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Tuesday's papers: Blizzard strikes, corona variant concerns, enter the flying squirrels

Emergency services urge the public to stay home as heavy snows and high winds hit southern and central Finland.

The scene in Helsinki early Tuesday. The current storm is expected to dump an exceptional amount of snow on southern and central regions. Image: Silja Viitala / Yle

A winter storm that hit southern and central parts of the country overnight has brought heavy snowfall, drifts and hazardous driving conditions.

Meteorologist Hannu Valta of the Finnish Meteorological Institute told the daily Iltalehti (siirryt toiseen palveluun)to expect 30-40 centimetres of fresh snow, in some places up to half a meter of accumulation with even higher drifts.

Valta pointed out that snow plowing equipment on the roads will be unlikely to keep up with the snowfall's pace.

Meanwhile, Ilta-Sanomat (siirryt toiseen palveluun) reports that emergency services are urging the public to stay home if at all possible.

Turku Regional Rescue Department manager Mika Viljanen told Ilta-Sanomat that if possible, the public should just stay off the roads altogether Tuesday morning. Helsinki emergency services has issued a similar appeal.

Snow plowing equipment is being concentrated on main roads. Secondary roads are likely to be impassable. Also, ferry traffic in coastal areas and the archipelago will likely come to a standstill.

Emergency services are also prepared for power outages. Heavy snows are likely to take down trees and cut power lines in some areas.

While the blizzard is affecting central and southern regions, Finnish Lapland is forecast to see near-record cold temperatures, with the thermometer dipping down to -35C in Rovaniemi and to -40C or more in some areas, reports Oulu's Kaleva (siirryt toiseen palveluun). The lowest temperatures are forecast for Wednesday night, or the early hours of Thursday.

Coronavirus variant

The Helsinki daily Helsingin Sanomat (siirryt toiseen palveluun) reports that the Institute for Health and Welfare THL is unsure how to deal with the appearance of new variants of the Covid-19 virus.

So far, 49 people in Finland have been diagnosed with coronavirus infections caused by new, faster-spreading viral variants. THL reported 29 new cases on Monday in addition to a previous 20.

Almost all of these infections have been found in travellers who came to Finland from abroad or people who had been in close contact with them.

Most of the cases are of the variant first detected in the UK and only two are of the South African type.

The sources of three cases are unknown.

"These cannot be said to be tourism-related contacts. It’s not terribly surprising because it’s not always possible to figure out every contact. However, there may be some indirect tourism contact in the background," Mika Salminen, director of health security at the THL, told Helsingin Sanomat.

As to what approach the THL may take to these new variants, Salminen said that so far there is no definite information about what is worth doing and what is not.

More hard times for Lapland tourism

The farmers' union daily Maaseudun Tulevaisuus (siirryt toiseen palveluun) looks at the increasing difficulties faced by the tourism sector in Finnish Lapland as a result of the ongoing pandemic.

The paper writes that it now looks as if the disappearance of foreign tourists may cut the annual revenues of many companies in the region by up to 90 percent.

While there have have been more domestic tourists this winter than in previous years, the increase has not been enough to make up for the loss of visitors from abroad.

The accommodation and program services industries have been especially hard hit, but the situation also indirectly affects the retail sector and support services such as laundries and the transport sector.

Following years of record growth many companies had built up a financial buffer that has helped them survive. However, the long boom also meant big investments and it seems that the tourist industry has now hit the wall.

According to Maaseudun Tulevaisuus foreign tour operators are in fact planning and booking vacation packages for next winter in Lapland.

Regional tourism sector groups are now urgently calling on the government to outline the conditions under which international tourism trade can be conducted in the long term.

Squirrels to the rescue?

The City of Helsinki has decided to evict operators from the small-craft Malmi Airport in the northern part of the city to make way for a major housing project.

Opposition to the plan has been shot down by the courts, but it's not impossible that some small rodents may turn things around.

Flying squirrels are an endangered species and their habitats are protected by law. The local Helsinki daily Helsingin Uutiset (siirryt toiseen palveluun)reports that a group called the "Friends of Malmi Airport Association" say that they have found evidence of flying squirrels in the woods around the airport – sightings, nests and droppings – indicating a larger, more widespread population than previously believed.

In previous studies by the city, no significant concentrations of flying squirrels were observed in the area.

A report on this latest survey has now been submitted to the Uusimaa Centre for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment, the City of Helsinki and the Finnish Association for Nature Conservation.