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Thursday's papers: Government reviews emergency powers, disinformation, travel sector woes

Helsingin Sanomat reports on an internal government memo saying the Covid epidemic is again close to emergency levels.

Lapsia laskettelurinteessä.
The coronavirus epidemic has not only hit the travel sector hard in Lapland, but also in Finland's capital region too. Image: Karita Lehikoinen-Stedt / Yle

Finland's largest circulation daily, Helsingin Sanomat, reports that it has seen an internal government memo stating that the resurgence of the coronavirus epidemic has brought the country close to conditions for the imposition of a state of emergency. However, the paper reports that at the moment, the government does not see sufficient reason to activate the Emergency Powers Act, as it did from mid-March to mid-June of this year.

The memorandum was discussed in a cabinet meeting on Wednesday evening. Prime Minister Sanna Marin (SDP) and Minister of Family Affairs and Social Services Krista Kiuru (SDP) are scheduled to hold a briefing on the content of those talks on Thursday morning.

According to Helsingin Sanomat, the memo states that although it is not possible to make a reliable estimate of near-term infection rates and deaths from the coronavirus, the epidemic is again in the phase of a "major disaster" that could trigger a state of emergency.

Even so, writes the paper, the government still believes that the situation can be managed with the regular powers already available to public authorities without declaring a new state of emergency.

Disinformation campaign

The Helsinki tabloid Ilta-Sanomat writes that social media in Finland is being hit by campaign of disinformation about the coronavirus epidemic.

The campaign throws doubt on basic official recommendations by the National Institute for Health and Welfare's THL.

These postings on social media argue against the benefits of face masks in reducing the spread of the virus, instead prescribing measures such as drinking vegetable juices and herbal teas.

The disinformation campaign also urges the public to ignore what it terms "intimidation by the media and decision-makers", and to get out to socialise and hug friends.

Juha Korpelainen, Chief Medical Officer of the Northern Ostrobothnia Hospital District, described this disinformation as simply "dangerous".

"I watch the spread of that kind of thing with amazement. It is a bit like shooting your own troops in a war. There will be more illnesses, more deaths, unemployment and financial misery if a large enough group is taken in by this," Asko Järvinen, Chief Infectious Diseases Physician at Helsinki and Uusimaa Health District told Ilta-Sanomat.

These experts did not object to some of the advice being disseminated on social media, such as the benefits of healthy eating and exercise, but they also pointed out that these cannot prevent the spread of the virus.

"The virus spreads the way it spreads. And this is not the time to get out and meet friends - let alone hug them," Korpelainen stressed.

Capital travel sector suffering

The local Helsinki daily, Helsingin Uutiset, notes that the severe problems caused to the tourism sector in Finnish Lapland by the epidemic have received a lot of attention, even though the travel industry in the capital region has also been severely hit.

While Lapland has had some relief from an upswing in domestic tourism, the Helsinki region is "no longer perceived as such an attractive travel destination", writes Helsingin Uutiset.

As of the end of September, accommodation operators nationwide had lost an estimated 450 million euros in revenue. Helsinki accounts for almost 40 percent of this, some 175 million euros. Figuring in losses for other travel-related services, the total amounts to more than 250 million.

With so little spending on international travel, domestic tourism was expected to shoot up.

"The paradox of the crisis is that there is demand, but it does not bring about consumption," points out Pekka Mustonen, a researcher for the City of Helsinki.

According to Mustonen, all the Nordic capitals are experiencing the same dilemma. Domestic demand is not enough to make up for the losses.

Rain, snow, or what?

Looking at the weather over the next few days, Iltalehti writes that it is still a mystery whether residents in southern Finland should get out the snow shovels or water wings.

Northern parts of the country have seen 10cm to 20cm of snowfall that has brought hazardous driving conditions to some areas, while at the same time, southern regions have been experiencing unseasonably high temperatures.

However, on Thursday colder air will be moving into the south of the country and over the weekend, the forecast is for mostly cloudy skies and precipitation in the form of rain or snow with temperatures down around the freezing point in southern coastal areas. In northern Finland, weekend temperatures are expected to range between -2 and -10 degrees Celsius.

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