Finland’s government has announced a temporary restriction on the opening hours of bars and restaurants, with bars in the Helsinki region expected to be forced to close at 11pm and stop serving alcohol at 10pm.
At a press conference on Tuesday night Krista Kiuru, the Minister of Family Affairs and Social Services said that the situation is serious, the virus is spreading in Finland and people need to maintain their vigilance.
She announced measures the government hopes will reduce transmission of Covid-19 in Finland. Under the new measures, establishments across the country must stop serving alcohol at 12am and clear the premises by 1am.
Bars and restaurants in regions judged to be in an 'acceleration stage' will have to stop serving alcohol at 10pm and restrict customer numbers to half their normal capacity.
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Kiuru said this is the 'new normal' for bars, restaurants and nightclubs.
The new rules are due to come into effect on 1 October and remain in place until 31 October. Businesses will have a week's transition time, with enforcement due to begin on 8 October.
Although THL Director of Health Security Mika Salminen said at the same press conference that the Helsinki region was already in an acceleration stage, and THL had announced as much on Tuesday, Kiuru refused to be drawn on the topic when pushed by journalists.
She said the government would decide on that matter on Thursday.
While the midnight closing rule covers the whole country, ministers emphasised that they want regions to respond to the situation in their own locality, with stricter restrictions needed in some parts of the country.
The situation is worse in the Uusimaa region than elsewhere, with fewer than one in five new coronavirus patients now able to trace the source of their infection.
Localised adjustments to the restrictions could be brought in by the Regional Administrative Agencies (Finnish acronym AVI).
Ministers also rejected a proposal to introduce reduced VAT rates for restaurants as a form of stimulus for the sector.
New measures in response to worsening situation
Earlier on Tuesday the national health agency THL announced that Uusimaa, the region around Helsinki, is now in the 'acceleration stage' of the pandemic.
That means that cases are increasing, and officials have raised the alert from the 'baseline' phase to the middle phase of the country's three-stage action plan and a wider range of policy measures are under active consideration to slow transmission.
Helsinki, Vantaa and Espoo advised residents they should use a face covering when visiting municipal premises, and Finland's President Sauli Niinistö cancelled the country's annual Independence Day Ball, which was scheduled to be held on 6 December.