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Helsinki won't close schools, ramps up distance learning, limits contact with risk groups

Mayor Jan Vapaavuori said there is no evidence that closing schools significantly slows the spread of the virus.

Pormestari Jan Vapaavuori kuvattuna maisemataulun edessä.
Helsinki mayor Jan Vapaavuori. Image: Esa Syväkuru / Yle

A special Helsinki city task force announced increased distance learning but stopped short of closing schools in the capital. The measure is part of a package of new guidelines aimed at addressing the rising number of novel coronavirus cases in Finland.

Mayor Jan Vapaavouri outlined the action plan during a press conference on Sunday, saying that the city intended to maintain its position that schools and daycare centres will not close.

However he said that city officials will increase distance learning at upper comprehensive and upper secondary school level. School authorities will also enforce hand washing more effectively at schools and daycares.

Additionally special arrangements might also be introduced for children at risk of complications from the virus at schools and daycares, the mayor said.

Moreover, schools will not organise any mass participation events and will stagger the schedule for lunch and break periods, while gym classes will largely take place outdoors.

"Friday's decision [to keep schools open] received lots of praise, but also a great deal of criticism. There is currently no evidence that keeping schools and daycares slows down the spread of the epidemic, at lest significantly," Vapaavuori said.

On Sunday, the small municipality of Huittinen in southwest Finland announced that it was closing all schools for two weeks. It said the measure has proven to be effective in slowing and preventing the spread of the virus.

No large events, limited contact with risk groups

Helsinki also handed down fresh guidelines to municipal workers. Employees will now be able to call in sick for up to 10 days without a doctor's certificate.

Workers were also advised that vacation might be postponed. Additionally, the city has suspended all training events, meetings or other functions involving more than 20 people.

Customer service workers and the public are being encouraged to do business electronically or by phone rather than face to face.

People are also being advised to limit visits to risk groups residing at senior homes and in hospitals. The city is also calling on people to avoid visits to facilities for disabled persons.

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