Skip to content

Finland mulls "emergency brake": Tighter restrictions, border tests, remote learning all on table

The key criteria for the introduction of the emergency brake have already been met, according to a Ministry of Social Affairs and Health official.

Applying the emergency brake could also lead to the lowering of the testing threshold. Image: Silja Viitala / Yle

There has been much discussion in Finland in recent weeks about the possible introduction of an "emergency brake" to stem the spread of coronavirus infections, in particular since the detection of the Omicron variant at the beginning of December.

The brake may be applied sooner rather than later, as Pasi Pohjola, Strategy Director of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, told tabloid Iltalehti that the key criteria have already been met.

"Yes, the key criteria have already been met, but at least for the next week we should monitor the impact of the stricter restrictive measures recently imposed in different regions," Pohjola told Iltalehti by email on Sunday, adding that the effects of the current measures should be clear by the end of this week.

Meanwhile a cross-ministerial group of civil servants is currently considering how existing restrictions could be further tightened or new measures introduced under the emergency brake to fight the spread of infections.

According to Yle's information, the emergency brake could apply to five main areas.

1) Further tightening of restrictions on public gatherings

In a statement released over the weekend, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health said that "low-risk activities" could also be targeted by restrictions on public gatherings.

In practice, this could mean limits on the number of people in staff canteens, cinemas, shopping malls or religious gatherings, which public health authority THL said it considers to be low-risk situations for the spreading of the virus.

The ministry added that if the coronavirus situation deteriorates even further, it would no longer be possible to circumvent the restrictions with a Covid passport, meaning the measures would also apply to fully-vaccinated people.

2) Primary schools may switch to remote learning

Finland's government has said continually throughout the pandemic that there is a high threshold for switching schoolchildren to remote learning, as the move could have a serious impact on kids' well-being.

However, applying the emergency brake would make it possible to introduce remote learning locally and regionally if it is considered by authorities to be a necessary and proportionate measure.

A remote learning mandate could apply to primary, lower secondary or high school students.

3) Tightening existing restrictions

The emergency brake could also see the tightening of currently existing restrictions, especially in regions where hospital and ICU capacity is under pressure.

On mainland Finland, there are five areas of special responsibility that form around a university hospital, and restrictions could be extended if authorities decide that capacity is being stretched.

The most acute situation with regard to intensive care capacity is currently at Oulu University Hospital, but nationwide there is still currently enough capacity.

4) Closer control of borders

According to Yle's sources, the cross-ministerial group has also looked at possible changes to Finland's border controls.

This could mean that the Covid passport alone would not be sufficient for a person to enter the country, but each incoming passenger would be required to provide evidence of two negative Covid test results as well.

This measure would especially be aimed at preventing the spread of the Omicron variant in Finland.

5) Other changes

The ministries are also considering a variety of other measures under the emergency brake, but their introduction, and extent, would be left to local and regional authorities.

One option, considered a "last resort", would be to declare a state of emergency — as Finland's government did in the spring — in order to allow the use of emergency powers legislation.