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Government meets to ponder coronavirus exit strategy

Partial re-opening of libraries and museums as well as easing a ban on groups of 10 or more are on the agenda on Sunday.

Pääministeri Sanna Marin saapui Säätytalossa Helsingissä järjestettyihin hallituksen neuvotteluihin 3. toukokuuta.
Prime Minister Sanna Marin arriving at the House of Estates on Sunday morning for deliberations on how best to resume everyday activities. Image: Mikko Stig / Lehtikuva

Prime Minister Sanna Marin's cabinet assembled at 10am on Sunday morning to begin discussions on how best to begin a controlled re-opening of the country during the novel coronavirus epidemic.

The basis for the talks is a report from a working group led by Finance Ministry permanent secretary Martti Hetemäki, which was completed late on Saturday. The working group's commission was to prepare a plan to lead Finland out of the public health crisis.

According to information obtained by Yle, the government will discuss measures such as possibly re-opening libraries and museums, at least in part. Also likely to be on the agenda is the issue of lifting a restriction on gatherings of more than 10 people.

The majority of emergency measures introduced by the government in mid-March are set to expire on 13 May, unless they are extended. Meanwhile, restaurants will remain closed for dine-in business until 31 May, and large public events involving more than 500 people will not be allowed before August.

The agenda is long and it is uncertain whether or not individual decisions regarding specific restrictions will be made on Sunday.

The contents of Hetemäki's working group report are still not public, but it is clear that Finland will not dismantle all of the restrictions in place at once. The working group's brief was to deliver criteria to help evaluate how best to incrementally lift current restrictions.

PM Marin has said that the measures will be gradually eased to ensure that the coronavirus outbreak remains under control. According to Hetemäki, an epidemiological status report provided by the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) and the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health has played a crucial role in the working group's planning.

THL: Not too fast, not too slow

While the information used by the working group is not publicly available, a THL analysis referenced by the government last week stressed that restrictions should not be eased too quickly, but it also cautioned against moving too slowly to roll them back.

If they are abolished too quickly, the epidemic could surge again even more powerfully. On the other hand, if the virus spreads as slowly as it has been doing so far, the outbreak could peak again in autumn or early winter, the THL speculated.

The public health agency recommended a careful and incremental approach to rolling back emergency measures to allow officials at least three weeks to assess the impact of each phase.

Aggressively ramping up testing will also play a major role in recommendations to ease different kinds of restrictions. Last week the business lobby, the Confederation of Finnish Industries (EK), published an "Exit" report in which it stressed getting on top of the epidemic by testing and contact tracing.

The chair of the group that prepared the report, retail duopolist Kesko's director general Mikko Helander said that he hoped Sunday's government talks would lead to a clear plan of action that would be shared with the public.

"We believe that it is extremely important for the country's government leaders to lay down a concrete road map for how to begin re-opening society and the economy," he declared.

The government talks are expected to continue through the day and well into Sunday evening.

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