Government debates curfews, restrictions

Ministers convened for an eight-hour meeting on Monday but couldn't agree, and came back on Tuesday.

Prime Minister Sanna Marin (SDP) arrives at talks with opposition and government politicians on Tuesday 23 March. Image: Heikki Saukkomaa / Lehtikuva

Government ministers gathered at the House of the Estates in Helsinki on Tuesday evening to agree on measures to slow the spread of coronavirus as Finland grapples with a third wave of the epidemic.

On Monday the government had convened for eight hours of talks, but only decided to extend the current three-week shutdown of eat-in dining at restaurants.

On Tuesday parties were divided over the best way forward, with the Prime Minister Sanna Marin (SDP) saying that curfews and restrictions on movement would only be brought in if they were 'unavoidable'.

That is also a key consideration for parliament's Constitutional Law Committee, which must sign off on any proposal. It was clear on Tuesday that parties inside and outside the government were unconvinced that this condition had been met.

Opposition leaders were invited in to hear the government's proposals and expert assessments, before government ministers continued deliberations.

"More measures are of course needed," said National Coalition Party leader Petteri Orpo as he left the talks. "I'm not convinced that a stay at home order would reduce close contacts. These indoor physical meetings should be reduced by other measures."

Finland's National Institute for Health and Welfare THL had supported restrictions on movement to try and slow the spread of coronavirus, but several ministers rejected the health officials' view.

Some pointed to statements from local hospital district officials that took a different tone as evidence that the issue was not clear cut.

"It's more difficult to evaluate the issue because experts are not in agreement over the necessity of curfews, for example there have been different opinions from the Helsinki University hospital district (HUS)," said Justice Minister Anna-Maja Henriksson (SPP).

Earlier in the day Prime Minister Marin had said that people should reduce contacts as spring moves in.

"My own message ahead of Easter is 'reduce physical contacts'", said Marin. "You can go to your own cabin with your nearest and dearest, but don't go to a cabin with people outside that inner circle."