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Finland announces March shutdown

The move will mean the closure of bars and restaurants for three weeks next month.

Sanna Marin
Prime Minister Sanna Marin announced a raft of new measures to fight the spreading coronavirus pandemic on Thursday. Image: Antti Aimo-Koivisto / Lehtikuva

The government has announced closures of bars and restaurants and expanded remote learning, among other measures intended to curb the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

At a press conference on Thursday morning, Prime Minister Sanna Marin (SDP) announced that parts of the country currently in the "spreading" stage of the pandemic would move to tier two of the government's three-tier Covid-19 prevention plan.

Hospital districts in the "acceleration" stage were also recommended to impose tier two restrictions, she said.

Marin said that daycare and early years education providers would remain open, as would schools up to grade six. Grades 7-9 and Upper Secondary school pupils, along with those aged over 16 in vocational education, will switch to remote learning.

Indoor hobbies will be suspended for adults and children aged over 12.

Affected areas would also see restrictions on gatherings of more than six people.

The latest information from the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) suggests that the stricter measures will apply immediately in Helsinki and Uusimaa, Southwest Finland, Satakunta, Kanta-Häme, Vaasa, Åland and Lapland.

Hospital districts in the acceleration stage recommended to impose restrictions are East Savo, South Karelia, Pirkanmaa, Central Finland, Päijät-Häme, Länsi-Pohja, North Ostrobothnia, South Ostrobothnia and Kymenlaakso.

March shutdown

The prime minster said the state of the pandemic in Finland had worsened since Christmas, due in part to the spread of the highly-infectious British variant of the virus.

Around three-quarters of confirmed cases in Finland are now thought to be the British strain of coronavirus.

"The tools previously available to us are no longer enough to control the situation," Marin said.

Citing the seriousness of the situation, the prime minister also announced a three-week closure of pubs, bars and restaurants to take place from 8-28 March.

Legislation on the closures and compensation due to businesses would be presented to parliament next week, Marin said.

Interior Minister Maria Ohisalo (Green) defended the government's decision, saying "It is the government's job to ensure that we provide support both to people and to various sectors to overcome the crisis. With tight restrictions, we can speed up the return to a more normal daily life."

No state of emergency yet

In a statement, the government said it had discussed the option of declaring a state of emergency with President Sauli Niinistö, and was "prepared to decide on the transition to emergency conditions next week."

Businesses serving food and drinks would be closed during the period of emergency conditions from 8-28 March, although take away sales would still be allowed, the government said.

The proposed closure will not apply to areas where the epidemic is at the base level.

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