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Finland’s ‘safe tourism’ system could be in place by Christmas

Government is to announce steps aimed at ensuring safe tourism, even from countries with poor coronavirus situations.

Retkeilijöitä aurinkoisena pakkaspäivänä Pallas-Yllästunturin kansallispuistossa.
Hiking in Finnish Lapland's Pallas-Yllästunturi National Park in October Image: Aku Häyrynen / Lehtikuva

A law intended to facilitate the safe re-opening of Finland’s international tourism business might take effect just before Christmas, but no earlier.

This weekend, officials at the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health are working to finalise a bill that is to be sent out to various agencies and experts for a round of comment early next week.

According to the Finnish news agency STT, the aim is for Parliament to have time to approve the bill before its term ends on December 21 or 22, so that the law could come into force before Christmas. However, it says that even this timetable is considered ambitious.

Tourism bubbles?

The government is to announce next week what measures will be put in place to ensure health and safety in the tourism sector. It intends to enable tourism even from countries where the coronavirus situation is poor. In practice this would be done through testing procedures, but so far no details of the plan have been made public.

In early September, Prime Minister Sanna Marin (SDP) said the government intended to put in place a new type of healthy travel model as early as October. At that point, there were proposals for setting up rigorous testing and ‘bubbles’ or ‘tunnels’ to minimise contacts and the risk of infection between groups of tourists, staff and local residents, especially during northern Finland’s crucial winter season.

On Friday, the Lapland Chamber of Commerce expressed its frustration with the delays in an open letter to the government.

“We are aware of the worsening of the pandemic situation in the departure countries of Central Europe, and that affects the willingness to travel, but regardless of the current situation, Lapland’s tourist industry still requires rapid, clear and understandable decisions,” said Niina Pietikäinen, chair of the Chamber’s tourism committee, in the statement.

Exceptional border controls

Like other EU countries, Finland has been granted a waiver allowing the re-imposition of travel restrictions from the normally passport-free Schengen Area, but that temporary arrangement ends on 22 November.

Cabinet ministers are also expected to make an announcement next week about this temporary border control system. The most likely alternative is that border controls will extended until the law takes effect, the STT reports.

According to the prime minister’s office, the government’s decision-in-principle on tourism was completed some time ago, but it can only progress now that there is assurance that the legislation can also be finalised soon.

Details of the legislative proposal are still being fine-tuned, official sources tell STT, adding that drafting the text has been extremely challenging in judicial terms.

Originally the Ministry of Transport and Communications had the main responsibility for preparing the bill. However, the reins were handed over to the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health when restrictions on transport firms were removed from the legislative package.

Lowest infection rate in EU

Meanwhile on Friday the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said that Finland has by far the lowest coronavirus infection rate in the EU/EEA, with 51.9 cases per 100,000 residents over the past two weeks. Estonia has the second-lowest rate at 91.9.

Meanwhile Scandinavian neighbours Sweden and Norway have rates of 317.1 and 105.3 respectively. The only other countries with less than 200 are Latvia and Ireland. The highest rates are in Belgium and the Czech Republic, both over 1,500.

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