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Constitutional Committee calls for changes to govt's restaurant restriction plans

One of the committee's chief concerns was that the five-month restrictions were too long to be considered temporary.

Ravintola Mount Everestin tyhjä terassi Helsingissä.
The empty terrace of Helsinki's Mount Everest restaurant on Monday. Image: Markku Ulander / Lehtikuva

On Monday the Finnish Parliament’s Constitutional Law Committee said that the government's proposed restrictions on restaurants still need adjustment, just one week before eateries were scheduled to reopen.

With the exception of takeout service, Finland ordered restaurants to be closed on 4 April in an effort to curb the spread of coronavirus.

In its plan to re-open the country's restaurant industry, the government laid out that establishments around the country will only be able to serve half the number of customers they normally do, as well as cut off alcohol sales at 10pm, among other measures.

The committee said the government's planned restrictions need to be added to the Communicable Diseases Act as temporary articles rather than as laws. Some legal scholars have criticised the restaurant restriction plans because, constitutionally, such restrictions need to be written into law.

The committee also said the timetable for considering the legal ramifications of the restriction plans were constitutionally problematic. The new guidelines were slated to head to parliament as early as Monday, but discussion of the topic was pushed forward to Tuesday, as the Social Affairs and Health Committee finishes writing up the new, temporary, rules.

Committee: Restrictions considerably long

One of the most significant problems with the restrictions, according to the committee, is their duration, as they are to go into effect on 1 June and expire on 31 October - significantly longer than the 1.5-month period of emergency restrictions the government initially put in place in mid-March in order to fight the spread of the epidemic.

The committee said the current restriction scheme is not in line with Article 23 of the Constitution, as it is not temporary, according to the letter of the law.

The current plan is that the restrictions will be made official by making an amendment to the Communicable Diseases Act, and by government decree. The government has said its opinion is that Article 23 - under exceptional circumstances - provides for such temporary deviations of constitutional rights by government decree.

The committee also noted that the wording of the legislation needs to be adjusted to more precisely clarify the obligations which restaurant operators will be required to meet.

Commerce Committee also calls for changes

Parliament's Commerce Committee also issued a statement on the restaurant restrictions proposal on Monday, calling on the government to loosen them on a regional basis rather than across-the-board.

The current plan, set to go into effect next week, will affect eateries and cafes the same across all regions of the country, regardless of regional coronavirus infection rates.

The commerce committee also said that, instead of banning self-service buffets outright, restaurant operators could be given the chance to self-monitor such arrangements - deciding for themselves how smorgasbord-style meals could be offered to customers using safe, "minimum distance" guidelines.

The committee said that rather than halving the number of customers establishments can serve, there should be minimum table distance guidelines put in place, instead.

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