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Finland closes schools, declares state of emergency over coronavirus

Daycare centres are to stay open but parents were asked to keep their kids home if possible.

Katri Kulmuni ja Sanna Marin hallituksen infotilaisuudessa 16. maaliskuuta.
Finnish PM Sanna Marin (on right) and finance minister Katri Kulmuni. Image: Petteri Bülow / Yle

The Finnish government announced on Monday nationwide school closures in order to help prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Starting on Wednesday, schools will be shut until 13 April. Parents in jobs critical to the functioning of society who have children in grades 1-3 can send their children to specially-arranged care.

Prime Minister Sanna Marin announced the move at a press conference on Monday.

She said that daycare centres would remain open but that parents who can should keep their children at home.

Marin said that the government would bring emergency powers legislation before parliament on Tuesday. In a statement the government said that it had agreed with President Sauli Niinistö that emergency conditions prevailed in Finland because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Action plan

The government also published a 19-point list of emergency legislation that takes effect on 18 March after approval by parliament on Tuesday.

Authorities have set in motion preparations to close the country’s borders. Passenger traffic to Finland is to be suspended as soon as possible, with the exception of returning Finnish citizens and residents. Similarly, the government said that Finnish citizens and residents should not travel abroad and said that individuals who are out of the country should return immediately.

Freight and shipping is to continue normally during this period, according to the government. Finns and legal residents returning from abroad will face a mandatory two-week quarantine.

The country is also to ban gatherings of more than ten people and close museums, theatres, the national opera, libraries, mobile libraries, hobby facilities and swimming pools, youth clubs and other gathering points and recommended that third sector organisations and religious congregations do the same.

In response to a question from news outlet Demokratti about what 'unnecessary meetings in public places' means in practical terms, Marin said people will still be able to carry out essential errands but they shouldn’t hang around.

"You can be [in public], take care of your business, walk through the train station. But everything unnecessary should be stopped, also by private businesses. There would be no point in closing schools if students just gathered at other places," Marin said.

More testing, remote working

There were also a raft of measures affecting the public sector and healthcare providers, as the government prohibited visits to elderly care facilities for the time being.

Visits to hospitals and other health care facilities are to be restricted on a case-by-case basis for critically-ill relatives in a hospice or at maternity wards.

Public sector workers are permitted to telecommute as their jobs allow.

All non-emergency activities within the health care sector will be reduced, while coronavirus testing capacities will be raised across the country.

Financial support

At the same press conference, Finance Minister Katri Kulmuni announced a raft of measures to try and mitigate some of the economic damage.

"Traditionally the Finance Ministry is strict with the money, but we are living in an emergency situation," said Kulmuni. "This isn’t the fault of a single entrepreneur or worker."

The ministry will pump five billion euros into a support package for businesses, alongside support for municipalities and social and healthcare spending.

In addition to the state action, banks also said they would be ready to offer private customers repayment holidays, during which only interest would be paid on mortgages.

272 cases as of Monday

A handful of schools as well as universities and other institutions across the country had already closed down on-site operations at their own discretion, but Monday's announcement by the government was the first nationwide decision made on school closings.

The country’s Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) reported on Monday afternoon there were a total of 272 confirmed Covid-19 cases in Finland, the illness caused by a novel coronavirus infection.

However, the number of those diagnosed with coronavirus in the country may be 20-30 times higher than has so far been confirmed, according to the Director-General of the National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) Markku Tervahauta.

The government's statement announcing the changes can be read here.

Our coronavirus coverage is collated and updated at this page.

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