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Key committee: Business owners must be compensated for pandemic shutdowns

Finland's law on infectious diseases is to be temporarily amended. 

Antti Rinne (SDP) is the acting chair of the Constitutional Law committee. Image: Pekka Tynell / Yle

Finland's efforts to stop the spread of coronavirus got a boost on Thursday, when a key parliamentary committee recommended local authorities could make quick decisions to shut down businesses under a temporary amendment to the Communicable Diseases Act.

The government had proposed amending the law to allow closures of private businesses and expand government powers in case the epidemic situation worsens, and the amendment is going through the committee stage in parliament.

The government had wanted the amendments to be valid until the end of the year, but the constitutional law committee says they can only be in force until June, when they will be reviewed.

The committee also says that municipalities and regional administrative agencies could have the power to limit private firms' operations and individuals' rights to practice hobbies, if necessary to prevent the spread of disease and if businesses are compensated.

Compensation needed

The committee also suggested that businesses be compensated when their rights to operate are restricted, but they are not shut down completely — for instance when restaurant and bar opening hours are limited.

The committee's members were unanimous in agreeing to the statement, according to the acting committee chair, former PM Antti Rinne (SDP).

At present government and local authorities are only able to close spaces in the public sector and limit opening hours of certain businesses such as restaurants.

Harsher measures, such as restricting people's movements and forcing nurses to go to work, are only possible when the government invokes the Emergency Powers Act.

The proposed changes would allow for municipalities and state regional administrative agencies to close private businesses for two weeks at a time, so long as compensation is paid to business owners.