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Sports associations confused by new Covid restrictions

Team sports taking place in privately owned facilities can continue during Finland's March shutdown.

Helsingin Taitoluisteluklubi. Finettettes.
Skaters in Helsinki Finettes' 12-15 year-old group will break during March as they practice on city ice. Image: Markku Rantala / Yle

Finland’s partial shutdown announced by the government this week brings a number of new restrictions on group gatherings. But rules may be applied differently depending on if a hobby takes place in a public or private facility.

Sports groups have criticised the government and Southern Finland's Regional State Administrative Agency (Avi) for issuing conflicting Covid rules for team hobbies.

On Thursday the government said the March shutdown would pause all group hobbies for youths over the age of 12 in areas deemed to be in the 'spreading' or 'acceleration stage' of the virus. Municipalities in the capital region moved to suspend group activities for anyone born before 2009.

However on Friday Southern Finland's Regional State Administrative Agency (Avi) said it was okay for up to ten people to come together for hobbies, irrespective of age. This meant associations operating in privately owned facilities could still keep their doors open.

While the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health was not pleased with Avi’s decision, the regional agency said over the weekend that it would stand by its decision.

Taekwondo pääopetaja Inkwon Hwang.
"We've had to do a lot of extra work in the past few days to make sense of the rules," said Inkwon Hwang of Herttoniemi Taekwondo Centre. Avi’s decision means that the privately owned facility in eastern Helsinki can operate as long as lessons include no more than ten participants who are able to social distance. Image: Markku Rantala / Yle

An inexact science

Tuija Kumpulainen of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health told Yle by email that the government's decision to suspend group activities from 8 to 28 March for those 12 and over was in line with the move to transition grades seven and above to distance learning during the same period.

But Otto Helve, public health institute THL's pediatric infectious disease specialist, said there was no scientific basis for the cut off at age 12.

"There’s no definition for when children's symptoms become like those of adults. It’s an individual threshold. Estimates now suggest the risk increases in the teenage years," Helve told Yle by email.

HUS chief administrative physician Veli-Matti Ulander meanwhile said that he understood why the government wants to limit contacts in hobbies.

"There have already been many efforts to prevent the epidemic from deteriorating that have failed. This is why it has been seen as necessary to bring about broader restrictions," he explained.

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