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Party people in 'cat and mouse' game with police, authorities

Finnish authorities have been deluged by reports of large events skirting restrictions on public gatherings.

Nuoria miehiä oluella baarissa.
Some bars and restaurants offer late-night opening hours, but serve only non-alcoholic beverages. Image: Mikko Stig / Lehtikuva

Police and regional administrative authorities have found themselves increasingly busy trying to keep up with a part of the population that wants to party – despite the risks right now of large gatherings, and the regulations in place to reduce those risks.

First came the "night cafes", then "morning coffee bashes" at nightclubs, and supposedly private parties drawing hundreds of people.

Regional authorities have received a flood of reports of large private parties and public events being planned and held in defiance of public health measures.

Some are being organised on social media, bringing dozens or hundreds of people together to socialise without masks or safe distancing. Almost invariably party announcements carry the notice "OPM" - the Finnish-language equivalent of BYOB, "bring your own bottle".

Then there are bars and restaurants skirting the regulation by closing down alcohol sales, but keeping their dance floors open.

Caffeine and music

One example in Helsinki is an event that has been announced for Independence Day, 6 December, which starts at five in the morning offering coffee service to beat of the music. Being held in a nightclub in the capital, the event is being heavily promoted on Facebook.

According to Riku-Matti Lehikoinen, who heads the alcohol sales inspection unit of the Regional State Administrative Agency for Southern Finland, these events raise questions.

"The normal operation of restaurants is allowed within the space restrictions, but there is a limit of 10 people at public events. However, if there is an Independence Day party where DJs perform, it may be an audience event," Lehikoinen says.

Chief Inspector Jarmo Heinonen of the Helsinki Police Department say that at very least this event is contrary to the spirit of the law.

"The intention [of the law] is not to encourage people to celebrate late into the night, tired and intoxicated," Heinonen points out.

The government made nightclub café operations possible by easing coronavirus restrictions on restaurant opening hours in early November. Today, Thursday, the government will meet again and likely announce on new restaurant restrictions.

Private or public?

A number of supposedly private events have also raised red flags of late.

One that generated a string of tabloid headlines was a party for several hundred guests being organised by Helsinki club owner Seppo "Sedu" Koskinen who was asking participants for an advance payment of 200 euros to a gift account.

According to Riku-Matti Lehikoinen, this party has been delayed until a "more suitable time".

"A private event is one for which there are no event advertisements on Facebook, there is no entrance fee, and the guest list consists of relatives, friends or colleagues, for example," Lehikoinen explains.

He says that electronic music parties for young people with a pre-announced programme and an entrance fee are also problematic. The number of participants and their relationship with the organiser influence the interpretation of whether or not is can be considered a private event.

"If the organiser does not even know all the participants, I think it is a public event," Lehikoinen says.

Putting a stop to public events disguised as private parties is not up to regional administrative authorities, but rather it is a police matter. However, the line between private and public is not entirely clear to the police either, as the situation with regard to coronavirus and the restrictions it has triggered is still all relatively new.

According to Chief Inspector Heinonen, if the police receive reports of any events possibly violating the restrictions on public gatherings next weekend, they will have to assess on the spot whether it is a private party or a public event.

Among the consideration that the police will factor in will be the number of participants and the nature of the event.

"At the moment, our perception is that if the law is broken and a public event is held in violation of the coronavirus regulations, the police can order the event to be shut down," Heinonen says.

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