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Thursday's papers: Exit strategy, summer travel, transgender rights

Morning papers report on Finnish government talks on a plan to gradually lift restrictions and reopen the country.

 henkilöitä hakemassa takeaway lounasta kauppakeskus Kaaressa Hensingissä.
Restrictions on restaurants may be lifted on 18 April. Image: Henrietta Hassinen / Yle

Turku's Turun Sanomat is among the papers reporting that Prime Minister Sanna Marin (SDP) says she is "cautiously optimistic" life will improve by this coming summer with a gradual lifting of restrictions, and that the Midsummer holiday season in late June could be "fairly normal".

The government met Wednesday night to discuss a plan to lift restrictions. The discussion is scheduled to continue on Thursday with the political opposition.

According to Marin, the restrictions are to be lifted in reverse order. The first step will be to lift the state of emergency and end the use of the Emergency Powers Act. Nationwide restrictions on restaurants may be lifted on 18 April.

A key principle is that restrictions on activities by children and young people are to be lifted before those on adults.

According to Marin, a large-scale opening of public events may be possible in June or early July.

However, Turun Sanomat notes that Marin added that it is not yet possible to give any exact date for a return to normal.

One reason is that restrictions on schools, hobbies and gatherings in public spaces are largely in the hands of municipalities and regional authorities.

According to a draft seen by Helsingin Sanomat on Wednesday, the lifting of restrictions would begin this month and proceed gradually up until August. Schools would return to contact teaching in May, and libraries and museums, for example, could reopen their doors at the same time.

Restrictions on gatherings would be lifted between June and August. The aim would be to assess the conditions for lifting the restrictions every two weeks.

The tabloid Iltalehti reports that the government will continue working on the plan on Thursday, and discuss it with all the parties represented in Parliament.

Prime Minister Marin tweeted late Wednesday that the plan will be presented Friday for a one-week round of feedback, and separate talks will be held with labour market organisations and the municipal sector.

Summer travel

The daily Helsingin Sanomat looks at plans by cruise operators and Finnair to provide summer travel opportunities as restrictions are eased.

Shipping lines, it writes, are making preparations to again increase the number of vessels in service and the number of departures, but much depends on the situation and the pace of vaccination in Finland, Estonia and Sweden.

"Vaccinations and testing play a key role. If all goes well, passenger traffic will gradually recover as early as summer. Local tourism is likely to be the first to return," Tiina Tuurnala, CEO of the Finnish Shipowners' Association, told Helsingin Sanomat.

A key reason that cruise travel may recover is that ships have plenty of room for passengers to maintain safe distancing.

In March last year, the cruise ship industry halted most passenger traffic due to coronavirus restrictions imposed by the authorities. Recreational travel recovered somewhat last summer, but travel restrictions were re-imposed in August.

Of Viking Line's seven vessels, four are currently in service. Viking Line plans to open special cruises to Gotland, Åland and Riga, among other possible destinations.

Tallink Silja intends to make decisions in April on reintroducing its vessel the Europa on the Helsinki-Tallinn route and on restarting services on its Helsinki-Turku and Helsinki-Riga routes.

Finnair, for its part, says that its exit plan will closely follow the national strategy.

"The return of travel depends very much on the development of vaccine coverage and how different countries, including Finland, start to lift travel restrictions," according to Päivyt Tallqvist, Finnair's Director of Communications.

Finnair has continued international flights throughout the pandemic, but only to about half of its normal 100 destinations. The number of flights has also dropped from about 350 daily flights to 75. Many routes have been flown on smaller aircraft than normal, and passenger volume is about 10 percent of pre-pandemic numbers.

Transgender law update

A citizens' initiative calling for revisions to Finland's transgender law has gained 50,000 signatures and will now proceed to parliament, reports Tampere's Aamulehti.

Entitled "The Right to Be Initiative", the call to change provisions of the law was launched on Tuesday and collected all the needed signatures by late Wednesday.

Among the changes that initiative sets out is the removal of the requirements for transgender people to be medically diagnosed and to be sterilized as conditions for official recognition of gender change.

If approved, official change of gender would in future be a matter of filing a notice for anyone over the age of 15. In the case of younger people, the consent of a guardian would be required.

Also, the so-called "transgender register", that is the list of persons who have legally changed their gender, would be removed from the population register.

Finland's current transgender legislation, which dates from 2003, has received both domestic and international criticism as being in violation of human rights agreements.

Posti loses client

Ilta-Sanomat reports that Finland's National Archives has announced it is terminating cooperation with the Finnish postal service Posti, after an incident in which the company said it had lost a shipment of archive materials.

The case concerned documents requested by an amateur historian in Helsinki from the Jyväskylä office of the National Archives.

They were handed over to Posti for delivery in January, but the consignment did not arrive in Helsinki. Following a complaint, an initial search by Posti for the shipment came up empty-handed.

This week, the National Archives announced that it would terminate Posti services for inter-library loans, writing on its website that, "due to serious disturbances and the disappearance of materials, the National Archives will no longer use Posti's services to transport documentary cultural property under its responsibility".

A few hours later, Posti announced that the shipment had been found.

National Archive Director Päivi Hirvonen told the paper that even though the materials were recovered, it does not change the body's intention to seek tenders from courier services for the transport of its materials.

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