Minister on PM's night out, missed Covid exposure message: "It's not political"

Finance Minister Annika Saarikko said she was not the right person to judge whether or not Marin's behaviour was disappointing.

Finance Minister Annika Saarikko Image: Tiina Jutila / Yle

Prime Minister Sanna Marin (SDP) appears to have disregarded her own government's guidelines regarding suspected coronavirus exposure incidents.

The guidelines, which were updated less than two weeks ago, recommend that ministers avoid contact with others as soon as they become aware of having been exposed to an infected individual. They state that fully-vaccinated people are not normally ordered into quarantine in such cases, but are instructed to avoid contact with others on a voluntary basis.

Marin has been at the centre of a media storm after reports emerged that she had been clubbing with friends in Helsinki on Saturday night and missed two messages cautioning her against close contacts with others.

The Prime Minister had been in a meeting with Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto (Green) on Friday, a day before Haavisto tested positive for the virus on Saturday.

One of two complaints about the matter filed with the Chancellor of Justice relates to the fact that Marin did not have her official government phone with her in the nightclub, and therefore missed the SMS messages sent by the government's Chief of Security advising cabinet members to self-isolate if they had been in the meeting with Haavisto.

Saarikko: Not a political matter

A member of Marin's coalition government, Finance Minister Annika Saarikko (Cen), told reporters on Tuesday that she was not the right person to judge whether or not Marin's behaviour was disappointing.

Saarikko said that she received two messages about Haavisto's coronavirus infection on Saturday, after spending part of the day at the party's virtual regional election kickoff meeting.

"I contacted the security chief to make sure that I understood [the communication] correctly," she explained, saying that — following advice from the head of security — she put herself in voluntary quarantine and cancelled plans for the following day as well as Monday.

Saarikko said that she only has a single government phone to which all information arrives and that she always carries with her.

She was scheduled to travel to Brussels for an EU Finance Ministers' meeting on Monday. Instead, Secretary of State, Maria Kaisa Aula went in her place.

"In both messages sent to ministers on Saturday at 8pm and 10pm, a recommendation was made to avoid contacts for the time being," Saarikko explained.

Saarikko also said that the actions of individual ministers in the situation was not a matter of party politics, but at the discretion of each individual.

Opposition critical

Opposition members criticised Marin's actions over the weekend. MP Arja Juvonen (Finns) said Marin made a mistake going out for the night and leaving the phone at home, characterising the PM's actions as indifferent and careless.

Christian Democrats chair and MP Sari Essayah said she was disappointed in Marin's discretion, adding that extreme caution should be exercised amid an epidemic and an exposure incident is known.

Essayah said that Marin violated the ministry's policy, at least when she left her phone behind.

National Coalition Party MP Sari Sarkomaa said she would have liked the PM to have considered her actions more carefully, adding that she thinks it is important for people in positions of authority to strictly follow guidelines, but did not want to evaluate the matter further.

Meanwhile, reaction from Marin's own Social Democratic Party was supportive. The SDP's parliamentary group chair, Antti Lindtman, said "She has the full support of the group behind her."

Newspaper Iltalehti was the first to report about the rules versus the PM's actions.