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Shutdown, Avi, Emergency Powers... What do they all mean?

We try to help figure out all the different terms used in relation to the coronavirus epidemic in Finland.

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Image: Jyrki Lyytikkä / Yle

Do you know your AVI from your STM? Do you sometimes mistake the Communicable Diseases Act for the emergency powers laws?

Don't worry. As Finland's Covid response ramps up, we have tried to clear up some of the confusion around terms used in press conferences and speeches.

It is often unclear how responsibilities are divided between the various different actors, for example national and regional governments, so this Yle guide to the main terms will hopefully help you better understand how the coronavirus crisis is being handled in Finland.

Phases (Finnish: Vaiheet) Finland has 20 hospital districts, and each district is considered to be either in the baseline, the acceleration, or the community transmission phase of the epidemic, depending on the virus situation within the region. On the basis of the phases, different restrictions are imposed on a region, with the strictest measures applying to districts considered to be in the community transmission phase.

AVI (Finnish: Aluehallintovirasto) is the acronym used for the Regional State Administrative Agencies, of which there are seven in Finland. They handle basic public services and legal permits on a regional basis. The agencies were given additional powers under amendments to the Communicable Diseases Act, allowing them to impose regional restrictions depending on the epidemic situation within their territory. Different interpretations of the amendment led to a disagreement between Southern Finland’s Avi and the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health (STM) over whether gyms and sports facilities could stay open to customers.

The revised version of the Communicable Diseases Act (Finnish: Tartuntatautilaki), as mentioned above, came into force just over a week ago and the new version gives local authorities more power to address the deteriorating disease situation within their region. Section 58g of the act allows for a regional authority to order private businesses to close, while the number of customers allowed inside a premises at any one time can be restricted in line with section 58d.

The Emergency Powers Act (Finnish: Valmiuslaki) is an infrequently-used law that is introduced only in crisis situations, for example to secure the livelihood of the population and the national economy. Sections 106 and 107 of the act made headlines earlier this week, when the government was deemed to have "unlawfully" stated that the sections will come into force. Section 106 centralises communication in the Prime Minister's Office and the purpose of Article 107 allows the government to decide which level of government should decide on a matter if there is any ambiguity.

Coronavirus coordination group (Finnish: Koronanyrkki) is a group of experts within a hospital district that decide on regional actions and restrictions. Finland’s President Sauli Niinistö had suggested a national group when the first wave of the pandemic hit Finland in spring last year, but the government declined to implement that idea.

Shutdown / Lockdown (Finnish: Sulkutila) is a term that the government began to use last week when announcing that Finland will go into "shutdown" for three weeks from 8 March. The word is the Finnish equivalent of the terms "shutdown" or "lockdown" as are used elsewhere in the world, when as many places are closed as possible, but the word has no defined legal meaning. Yle News used 'shutdown' for this term, as only certain sectors would be shut down under the proposals.

Curfew (Finnish: Ulkonaliikkumiskielto) is another term which has been widely discussed in the past few days, as the government continues to assess whether restrictions on movement in certain areas or at certain times should be introduced in Finland.

State of emergency (Finnish: Poikkeusolot) Finland’s government declared a state of emergency on Monday 1 March in collaboration with President Niinistö. The declaration was necessary in order to give the government more flexibility in issuing further restrictions in efforts to combat the coronavirus epidemic, such as the closure of bars and restaurants.

Plea (Finnish: Vetoomus) is an ‘appeal’ by the government that citizens keep social contacts to a minimum in order to control the spread of the virus, but which has no legal basis.

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