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Friday's papers: Post-corona populist boost, €5.4m for kids' fruit and veg, virus didn't affect Helsinki schools

Among other news, the press pondered whether a post-coronavirus Finland will see an increase in populism.

Hedelmäosasto ruokakaupassa.
The European Union has granted about 5.4 million euros to Finland in order to serve schoolchildren more fruits, vegetables and dairy products. Image: Henrietta Hassinen / Yle

Tabloid paper Ilta-Sanomat examined the possibility that support levels and influence of populist parties could see a boost once the coronavirus crisis is over and the country tries to rebuild its heavily-burdened economy.

The head of research at polling firm Taloustutkimus, Juho Rahkonen, told the paper there's a good chance voters will become more insular as it comes time to repay coronavirus-caused debt, likely causing the populist Finns Party to see an increase in support.

The evidence he pointed to were empathy surveys that showed Finns had indeed turned more inward during the coronavirus crisis, noting that the biggest change was seen among Greens supporters. In February, 94 percent of Greens supporters said Finland should help children in foreign countries if they are poor or unable to go to school.

However, a few months later in April - the peak of the coronavirus crisis in Finland so far - just 81 percent of Greens said they agreed with that sentiment.

Rahkonen said he thinks the development could be a boon for populism in the country, noting that even slight changes in values could mean tens of thousands of votes. Rahkonen noted that the Finns Party saw a boost in popularity following the 2008 financial crisis, saying that populism is driven by economic insecurity and people's fears of losing their jobs.

Opposition united on state finances

Once the current crisis is over, it won't just be about paying back loans he said, there will also be tax hikes and cuts to services, a situation already acknowledged by the current government.

"The Finns Party will be strong in the next parliamentary elections, because they can promise that taxes on motorists or income will not be increased," Rahkonen explained.

He described a divide over basic values in the country - those who want to help the rest of the world and others who are more concerned about the situation at home. The Greens are on one end of the spectrum, he explained, and the Finns Party are at the other.

But according to the surveys taken before and during the crisis, the values of the Finns Party did not change - rather the Greens' did.

Rahkonen said the surveys showed that the Finns Party and the centre-right National Coalition Party - both currently in the opposition - agree regarding state finances, despite considerable differences in the values of their supporters.

Earlier this week the two parties' chairs criticised the government for trying to make permanent spending hikes under the guise of coronavirus crisis funding.

Helsinki school reopenings didn't spread virus

The opening of schools in the capital did not increase the spread of coronavirus infections, according to city and school officials, news outlet Helsingin Uutiset reported Friday.

Helsinki, along with the rest of the country, reopened schools in mid-May, a little more than two weeks before summer break. The city belongs to the Uusimaa region, the country's most populous and hardest-hit by the epidemic. Some parents voiced concern over the return to school.

Following the opening, coronavirus infections were confirmed in nine pupils and two staff members. Across the city's primary schools a total of 144 pupils and 23 staff had been exposed to infected individuals, according to the outlet.

The majority of those exposed have already completed their required 14-day quarantines, but the situation will continue to be monitored over the next week.

The city's executive director of education, Liisa Pohjolainen, said schools practiced good hygiene and social distancing measures.

"The school staff did an excellent job arranging classroom teaching so that close contact between students was as minimal as possible," Pohjolainen told the paper.

Nearly 54,000 children attend the city's primary schools.

EU millions for more produce and dairy

In an effort to increase demand for locally-produced agricultural products, the European Union has granted about 5.4 million euros to Finland in order to serve schoolchildren more fruit, vegetables and dairy products, according to an article in Swedish-language daily Hufvudstadsbladet.

Under the programme, pupils and students across the country are to receive fruits and veg as well as dairy products during the 2020-2021 academic year.

An expanded list of the specific kinds of produce eligible for the funds is expected by this autumn and support for purchasing dairy products will be expanded, according to the agriculture and forestry ministry, the paper reported.

Around 3.45 million euros will be earmarked for dairy products and the remainder, 1.4 million euros, will be spent on fruit and vegetables. The remainder of funds will be used on educating kids about agricultural production and healthy diets, according to the paper

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