluun).
Marin said the government has drawn up guidelines to slow infection rates and that many of the emergency conditions put in place over the past couple of months would continue in some form.
Meanwhile, finance minister Katri Kulmuni warned that the "new normal" of living with the coronavirus crisis may last a long time, saying that if and when restrictions are further loosened, the economy could gain some momentum.
She said the transition needs to happen gradually, to ensure that daily life in the country is safe for its residents.
Last week, the government announced that Finland’s classrooms would reopen on 14 May.
On Monday evening, education minister Li Andersson said a controlled opening of pre- and elementary schools would begin and that youths will also be able to gather to practice sports activities in outdoor settings.
The restrictions on universities, vocational schools and other higher learning institutions will also be loosed after 14 May, but the government still recommends remote learning solutions until the end of the school year, Andersson said.
The government is recommending remote classes continue, schools will have more freedom to decide for themselves how they will be arranged after the 14th, particularly for students who have special needs, she said.
Groups of 50 OK in June
The government also announced eased restrictions which will permit gatherings of up to 50 people, allow libraries to start lending books again and permit the opening of youth activity centres.
On 18 March the government banned gatherings of more than 10 people.
Those orders also shut down museums, theatres, cinemas, the national opera, libraries, mobile libraries, hobby facilities and swimming pools, youth clubs and other gathering points and recommended that third sector organisations and religious congregations do the same.
Ohisalo said the loosened restrictions will also serve as a recommendation for private sector and religious events.
Restaurants to open
Cafes, restaurants and bars will be permitted to open, with certain limitations, on 1 June. The government ordered the closure of the country’s bars, cafes and restaurants at the beginning of last month, but added the provision that eateries could still offer take-out service. The details on these guidelines are still being ironed out.
On Monday, Kulmuni said that it is easier to close restaurants outright than to regulate opening hours or bring in regional restrictions on the establishments, noting that such legislation is headed to Parliament soon. She said that going to restaurants is part of the fabric of Finnish society.
Chiming in on the restaurant situation, PM Marin said there may be limitations on the number of customers that eateries can serve at the same time, perhaps with only half of seating being permitted to be filled at any given time.
She added that earlier closing times have also been discussed, noting that final decisions regarding restaurants should be finalised by 13 May.
Travel for business abroad
Travel for business and other necessary trips abroad within the Schengen area will also be permitted again on 14 May, but with strict guidelines, according to interior minister Maria Ohisalo. Finland’s international borders were partially shut down on 19 March.
Ohisalo emphasised that even though some restrictions are being lifted, the virus is still circulating. The minister said she was glad that the government was able to reduce the restrictions on society but said it was important for residents to act responsibly.
"We no longer live in the world we used to," Ohisalo said. However, personal trips abroad will still not be permitted after 14 May, she said.
Restrictions on seniors remain
However, even though some restrictions are being lifted, the government said that individuals over the age of 70 are still being recommended to avoid contact with others.
One reporter asked Marin if seniors will be forbidden from meeting their grandchildren and other family members the entire summer.
"We understand that the quarantine affects health and well-being, and that it is hard not to be able to hold children in their arms. But unfortunately, the virus is still [potentially] fatal. The government cannot recommend that our elderly citizens have physical contact with others. We understand that's not easy," Marin said.
Second wave looms
Justice minister Anna-Maja Henriksson thanked the country for the country's quiet celebrations of the May Day holiday weekend. But she said that even though some of the restrictions were being lifted, the danger is not over.
She said the emergency laws in place were still in force because the outbreak still poses a threat.
Henriksson said the restrictions were not initially implemented "for safety's sake," but rather they were necessary in order to ensure that the health care system could guarantee care for everyone who needs it.
"The first wave was stunted, but it cannot be ruled out that a second way is coming," Henriksson said.