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Cultural and sports events with spectators banned through February in southern Finland

All non-essential close contacts should be avoided due to the risk from new strains of the coronavirus, the agency said.

Helsingin Kaupunginteatteri, korona, maski, visiiri
Theatre-goer wearing a mask at a performance of the Little Mermaid at the Helsinki City Theatre last August. Image: Jussi Mankkinen / Yle

Restrictions on gatherings in the four regions of Southern Finland will continue through at least the end of February, the Regional State Administrative Agency (AVI) for Southern Finland said on Wednesday.

The agency is responsible for the regions of Kanta-Häme, Päijät-Häme, Uusimaa, Kymenlaakso and South Karelia. The area includes three of the country's four biggest cities: Helsinki, Espoo and Vantaa, all in Uusimaa, which has by far the highest Covid-19 infection rate. The AVI area stretches from the Hanko peninsula to the Russian border, and up to Hartola, some 200km north of Helsinki.

In South Karelia, public events of up to 20 people are allowed, while in the other three regions the maximum is 10 participants.

In the Päijät-Häme district, which includes the city of Lahti, events with more 10 people are banned through at least 15 February.

Indoor and outdoor events axed

The decision covers markets, concerts, theatrical performances and sports events with spectators, for instance. It includes both indoor and outdoor events.

AVI regulations do not extend to private events such as parties or family gatherings, or to normal service activities that take place on a continuous basis. Official meetings, including municipal councils and committees, are also not covered either, but the agency recommends that they be carried out remotely.

The agency strongly recommends that even smaller events be postponed unless they are absolutely necessary. If smaller gatherings are held, they must strictly observe distancing, mask and hygiene guidelines.

"The new virus mutation increases the risk of a rapid worsening of the epidemic situation. All close contacts with others that are not essential should be avoided in this situation," the agency said in a statement.

Infection rates in Northern Finland remain much lower than in the south. As a precaution, though, the Northern Finland AVI banned all events with more than 50 people in the Lapland healthcare district on Monday. The ban likewise extends through the end of February, covering the traditional 'ski vacation' period when families flock to the north during school holidays.

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