Interior Minister Maria Ohisalo has said that Finland will only consider lifting travel restrictions with Sweden when the Swedish rate of coronavirus infections is in line with the rest of the countries in the Nordic region.
The minister spoke to the media after a video conference meeting on Friday with Interior Ministers from the other Nordic nations, during which the issue of cross-border travel restrictions was the main item on the agenda.
Ohisalo said there was broad agreement between the ministers that the free movement of people between the Nordic countries is an important value, and that every nation is ready to gradually ease restrictions as soon as the coronavirus situation in Sweden improves.
However, for the time being, Finland will not permit cross-border travel with Sweden until its rate of infection meets the guidelines set out by Finnish authorities earlier this week: a maximum of eight new coronavirus diagnoses per 100,000 people over a two-week period.
At present, the rate of infection in Sweden is well over 100 per 100,000, according to figures provided by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.
Ohisalo added that although Finland has taken a slightly stricter line than other countries, this was not questioned during the meeting.
"Of course, Europeans always try to make it easier to do things in the same way. But on these issues, each country ultimately makes its own decisions. The Finnish government has concluded that we should take small steps, and take more cautious steps than many other countries," Ohisalo said, adding that other factors will need to be taken into consideration when decisions on the lifting of travel restrictions are made.
"When making future border decisions, we will not only look at the infection rate of countries, but also at the trend: in which direction is the disease going in any country, whether it is going down or up," Ohisalo said.
Further restrictions under consideration for border regions
Ohisalo also said that the government is ready to consider whether stricter restrictions should be introduced in regions along the Swedish border, especially if local health authorities consider such an action to be necessary.
Earlier on Friday, chief physicians in western Finland appealed to people to avoid making unnecessary visits to Sweden, such as for shopping trips, until the situation improves.
During the last two weeks, new cases of coronavirus have been reported in the West Ostrobothnia Hospital District, which were traced back to people making shopping trips to Sweden.
"If the health authorities consider that the situation there is so bad, and we get similar messages from the Department of Health and Welfare and the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, then we will of course, as a government, consider whether further restrictions need to be introduced," Ohisalo said.