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Thursday's papers: Mixed signals on closure, PPE markets, boost for bikes

Many of the morning newspapers headlined the prime minister saying that the closure of the Uusimaa region may end soon.

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Image: Petri Kivimäki / Yle

The tabloid Iltalehti was among the papers that reported to its readers that Prime Minister Sanna Marin told Yle on Wednesday evening that the lockdown of the Uusimaa region, including the capital, Helsinki, may be lifted on 19 April, as originally planned - if the number of coronavirus infections there falls far enough

Marin said that if the spread of the virus is brought under control, there will be no reason to continue to keep Uusimaa cordoned off from the rest of the country.

Interior Minister Maria Ohisalo stated earlier this week that the end of the closure would happen on schedule. At a government press conference on Tuesday, Ohisalo said that if the rate of infection nationwide and in the Uusimaa region are more or less the same, there would no longer be any reason to keep the south of the country isolated.

Both Marin and Ohisalo pointed out that the closure has consumed massive amounts of police resources.

The Uusimaa region was cordoned off from the rest of the country on 28 March in a move aimed at bringing the spread of the coronavirus under control. The largest number of confirmed infections have been in the Hospital District of Helsinki and Uusimaa.

Tighter controls?

In contrast to the easing of restrictions being discussed by politicians, one leading medical expert has called for the imposition of even more stringent short-term controls in southern Finland.

The newsstand daily Ilta-Sanomat refers to an interview Wednesday on Finland's MTV3 with the Director of Diagnostic Services at Helsinki University Hospital Lasse Lehtonen in which he called for extending measures in Uusimaa with three weeks of "light house arrest" and the required use of face masks.

Lehtonen said that the epidemic, and current restrictions, could last until Christmas unless tougher measures are taken over the next few weeks. The believes that the measures he is suggesting could get the Finns back to their normal lives by the start of summer.

Lehtonen says his proposal would not be a ban on going outdoors, but it would restrict shopping to essentials, cap gatherings of people at no more than two at a time, and make the use of face masks obligatory.

Implementing these measures for three weeks, he believes, could break the chain of infection and get the Uusimaa region to the same situation as seen in Norway and Denmark, where it has been possible to significantly ease national restrictions.

Chaotic PPE market

A consignment of face masks and personal protection equipment that arrived in Finland from China on Tuesday are not up to standard, according to the director of Finland’s National Emergency Supply Agency, Tomi Lounema.

The daily Helsingin Sanomat reports that when announcing the finding of the tests, Lounema described the market for personal protective equipment as "very chaotic".

"There are very many different kinds of sellers. The goods they are delivering are not necessarily known brands, and it is not even known where they are manufactured. Prices are going up all the time. Deals have to be made quickly and payment in advance is demanded. This situation is quite different from the normal. The risks are huge," Lounema told the press.

He continued by explaining that even though the documentation for consignments are in order, the goods are not what they should be.

"This same thing has happened elsewhere in Europe. Now it happened to us."

Boost for bikes

The local Helsinki paper Helsingin Uutiset reports that large numbers of the capital's residents have switched from public transport to bikes in recent weeks.

Tarja Jääskeläinen, a senior advisor at the Helsinki Regional Transport Authority (HSL) told the paper that the passenger volume in the capital region has fallen by around 70 percent.

Biking has taken off in part, she says, because it's seen as a safer alternative right now to mass transit, while getting people out of doors and exercising at a good distance from others. She does, though advise anyone using the city's rental bikes to use gloves and to wash their hands before and after riding.

Because of the mild winter, the cycling season actually started a few weeks earlier this year than usual. Oula-Heikki Rantanen, who owns and operates a bicycle repair shop in the North Haaga district of Helsinki, says that he has been so busy that he has had to close his shop to customers two days a week so that he and his staff can focus entirely on reconditioning the bikes already brought in. Carefully disinfecting the bikes and all their parts also eats up extra time.

"A lot of people have a bike that's been in storage for five or even ten years and now they want to ride it. We are seeing a lot more of this kind of customer than we have before," explained Rantanen.

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