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Festivals gear up for August as top doc raises doubts over rush to rescind ban on big events

Finland is to allow larger events from 1 August.

JVG:n Jare ja VilleGalle keikalla.
JVG have a big weekend ahead of them with appearances at Sunfest and Aura Fest. Image: Oskari Joutsen / YleX

The first festival of the Finnish summer is Sunfest, which takes place in the south-western town of Naantali on Friday and Saturday and is expected to draw thousands of people -- even though one top doctor says that maybe large events should still be banned.

On Saturday and Sunday, Aura Fest will take place in nearby Turku. Both events are expected to draw several thousand people, and they have been arranged with the permission of the Regional State Administrative Agency as required under the relaxing of coronavirus restrictions.

In August events for more than 500 people are permitted once again, so many other festivals are also being organised. Simerock in Rovaniemi and Blockfest in Tampere, though, have announced that they can't go ahead this year as they would not be able to meet the requirement for seating capacity in areas licensed to sell alcohol.

'Desicrew' patrols

Sunfest, though, has jumped through all the hoops and has agreed with officials how it will ensure attendees' safety.

"Physical distancing, possible separation, entry and exit points and toilets are planned so that there won't be congestion," said organiser Marko Savolainen. "We will also have 'desicrew' patrols who will fan out disinfecting people's hands and offering directions. We've had to do a lot of work to organise a safe festival."

In a normal summer Naantali's kirkkopuisto park holds around 6,000 people. Sunfest takes place at the turn of the month, so on Friday — the last day in July — restrictions are tighter and there will be fewer than 3,000 people on-site.

Saturday is in August, so the numbers can rise to around 4,000.

The big attraction at Sunfest is the range of top Finnish artists, including JVG, Vesala, Lauri Tähkä and Kaija Koo.

"Both days will probably be sold out," says Savolainen.

The authorities have given recommendations on physical distancing and hygiene, but their realisation is the responsibility of organisers and the crowd itself.

Sunfest organisers are not worried that their event might end up a coronavirus hotspot.

"In Turku the boat-bars on the river are full, and every bar's terrace is full of people, and there hasn't even been additional security," said Savolainen. "If corona has not started to spread there, then it won't spread from our event either. We've really taken care to prepare for these things."

HUS warns of infection dangers

Some doctors have said the government has been too hasty in loosening restrictions. Rescinding the 500 limit on large events has drawn particular criticism.

Story continues after photo

Lasse Lehtonen Diagnostiikkajohtaja Hus
Lasse Lehtonen is concerned about the potential of large events to spread coronavirus. Image: Mohamed El Bouari / Yle

Helsinki University hospital district's head of diagnostics, Lasse Lehtonen, points out that the European Commission recommends that restrictions are only removed when infection rates have been falling for two weeks.

"Now the situation in Finland is the opposite, as infection rates have started to rise again and now we're rescinding restrictions," said Lehtonen.

According to Lehtonen the government believed at Midsummer when these decisions were made that the situation would remain good, but the latest developments have not been considered.

"In my opinion we need to correct that a little," said Lehtonen. "We made decisions to remove restrictions at quite an early stage. If and when the epidemic situation changes, then we should be able to re-examine those decisions in the light of the latest infection numbers."

Smaller events have been permitted outside for some time. From the start of August, bigger events will be allowed indoors.

"There are lots of examples from all over the world where coronavirus has spread at big events, be they nightclubs or church services," said Lehtonen. "The latest information supports the idea that coronavirus is airborne."

"There is a clearly bigger risk at packed indoor events than events held outdoors," said Lehtonen. "As Finland's climate is what it is, and in the autumn it's more difficult to organise bigger events outdoors, then that also increases the risk of spreading infection."

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