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Scramble to cottages puts pressure on Finland's rural communities

Tens of thousands of people in Finland have fled to the countryside, flouting official recommendations to stay put.

Monet tekevät etätöitä ja ovat virusta paolla mökillä.
Many people in Finland have left the capital area ahead of a planned lockdown of Uusimaa region. Image: Petri Vironen / Yle

The exodus from Uusimaa, Finland’s epidemic centre of coronavirus, is drawing dismay from rural municipalities who fear an exodus from densely-populated southern Finland will spread coronavirus to the countryside.

Many Uusimaa residents have set up remote offices at their country homes. While northern Finland has emptied of tourists as ski centres advanced closures, food sales and data traffic show people flowing into South Savo’s cottage communities.

"Our greatest fear relates to people coming from the capital area. These people can spread the virus," said Puumala mayor Matias Hilden.

The provision of health services in rural areas is based on the number of permanent inhabitants. This means rural communities are ill-equipped to handle a mass arrival of patients.

Mikkeli Central Hospital in South Savo caters to some 100,000 residents in the region, with some consideration for summer dwellers.

“Our infrastructure couldn’t handle a significant influx of temporary residents,” said Santeri Seppälä of South Savo Social and Healthcare Authority (Essote).

South Savo is dotted with some 50,000 cottages and has Finland’s second highest number of leisure homes after southwestern Finland.

Food sales, data traffic up

Grocery stores in the most popular cabin areas have reported a 50 percent increase in sales, with shops in Anttola in south-eastern Savo claiming sales had recently jumped by 151 percent.

Heikki Hämäläinen of the Suur-Savo grocery cooperative said food purchases in South Savo indicated that up to 30,000 people had arrived in the area.

Mobile network operators are also feeling the strain as more people telecommute, regardless of their physical location.

Sami Rajamäki of Elisa network services said data traffic in Finland had grown by a fifth.

Mobile traffic is peaking in daytime when people study and work, with data volumes at times double that of pre-corona outbreak levels.

Finnish network operators, however, said they were confident they had the capacity to meet growing demand.

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