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Border residents: "We just have to live with" tighter restrictions

Residents along the Finnish-Swedish border are not happy about new restrictions, but generally back the move.

Border crossing at Tornio, January 2021
In Sweden's Norrbotten region, directly across the border, the rate of infection is about ten times higher than on the Finnish side. Everyone crossing the border from Sweden is encouraged to test for the coronavirus. Image: Yle/Linda Söderlund

Residents of Tornio in Finnish Lapland, on the border with Sweden, expect that new restrictions that came into force on Wednesday will make everyday life a little more difficult. At the same time, there is understanding that the government wants to reduce the chances of the further carriers of coronavirus variants entering the country.

On Wednesday, entry restrictions at Finland's borders were further tightened for a period of at least 30 days. Only essential traffic is being allowed across the nation's borders and anyone who comes across the border is encouraged to be tested for the coronavirus.

"Some people are a little angry, of course. The border has been open all the time and is now closed. But, we just have to live with it. They decided in Helsinki that the border is closed, and Covid is the reason, and we can do nothing about it," says Tornio resident Juhani Kantola.

Kantola travels across the border to Sweden about every other week for his job. On Tuesday, he double-checked with the Border Guard that it is enough that he has his Finnish passport with him to be allowed to return home on Wednesday.

"When I go to Haparanda [Tornio's twin city on the border] it's just to drive across the border and when I come back I just show my passport," he explains.

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Juhani Kantola in Tornio.
Juhani Kantola is taking the stricter entry restrictions calmly. He says he understands that Finland has to try to fight the coronavirus in every conceivable way. Image: Yle/Linda Söderlund

1,000 daily test capacity

At the border crossing point into Tornio, there are four blue barracks for coronavirus testing.

"We have calculated that a test takes three minutes and we have plenty of nurses doing the tests, so it goes quickly. We have to make this work," says the district nurse Sirpa Kesti.

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Sirpa Kesti is district nurse in Tornio
Sirpa Kesti has been working with coronavirus testing since August. She and her colleagues are prepared for some very stressful days over the next few weeks. Image: Yle/Linda Söderlund

Test results are available in under an hour and the testing station has the capacity to test up to a thousand people per day. Even so, Kesti still expects there may be a queue for the first day or so.

For those who commute across the border daily, a single test per week is enough.

"To begin with, the test station is open twelve hours a day, but if they say that we should be open 24 hours a day, then so be it," says Kesti.

Staying closer to home

The border between Finland and Sweden is usually almost invisible, but now a metal fence behind a local shopping centre marks the line between Sweden's Haparanda and Finland's Tornio.

Usually the border came be freely crossed at any point. Now, exit and entry are permitted only through an official border checkpoint.

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Sirkka-Liisa and Yrjö Nurkkala.
"When you approach 70, you probably have to be a little afraid of the coronavirus", says Yrjö Nurkkala. The metal fence seen here marks the border between Finland and Sweden. Image: Yle/Linda Söderlund

Sirkka-Liisa and Yrjö Nurkkala, a local retired couple walking through the centre of Tornio. told Yle that the new restrictions won't very much affect their daily lives.

"Before the coronavirus epidemic, we used to shop in Haparanda; the special offers there are different. And they have nice ski tracks there too, but we have not been there since last spring," says Sirkka-Liisa Nurkkala.

The couple see the restrictions rolled out on Wednesday as being much like the situation last spring.

"There was a time when the border guards did not allow Finns to cross the border, but then the Finns realised that they probably have the right to cross the border. Now it is up to everyone to decide what to do. We have decided not to go to Sweden," says Yrjö Nurkkala.

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