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Friday's papers: Travel restrictions, virus tracing, Thai berry pickers

Newspapers report that a large number of new coronavirus infections in the capital region can be traced to international travel.

Maskipäisiä matkustajia Helsinki-Vantaan lentoasemalla.
Health officials say many of the new infections being seen have come from international travel. Image: Lehtikuva

The Finnish government Thursday announced it will reintroduce restrictions on travellers returning from the Netherlands, Belgium and Andorra as of this coming Monday, 10 August due to rising coronavirus infection rates in those countries.

Finland's largest Swedish-language newspaper, Hufvudstadsbladet, reports that Interior Maria Ohisalo (Green) took to Twitter during the evening to give some explanation of why travel restrictions are needed, stressing the importance of two-week quarantines following travel to any high-risk country.

Ohisalo wrote that the virus situation in Finland is among the best in Europe. But, significant proportion of new coronavirus cases in Finland are linked to travel and therefore Finland continues to restrict entry.

“In addition to other permitted border crossing reasons, an established relationship is also considered a necessary reason for entry. At the internal border, other types of social relations are also sufficient,” Ohisalo tweeted.

“This virus can only be stopped unless we all cooperate and everyone's contribution plays a role. Therefore, it is important to be quarantined for two weeks when arriving home from a risk area. Teleworking is recommended, we keep our distance, we wash our hands, we stay at home if we are sick and we get tested if we feel any symptoms,” she continued.

Capital infections – younger than in the spring

Helsingin Sanomat looks at the most recent developments concerning the spread of the coronavirus in the capital region.

Timo Lukkarinen, the director of healthcare centre services in Helsinki told the paper that the sources of infection in 75 percent of cases in the capital over the past two weeks are known or have been identified with a fair degree of certainty.

In the last two weeks, a total of 47 coronavirus infections have been diagnosed in Helsinki. On average, those infected are younger than in spring. The average age of those confirmed as infected in August has been 39, compared with 46.9 in April.

According to Lukkarinen, it is probable that many infections have been caused by travel abroad.

“Last week, a third of the 19 infections came from abroad. In general, infections from abroad have become more pronounced than before,” says Timo Lukkarinen.

Lukkarinen also told the paper that it is still too early to say whether the opening of nightclubs and public events have affected the number of infections.

“A lot of contacts have been made at concerts and entertainment events, as a result people have had to be quarantined. Time will tell how many of these get sick,” he explained.

The paper also reports that 20 new infections were confirmed in Espoo last week. All of the cases there have been reported in 18-54 year-olds. A quarter of those infections were traced to international travel.

On the Swedish border

According to the Helsinki tabloid Ilta-Sanomat, residents on both sides of the land border between Finland and Sweden have been taking travel restrictions in their stride.

Life in the two Finnish-Swedish border towns of Tornio-Haparanda is quieter than usual, it writes, but the everyday affairs of the locals continue almost normally.

By far the largest share of border traffic between Finland and Sweden passes through the Tornio border crossing point. According to Marko Saares, who heads the Finnish Border Guard Situation and Risk Analysis Centre, the number of travellers passing through Tornio between Finland and Sweden has remained fairly constant throughout the summer.

Around 90 percent of the those travellers are Finns and approximately 10 percent Swedes.

“The weekly average has been an estimated 120,000 crossings per week,” Saares told the paper.

According to Hannu Alatalo, an entrepreneur from Tornio interviewed by Ilta-Sanomat, the locals are not particularly worried about people who go back and forth across the border. It is considered an essential part of everyday life for the locals. Many consider Haparanda to be part of Tornio, and crossing the border is no big deal.

Most people seeking to cross the border are allowed in without any problem, but not all explanations of the reason to make the crossing are accepted. One example in the Ilta-Sanomat article is that of a Haparanda resident who wanted to enter Finland in order to purchase a gas canister from a shop in Tornio.

Päivi Koivupalo, a coordinator with a regional information body known as the North Calotte Cross-Border Advice Service explained that most Swedes know and understand that they cannot enter Finland without a good reason, but citizens of some other countries have not been as aware of the strict controls.

“During the summer, there have been quite a few Norwegians, for example, who have planned to come to Finland on holiday via Sweden. For them, the inspections and refusal of entry have then come as a little bigger surprise” she said.

Thai berry pickers arriving

Tampere's Aamulehti is among the newspapers reporting that hundreds of Thai citizens are expected to arrive on a charter flight this coming weekend, hired by Finnish companies to pick much of the season's berry crop.

The berry companies have been waiting all summer for information on whether Thai pickers would be able to leave for Finland at all. Only about two weeks ago, the Thai Ministry of Labour finally approved their departure to Finland and Sweden, and only under strict conditions.

Thailand requires the companies to adhere to guidelines to prevent the the spread of the coronavirus.

Tommy Gustafsson, CEO of Ostrobothnian Marja Bothnia Berries Oy, told Lännen Media group that all of the pickers arriving, 300 of whom his company will employ, underwent coronavirus testing on Wednesday or Thursday, and the results will be known before any are allowed to board their flight.

According to Olli Sorainen of Finland's Ministry of Employment and the Economy, Thailand has not imposed any conditions on the Finnish state, but specifically on berry companies. He added that his ministry has no precise information on what the companies are ultimately committed to regarding the Thai authorities.

Gustafsson stated that the pickers will be housed in rooms with a maximum of four occupants, or larger rooms are divided into sections. The aim is to emphasize hygiene and distancing as much as possible.

“The only requirement is that a coronavirus test must be performed when they are leaving. That's something for the autumn,” said Gustafsson.

According to the report in Aamulehti, Finland's quota for Thai berry pickers is a total of 3,000.

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