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Ministers join PM in call for easing Covid restrictions

It will be important to relax restrictions gradually, while monitoring the situation, according to the acting managing director of Helsinki and Uusimaa Hospital District.

On Wednesday, government ministers followed the PM's lead, who has said that current restrictions would be lifted more quickly than expected. Image: Antti Aimo-Koivisto / Lehtikuva

Government ministers have unanimously called for the easing of some coronavirus-related restrictions.

In a tweet on Tuesday, Prime Minister Sanna Marin (SDP) said she wanted the government to speed up the process of reintroducing low-risk sports and cultural events with the use of a Covid pass.

On Wednesday, government ministers followed the PM's lead, who has said that current restrictions would be lifted more quickly than expected.

Those calling for the easing of restrictions included education minister Li Andersson (Left), deputy chair of the Green party Iiris Suomela, environment minister Emma Kari (Green), science and culture minister Antti Kurvinen, justice minister Anna-Maja Henriksson (SPP), as well as economic affairs minister Mika Lintilä.

Lintilä told Yle that the epidemic situation's outlook was such that restrictions could be lifted.

"A situation in which some sectors, such as gyms would be relieved of restrictions while at the same time food restaurants would need to remain closed would be very difficult to understand. Of course, decisions need to be made regarding the disease situation, but according to current information and forecasts, the conditions for allowing the restrictions to continue are questionable," Lintila said.

The economic affairs minister said the restriction should be lifted if they are no longer needed and proportionate to the current situation. He proposed that restaurants that primarily serve food should be allowed to remain open until 11pm, with a final drinks call an hour earlier. Currently, restaurants are required to close at 6pm, with alcohol shut off at 5pm.

Lintilä said he was unsure of when the government would discuss the restriction plans, but said decisions need to be made quickly due to the time it takes to implement them. He added that when government members do discuss the matter, they should also consider reintroducing the use of Covid passes.

Cases in capital to decline

On Tuesday, Asko Järvinen, the infectious diseases chief physician at Helsinki and Uusimaa Hospital District (HUS), said the epidemic had reached its peak in the Helsinki metropolitan area and that the region's new Covid case numbers were expected to decrease during February.

On Wednesday, HUS' acting managing director, Markku Mäkijärvi, said the justification for easing restrictions was based on the situation that cases are starting to decline in the HUS region.

However, he acknowledged there are still a large number of people receiving treatment for Covid in area hospitals and that treatment of patients with non-urgent medical issues was still below normal level due to the situation.

"We now know that if a person becomes seriously ill from Covid and is hospitalised, it happens about one to two weeks after the date of infection. Now that the number of hospitalised Covid patients has started to decline, it can be indirectly concluded that the peak of new cases took place about two weeks ago," Mäkijärvi explained.

In terms of a timeline, the acting managing director said that restrictions should be relaxed slowly and gradually while monitoring their effects for a couple of weeks as they are dismantled, adding that removing the restrictions too quickly posed unnecessary risks.

HUS' infectious diseases chief physician Järvinen noted on Tuesday that new cases of coronavirus' Omicron variant have not yet reached their peak in other parts of the country.

"According to some international projections, Omicron's highest peak will be in around three to five weeks," he said, adding that while spread of the virus may decline in February, it could take longer than that elsewhere in Finland, depending on when the variant arrived in various regions.