PM: Finland to lift Covid restrictions after 80% of population fully vaccinated

Prime Minister Sanna Marin has estimated that the vaccination level of 80 percent would be reached next month.

Prime Minister Sanna Marin on Monday in Helsinki. Image: Antti Aimo-Koivisto / Lehtikuva

The Finnish government approved a new Covid hybrid strategy on Monday which hinges on at least 80 percent of the population being fully vaccinated against the disease, Prime Minister Sanna Marin (SDP) said.

"We will open society and keep it open," Marin told reporters on the steps of the House of Estates in Helsinki at about 5pm on Monday.

"We ensured that the [new strategy's] various measures would affect people's lives as little as possible economically, socially and [in terms of their] well-being," she said.

Marin said that the strategy was pointed more towards the opening of society, rather than its previous strategy of testing, tracking and quarantining.

The key to doing that is more vaccinations, according to the PM.

"When we reach 80 percent vaccine coverage, we can lift the restrictions," Marin said.

When asked for a more precise timetable, Marin said that the government did not discuss a specific schedule but noted that the coalition has aims to relax restrictions on restaurants and bars before the 80 percent proportion is reached.

"At least, that is the will of the government," she said.

Coronavirus-related restrictions on eateries and pubs remain in effect across many parts of the country. For example, in the Greater Helsinki area, establishments are mandated to shut down at 11pm.

As of Sunday, about 53 percent of Finland's population had received both doses of a Covid vaccine. At the same time, 72.4 percent had one of the two jabs.

Meeting in Helsinki

Marin and members of the government convened to discuss the dismantling of the Covid-19-related restrictions that have affected the country to varying degrees almost since the epidemic began in Finland.

Before the meeting began, Marin said that there was fairly broad consensus about lifting the restrictions among the five-party coalition's members.

"The goal is to open up society and vaccinations play a key role in that," she told reporters on Monday afternoon on the steps of the House of Estates.

Marin has previously said that restrictions could be lifted after 80-90 percent of the population has received both doses of a Covid vaccine. The PM told Yle Radio on Sunday that she estimated that proportion would be reached in October.

The following day she clarified her earlier statements.

"Perhaps the exact expression would be at least 80 percent, but of course we are aiming much higher [than that]. The starting point is based on the premise that when restrictions are lifted they will be lifted in all respects," she said.

Marin added that once vaccination coverage was adequate that the various rules and recommendations on the use of protective face masks would also be eliminated.

Questions about testing, tracing and passports

Finland's current strategy in combating the spread of new Covid cases involves testing for the disease, tracking infection chains and stopping them by quarantining people potentially exposed to the virus.

Marin said that the health care system's coronavirus tracking efforts have taken a toll on health care services' staffing levels.

"Currently, dental and other health care services are not available in a timely manner because resources are being put towards tracking," she said, adding that the matter would be addressed later.

There is apparent disagreement between the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health and the Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) about the lowering of restrictions and related topics.

According to information obtained by Yle, the ministry and THL have differing opinions on how long restrictions should be in place and, for example, how long Finland plans to continue tracking infections.

On Monday, THL published information about settings where coronavirus infections commonly tended to spread — as well as where such risks were likely to be lower.

The riskiest places included bars, nightclubs and large festivals, while the institute said infection risks were lower at libraries, the cinema, public transport and school classrooms.

The government is planning to abandon the three-phase hierarchy of baseline, acceleration and spreading phase of the epidemic situation by region, a system it adopted in September 2020.

Instead, health authorities will try to keep coronavirus outbreaks in check on a more local basis, as well as start to use a so-called Covid passport.

Such a document is a certificate stating whether the passport holder has been vaccinated, recently recovered from the illness, or has had a recent negative test result.

PM Marin said on Sunday that the government intends to present its pandemic passport plans to Parliament in the middle of this month, adding that she expected they would receive quick approval.