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Monday's papers: Restaurant closures, falling mask production, more bandwidth

Most morning papers continue to focus on issues tied to government measures to deal with the coronavirus epidemic.

alkoholijuomia ravintolassa
Restaurant closures are soon upcoming in most parts of the country. Image: Berislav Jurišić / Yle

Finland's largest circulation daily, Helsingin Sanomat reports on Monday morning that although a three-week closure of restaurants has been announced for the period of 8 March to 28 March, the bill empowering the government to order the shutdown has not actually been passed by parliament yet.

Legislation is, though, scheduled to come before the house today, Monday, and the paper writes that it is expected to enter into force as of Tuesday, 9 March.

Restaurants in regions designated as being in the acceleration or the community transmission phase of the epidemic are being ordered to close their doors. This, HS points out, means most of the country.

In regions in the baseline phase, restaurants can stay open. These areas are currently Central Ostrobothnia, Kainuu, North Savo and North Karelia.

In addition, in Central Finland the city of Jyväskylä is in the acceleration phase while other hospital districts in the region are at the base level. In North Karelia, the cities of Joensuu, Liperi and Kontiolahti are in the acceleration phase with the rest of the hospital district at the basic level. This being the case, the paper writes that it is still unclear whether the restaurant ban applies to the entire hospital district in Central Finland, for example, or to Jyväskylä alone.

Restaurant carryout sales will continue to be permitted. Work-site staff restaurants and other restaurants that are not open to the general public can continue normal operations.

Brink of bankruptcy

The hospitality sector association MaRa says that restaurants are now facing much harder times than when they were subject to shutdowns a year ago, and many are now on the brink of bankruptcy.

In an interview with the Finnish news agency STT, published in the morning edition of Kuopio's Savon Sanomat, MaRa CEO Timo Lappi says that many restaurants no longer have a financial buffer – their reserves have been used up and they have already taken all the loans that they can.

Karoliina Katila, an expert representing the Federation of Finnish Enterprises also points out that the situation is now very different from last spring.

"There have been restrictions in place for a very long time. The longer they are in in force, the more difficult the situation will get," she says, adding that a lack of clarity in communicating decisions by the authorities has also made it "tremendously difficult" for business to anticipate and plan for adjusting to constraints on their operations.

"The week now starting will mean a total suspension of business for a great many," Katila says.

Falling mask production

The tabloid Iltalehti reports that sales of domestically-produced face masks have been falling and at least two companies interviewed by the paper stated that they will likely have to cut back production and reduce staff in the near future.

The CEO of one company, Johannes Nevanlinna of Finntack in Hollola reports that all his employees are currently on either minimum hours or laid off.

"We're knocking on doors both here and abroad so that we can make use of our production capacity. If that doesn't work, then the machines will be put up for sale," Nevanlinna tells Iltalehti.

The situation is similar at the Hanko-based Filterpak where CEO Peter Nordlund says consumer sales have plummeted, and orders are not coming in from the public sector either.

The situation is rather counter-intuitive, as there should be more demand than ever with face masks extensively used in healthcare and by most private citizens.

The reason is simple, write the paper: price. Masks imported from China cost about one-fifth of the price of Finnish-made masks.

At present about 20 percent of the funds spent on protective equipment by the National Emergency Supply Agency goes into domestically manufactured products.

Broader broadband

The farmers' union daily Maaseudun Tulevaisuus reports that the European Commission wants to see a significant upgrade to the speed of fixed broadband projects supported by EU funds.

According to MT, the Commission will be proposing a minimum download and upload speed of 200 megabits per second as a condition for providing EU financing for fixed connections. Up until now, the requirement has been download capacity of 100 megabits.

The minimum for public facilities, such as schools or hospitals will be 1,000 megabits per second, the paper writes.

In addition, no supports will be granted for constructing 5G network in areas with a functioning 4G network. As a result, there will be no areas in Finland eligible for EU funding of 5G networks at all.

The new conditions are important, says the paper, since the Finnish government plans to use a slice of the 2.7 billion euro it is getting from the EU stimulus package to upgrade broadband infrastructure.

Maaseudun Tulevaisuus points out to its readers that this is likely to impact rural telecommunications networks. As it notes, public funds are directed into building networks that are not commercially viable. In practice, these areas are largely rural.

Snow, cold, snow

Looking at the week ahead, Ilta-Sanomat states in simple terms that ,"There will be a lot of snow, then there will be unusually hard frosts - and then more snow".

The paper carries a forecast for 5cm to 10cm of fresh snowfall in southern and western parts of the country over the next few days.

As skies begin to clear on late Tuesday or early Wednesday temperatures will start to fall to -15C to -20C, and perhaps to as low as -30C in North Karelia.

Such severely cold temperatures are rare for the second week of March, usually seen only once a decade or even less frequently.

Towards the end of the week, the cold snap will ease and once again the forecast includes the possibility of a fresh 5cm to 10cm of snow in some areas, as well sleet or even rain, especially in the southern part of the country.

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