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S-Group closes Helsinki region restaurants over coronavirus

Workers will move to serve customers at the company’s grocery stores.

Kouvolan Prisma.
Finnish supermarkets need more staff. Image: Antro Valo / Yle

The S-Group will close all 82 of its restaurants in the Helsinki region from Monday 23 March as it joins Finland’s efforts to enact social distancing policies to fight the coronavirus pandemic.

The S-Group’s regional affiliates are co-operatives, owned by customer-owners who pay a membership fee and can vote in elections to the co-op’s board.

The Helsinki region collective is called HOK-Elanto.

Staff from the restaurants will move to work at the co-operative’s nearly 200 grocery stores.

"A co-operative’s basic task is to offer customer-owners benefits and services," said HOK-Elanto CEO Veli-Matti Liimatainen in a statement. "In this totally exceptional situation we are looking to ensure that we fulfil this task by ensuring we meet our customers’ basic needs, that is households’ grocery shopping."

The nearly 800 workers from HOK-Elanto restaurants will move to supermarkets and shops to help deal with increased demand for the company’s grocery products, said the statement.

Finland has banned gatherings of more than ten people, but so far has exempted cafes and restaurants from the ruling.

Taxis start delivering groceries to holed-up residents

Thousands of residents who belong to coronavirus risk groups - those aged 70 years or older as well as individuals with other health conditions - are following government guidelines to stay away from large groups, like those found at shopping centres, but they still need to buy food and other supplies on a regular basis.

Cabonline, which operates taxi firms Kovanen and FixuTaxi, has started grocery home delivery services in the Helsinki area. Meanwhile, the Taxi Helsinki and Lähitaksi companies said they were negotiating with local stores to also begin deliveries from supermarkets.

Grocery delivery services are a way for taxi firms to try to recoup significant losses, since demand for taxi rides has plummeted as the coronavirus epidemic has evolved.

According to Cabonline’s CEO, Kati Rajala, the number of taxi rides have dropped by 80-90 percent over the past few days.

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