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Finland declares state of emergency to fight Covid epidemic

The government also submitted a proposal to Parliament on the closure bars and restaurants for a three-week period.

Prime Minister Sanna Marin (SDP) and Employment Minister Tuula Haatainen (SDP) at the Monday afternoon press conference. Image: Vesa Moilanen / Lehtikuva

Finland has declared a state of emergency to give the government more flexibility in issuing further restrictions in efforts to combat the coronavirus epidemic.

Prime Minister Sanna Marin (SDP) said that ministers made the decision in collaboration with President Sauli Niinistö.

Finland recorded 720 new confirmed cases on Friday, a new daily record that focused attention on an uptick in cases in a country that has not been hit as hard by Covid as many other EU states.

The highly-anticipated announcement was made at a Monday afternoon press conference in Helsinki, and will enter into force immediately.

The PM told the media that, at this stage, there is no immediate need for the introduction of additional powers under the Emergency Powers Act, which allow for restrictions on the fundamental rights of citizens, but their introduction at a later date cannot be ruled out.

Proposal to close bars, restaurants moves to Parliament

Immediately after the declaration of the state of emergency, the government submitted to Parliament a proposal, announced last week, to close food and beverage establishments for a period of three weeks from 8 March.

The closure order would apply to cafes, bars and restaurants in areas where the epidemic is considered to be in the acceleration or community transmission phase, but eateries would still be able to offer take-out and delivery services.

The closure cannot be implemented under the Communicable Diseases Act or the Emergency Powers Act, so MPs will need to pass special legislation. Marin said the Speaker of Parliament estimated that at least four days will be needed for Parliament to discuss the law change.

The proposal does however allow for lunch restaurants operating at places of employment to remain open.

In a separate press release, the government office stated that the industry would receive state support during the closure period.

"As a matter of urgency, the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment is preparing a support model for the reasonable compensation of businesses affected by the closure," the statement read.

"Everyone can influence spring and summer"

At Monday's press conference, Marin said that the social affairs and health ministry and Regional State Administrative Agencies (Avi) were still trying to reach common ground on developing new restrictions for public-serving establishments like gyms.

The PM apologised to entrepreneurs who run such firms for the uncertain situation, saying that decisions about eventual restrictions would be up to local administrative agencies.

"The situation is being discussed today and we will update more about the matter tomorrow," Marin said, and finished her statement by making a direct appeal to the public.

"Let’s protect our own, our loved ones' and fellow citizens’ health. Avoid places and situations where contacts may occur. Keep a safe distance, take care of hygiene and wear masks. Everyone can influence what spring and summer looks like,” Marin said.