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Government in talks on extending or easing coronavirus restrictions

Pressure is growing for the government to ease restrictions, but warnings of the risks involved continue.

Sanna Marin saapuu hallituksen neuvotteluihin Säätytalolle.
Prime Minister Sanna Marin arriving for Wednesday's government discussions. Image: Vesa Moilanen / Lehtikuva

Cabinet ministers of Sanna Marin's five-party coalition government began meeting on Wednesday morning to determine their next steps in efforts to deal with the novel coronavirus epidemic.

Pressure has been growing on the government to ease restrictions, largely because of their economic impact and potential for creating major social problems.

The government declared a state of emergency and imposed a series of restrictions on everyday life over five weeks ago, most of which are set to expire in mid-May.

According to PM Marin, the government will carry out a thorough review of the situation and consider ways to emerge from the crisis in a controlled manner.

Decisions expected on schools, mass events

Marin said that it may be possible for the government to make a decision on Wednesday regarding mass summer events.

"We will discuss public events and I hope also make decisions, but I can't promise anything yet," she explained.

Science and Culture Minister Hanna Kosonen said that she was expecting decisions on summer public events, noting that organisers need to know as soon as possible what the situation will be.

Education Minister Li Andersson stated that she expects the government to discuss the situation regarding schools as part of any lifting of restrictions. She expressed the hope that any decision about possibly reopening schools will be made no later than during this month.

Help for businesses

The government gathering will be reviewing a report on plans for compensation to businesses in the hospitality and restaurant sector, and a further clarification of the terms for government support payments to companies. Final decisions on these items are unlikely on Wednesday.

The prime minister said that the plan to help the hospitality and restaurant sector will require further negotiations within the cabinet.

"We will have a broad discussion today about company supports as a whole. It is certain that there are reasons to revise the criteria for providing supports, as [Minister of Economic Affairs] Lintilä has pointed out," PM Marin told the media.

According to the prime minister, the share of corporate supports targeting fixed expenses such as wages and rents has been small and a solution to that issue will be sought.

Mixed pressures

A number of countries have announced a gradual lifting of restrictions, including Denmark and nearby Norway. However, it is being pointed out that in many parts of Europe, the spread of the novel coronavirus reached epidemic proportions before it did in Finland.

Advocates for easing restrictions are now pointing to figures showing that the rate of new infections has fallen below earlier projections and to the fact that healthcare service capacity has so far been sufficient to deal with Covid-19.

There have also been some calls for even more stringent measures, and some experts have warned of a resurgence of the epidemic if restrictions are relaxed at this time.

On Monday, Kirsi Varhila, the senior official at the Ministry for Social Affairs and Health, let it be understood that current restrictions could be eased and targeted more narrowly, if testing and tracing capabilities were expanded to allow a switch to a suppression strategy.

This item was updated 22.4.2020 at 11:37 to include comments by PM Sanna Marin concerning government supports for businesses.

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