Prime Minister Sanna Marin (SDP) has announced that the continuing rise in coronavirus infections is bringing the government closer to declaring a state of emergency, as it did in the spring, but Finland is not at that stage just yet.
Speaking at a Thursday morning press conference, Marin said that an increasing number of regions across the country are at risk of entering the community spreading phase of the virus, and called on people to adopt the "familiar measures" of social distancing and hand hygiene to curb the spread.
The PM also recommended that adults avoid close-contact leisure time activities.
"Now it’s time to step up," Marin said, adding that if the virus continues to spread, the Emergency Powers Act may be implemented.
"If the situation worsens and infections increase, and the only way to stop the spread is to restrict the movement of and encounters between people, it would then be possible to implement the Emergency Powers Act in order to safeguard healthcare capacity, or restrict the right of people to move within a certain area if it is necessary to combat a serious danger," Marin said.
The government discussed the coronavirus situation at a cabinet meeting on Wednesday evening and, according to sources, a legal assessment of the conditions for the use of the Emergency Powers Act were reviewed. Although the government is holding off for now, the law can be introduced quickly if necessary.
Kiuru: Eight regions in acceleration phase
Minister of Family Affairs and Social Services Krista Kiuru (SDP) said the number of infections has risen alarmingly in Finland in recent weeks, with the rate of cases up by 30 percent compared to earlier in the autumn.
The minister said that the regions of Uusimaa and Päijät-Häme are now in the spreading phase of the virus, but she has also been in discussions with eight other regions considered to be in the acceleration phase during the past week.
"We have given additional instructions to regions at risk of entering the spreading phase," Kiuru said, adding that the regional authorities have taken proactive measures.
The Ministry of Social Affairs and Health has also issued instructions to regional authorities and the population in the acceleration areas, such as the closure of public facilities including swimming pools and gyms, as well as limiting public events to a maximum of ten people.
These recommendations are valid until mid-December.
"We appeal to the public regarding private events, to keep events at a maximum of 10 people, such as Christmas parties," the ministry's Chief of Staff Kirsi Varhila said.
Varhila also recommended that shopping centres be partially closed, in order to allow safe access to shops, and called on operators to consider limiting access to certain high-risk, close-contact areas.
Uusimaa situation "serious"
Chief Medical Officer of the Helsinki University hospital district (HUS) Markku Mäkijärvi told the Thursday morning press conference that the situation in the Uusimaa region was "serious".
The number of people in hospital has steadily increased, Mäkijärvi said, and there are currently 83 patients being treated in hospital for the virus in the Uusimaa region. He added that the patients are of all ages, from 27 to 83 years of age.
Uusimaa is now in the spreading phase and tighter restrictions are set to be introduced, such as the banning of public events, a recommendation to cancel private events, and the closing of public facilities such as gyms.
High schools, vocational schools, polytechnics and universities are moving to remote learning.
"If we do not take these measures now and implement them, the risks are really great that the healthcare system will be overloaded in a few weeks and there will be really great difficulties in treating all patients," Mäkijärvi said.