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Finland pushes testing, eases travel restrictions to boost business

Visitors from Sweden, Iceland, Norway, Poland, Germany, Cyprus, Australia, Canada and Japan will soon not need to quarantine.

ohisalo lintilä harakka
From left, Minister of Economic Affairs Mika Lintilä, Interior Minister Maria Ohisalo and Minister of Transport and Communications Timo Harakka during government's press conference about the border control, travelling and coronavirus-related restrictions in Helsinki on Friday. Image: Antti Aimo-Koivisto / Lehtikuva

The Finnish government explained on Friday that plans to ease coronavirus-related restrictions on travel into the country will take effect from 19 September.

According to the new rules, visitors will be allowed from countries with fewer than 25 coronavirus infections per 100,000 inhabitants during the preceding two weeks. Currently the limit is eight per 100,000.

Starting on 19 September, Finland will not require travellers to quarantine if they arrive from Sweden, Iceland, Norway, Poland, Germany, Cyprus, Australia, Canada and Japan.

Travelers from countries exceeding the 25 per 100,000 limit will be required to take a coronavirus test when they arrive.

Interior Minister Maria Ohisalo (Green) said she was particularly pleased that it will become easier to travel between Finland and Sweden.

Is it safe?

An English-speaking reporter asked ministers during a Friday briefing why it was safe on public health grounds to lift the restrictions at a time when coronavirus case numbers in some European countries were rising.

"The government has a three-angled strategy. First we have to look at the Covid situation all the time and see how it evolves. Then we have to look at the social and economic aspects of the restrictions we've had, because they do influence society quite a lot," Ohisalo explained.

And we have to see the legislative frame[work on which we base] our decisions. Government has been looking at all of these angles. As we mentioned, as we're improving and increasing the amount of testing [of arrivals from high-risk countries] all the time, this is one of the reasons why it is not still not totally open to come to Finland," she added.

"We've had discussions about the risks and obviously there are risks. At the same time we also need to see that we might need to live in this kind of situation quite a long time," she continued.

Ohisalo said that Finland has nearly reached the limit imposed by Schengen rules which state that border controls between Schengen-area countries, as a general rule, should not exceed six months. Finland's six-month period ends on 18 September.

Finland will continue to apply country-specific entry rules from 19 September until 18 October. The government said it plans to roll out a new testing-based approach on 23 November, according to a statement from the Interior Ministry.

Ohisalo said Finnish authorities will carry out weekly assessments of the coronavirus situation in various countries.

Business hopes

Minister of Transport and Communications, Timo Harakka (SDP), said he hoped that the relaxation of restrictions will support businesses, the transportation sector, domestic tourism and national airline Finnair.

Economic Affairs Minister, Mika Lintilä (Cen), said the government wants to enable "as normal travel as possible during these times."

An Yle reporter asked Ohisalo how Finland planned to prevent cases from increasing when travel restrictions are eases for people arriving from Sweden, for example.

According to media reports, Sweden currently has 24 coronavirus infections per 100,000 inhabitants, a ratio quite close to Finland's limit of 25 cases per 100,000.

"If the situation gets worse, we will take action," Ohisalo said.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health's director of strategy, Liisa-Maria Voipio-Pulkki, said that Finland needs to constantly track the domestic coronavirus situation, so that the situation does not worsen.

On Thursday evening Ohisalo noted that Finland will maintain internal EU border controls until 22 November in order to complete implementation of its testing-based entry model and related legislative changes.

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