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Finland planning to require negative Covid status from arriving passengers

As summer approaches, the number of arriving passengers is expected to increase dramatically and the current system could become unfeasible.

Länsisataman terminaali 2
Passenger numbers at ports like Helsinki's West Terminal 2 are expected to grow this summer. File photo. Image: Otso Ritonummi / Yle

Work is underway at the Finnish Ministry of Social Affairs and Health on a law that would require foreign visitors to show proof of negative Covid-19 status in order to enter the country.

"We are currently investigating how such a law could be implemented," said the ministry's Permanent Secretary, Kirsi Varhila.

One option, she explained, would be that the test certificates would be handled in the traveller's country of departure, for example by airlines and shipping firms.

In order to be allowed to board a plane or ferry to Finland, foreign passengers would need to provide proof of a recent negative Covid test result, a vaccination passport or a certificate of having recovered from the illness.

Current practices difficult to expand

At the moment, arriving passengers do not need to have such documentation in advance, but border officials can require them to undergo a health check at ports and airports, which in practice usually means being tested for Covid.

But as summer approaches, the number of arriving passengers is expected to increase dramatically and the current system would become unfeasible, according to Taru Keronen, the CEO of ferry company Eckerö Line.

"It's not a model that would work as passenger numbers increase," she said, noting that border crossing health checks would not only require a significant increase in personnel but also a great deal of physical space in which to carry out the procedures.

"[Ferry] terminals do not have the same space as, for example, airports. It doesn't seem realistic at all," Keronen said, noting that Finnish ferry firms have independently required passengers to show proof of negative test results, a policy which is in line with recommendations by the Institute for Health and Welfare (THL).

Some passengers have been turned away at ports due to the issue, she said.

"Basically, this is also about whether we want to save the Finnish tourism industry. This is why we have taken action and also want to be part of the solution," Keronen said.

The ministry's Varhila said that Finland may take the same approach as in neighbouring Sweden, which requires — with some exceptions — foreign visitors to show proof of having received a negative test result within 48 hours of arriving in the country.

Ferry firms' role

"We will determine whether ferry companies and airlines could check the documentation. We need to ensure that the firms are able to check information related to passenger health," Varhila explained.

The Finnish Shipowners' Association's deputy CEO, Hans Ahlström, underscored that the negative test scheme would need to be monitored, but said he thinks transportation companies would be able to check Covid test certificates.

"It would be a matter of checking the documents, not entering passengers' health information into a database," he said.

At first, Ahlström said shipping companies would be able to handle the certificates of all passengers but would then need to conduct spot checks as the volume of travellers grows closer to normal levels.

The country's ferry companies have suggested that the results of quick Covid tests should be permitted for individuals visiting for a maximum of three days.

Ahlström said that ferry passengers were a vital part of the country's tourism sector, pointing out that before the Covid crisis, foreign ferry tourists regularly brought in more than 900 million euros to Finland a year.

"Every effort needs to be made to promote the gradual recovery of the business community, taking public health safety into account, of course," he said.

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