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Govt grapples with restaurant re-openings and support package

Eateries, bars and cafes might open next month, but there could be restrictions on things like alcohol sales and opening hours.

Mies syö lounasaikaan Friends & Burgers -ravintolassa Helsingissä.
File photo of man eating alone at a Helsinki hamburger restaurant. Image: Silja Viitala / Yle

On Wednesday, Finland's government is scheduled to negotiate the possibility of loosening restrictions on restaurants, bars and cafes which were ordered to be shut-down at the beginning of April until the end of May in an effort to stem the spread of coronavirus.

Last week, the government outlined the possibility of allowing restaurants to open their doors in June if conditions permitted. However, there could be heavy restrictions on the types of services available and the number of customers that can be served at any given time.

As government mulled possible restrictions, it was suggested that restaurants be limited to serving only half of their regular seat and table capacities, but it was revealed later that such a measure would be difficult as restaurant dining arrangements can vary greatly between one another.

According to information obtained by Yle, policymakers are also considering restrictions on opening hours of establishments, as well as limits on when alcohol can be served.

Booze, time limits

Measures such as shutting off alcohol sales at 9pm as well as the closure of restaurants at 10pm have reportedly been considered, as well.

The government is also considering whether the restaurant sector restrictions could be based on regional infection rates, with stricter measures in areas where coronavirus is spreading more severely.

MaRa, the Finnish Hospitality Association trade group has suggested that in lieu of severe restrictions, restaurants should be obliged themselves to take care of social distancing and other measures during the coronavirus situation.

However, Yle's government sources said that while such an arrangement is unlikely to be relied upon exclusively, self-policing by restaurateurs could play a significant role in the effort.

Relief subsidy disagreements

Meanwhile, last week the government pledged 120 million euros towards a subsidy package to help restaurants re-hire laid-off staff.

The proposal was adjusted and approved last Friday to be sent to parliament for a decision this week.

But some, including opposition parties like the National Coalition and Finns Party, the Chambers of Commerce as well as the industry group MaRa, continued to characterise the planned package as inadequate.

MaRa has said the support package should be tripled, while the chambers of commerce said it should at least be doubled.

During a plenary session on Tuesday, several opposition MPs also criticised the subsidy plans.

NCP MP Sinhue Wallinheimo said the current proposed package treated restaurants of different sizes unfairly and artificially.

The NCP also said subsidies should be raised to 300 million euros, and extend the support time frame to January or February - when more staff was working - well before the government's official restaurant shut-down orders were issued.

Meanwhile, Finns Party MP Jenna Simula said the government had failed to provide adequate subsidies to many entrepreneurs in the sector..

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