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Friday's papers: Finland to relax travel restrictions, implement test-based scheme

Most morning papers report on a government decision to further ease restrictions on travel from abroad into Finland.

Matkustajia Helsinki-Vantaan lentokentällä perjantai-iltana 7. elokuuta 2020.
Travel to Finland will soon be possible from more countries, but mandatory coronavirus testing is likely to be introduced. Image: Arttu Timonen / Yle

The newsstand tabloid Ilta-Sanomat is among the papers reporting that the Finnish government decided to ease restrictions on travel into the country as of 19 September.

As of that date travel will open up from countries with fewer than 25 coronavirus infections per 100,000 inhabitants during the preceding two weeks. At present the limit is 8 per 100,000.

Minister of the Interior Maria Ohisalo (Green) told the press that Finland will however continue internal EU border controls until 22 November in order to complete implementation of its testing-based entry model and related legislative changes.

In practice, this means that from Saturday next week, it will be possible to travel to Finland from, for example, Sweden, Norway and Germany.

lta-Sanomat lists the EU and EEA countries that currently fall within the 25 cases per 100,000 as being Germany (21), Sweden (24), Poland (21.4) Bulgaria (24.1), Norway (22), Slovakia (24.8), Lithuania (15.6), Estonia (21.8), Iceland (19.9), Cyprus (2.8), Latvia (4.3) and Liechtenstein (10.4). In Finland the rate now stands at 7.8 per 100,000 inhabitants.

Minister of Transport Timo Harakka (SDP) said that in the future travelers from countries exceeding the 25 per 100,000 limit will be required to take a coronavirus test when they arrive in Finland. He added that a law enabling mandatory testing is scheduled to enter into force in October.

Tourism sector optimistic

News of the government's decision to ease travel restrictions was met with cautious optimism by tourism sector operators in Finnish Lapland, according to the daily Iltalehti.

The CEO of the Levi ski resort, Jouni Palosaari, called it “a step in the right direction” that will free holidaymakers to come Sweden and Norway, and Germany, which he noted are important tourist groups in Lapland.

Palosaari went on to note, however, that the UK is not on the list of approved countries as of yet.

Iltalehti quotes statistics showing that 39,500 Britons visited Levi in December last year and almost 10,000 in January this year.

"It is good that the government took a stand and began to ease tourism. However, the situation here is still difficult. This decision has not yet solved the problems of the Christmas period," Palosaari told Iltalehti.

Clampdown on foreign online gambling

Tampere's Aaumuleti is among the papers reporting that Finland's Interior Ministry is preparing legislation to block payment transactions to foreign gaming companies, in effect preventing gambling on websites based outside of the country.

The move is in part intended to support Veikkaus, the government-owned betting agency which holds a monopoly in the country. Veikkaus revenues have been severely hit by coronavirus restrictions which for months forced the closure of slot machines. This has caused a reported 300 million euro shortfall in grants provided by Veikkaus to support various kinds of non-profit associations.

According to ministry officials, the most effective way to to prevent gambling on foreign gaming sites is to block international money transfers both to and from such sites.

Veikkaus declined to comment on how much it expects its market share to increase if the payment block is implemented.

Criminals shift focus

The farmer union's daily Maaseudun Tulevaisuus reports that there has been a shift in criminal activity in Finland since the start of the coronavirus epidemic last spring.

Looking at police statistics, the paper notes a sharp rise in burglaries at holiday homes and bicycle thefts, as well as in the number of people caught driving under the influence of drugs.

This year, about 900 burglaries involving holiday homes have been reported to the police, which is almost 250 more than in the corresponding period of last year. Home burglaries have also increased slightly.

Minor assaults have decreased while aggravated assaults and homicides increased. The number of sexual offenses and crimes against children reported to the police has fallen, as have cases of domestic violence.

Chief Inspector Juha Laaksonen from the National Board of Police told the paper that especially in the first months of the epidemic, there was also a major upswing in both online and in-person scams, often by criminals posing as health officials.

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