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Thursday's papers: Petrol prices, health tax, school holiday concerns

Pump prices for petrol in Finland are currently at their highest this century, reports the Jyväskylä daily Keskisuomalainen.

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A new government-planned tax aimed at promoting public health would likely increase the cost of sweets. Image: Ismo Pekkarinen / AOP

Motorists are finding that their wallets are increasingly light, writes Keskisuomalainen, as petrol prices have shot up.

The paper reports that last weekend, at some service stations in central Finland, the price of 95-octane petrol was well over 1.8 euros, close to 2 euros for 98-octane and just barely under 1.7 euros for diesel.

Keskisuomalainen points to Statistics Finland's consumer price index, which shows the average for Finland as a whole in January for the same grades of petrol were 1.38, 1.48 and 1.57 euros per liter. A year ago in May they were 1.16, 1.28 and 1.36.

The price of petrol is affected by the world market price of crude oil.

"Last year was really exceptional, because the price of crude oil has not been so low for a long time. Crude oil was sold last summer on certain days even at negative prices," Hanna Kalenoja, of the Finnish Automobile Sector's Information Centre told the paper.

The world market price of crude oil has been rising faster than expected now that the recession brought about by the coronavirus pandemic has subsided.

"During the summer it seemed that the price would level off. It was thought that rising oil prices would not increase inflation, but now concerns about the development of crude oil prices are turning into inflationary concerns," Kalenoja continued.

Jari Salonen, CEO of the association representing independent petrol station operators pointed a finger at Finland's tax authorities, noting that about two-thirds of the pump price of petrol is made up of various taxes.

Unpopular health tax

The Kuopio-based Savon Sanomat is among the papers carrying a syndicated article reporting that almost half of people surveyed in a new poll are opposed to a health tax being prepared by the government.

Minister of Finance Annika Saarikko (Cen) said last month that the government is planning to introduce a health-based tax. According to the government programme, the new tax is aimed at promoting public health and targets, for example, sugar.

A poll commissioned by the Uutissuomalainen newspaper group found 48 percent of the public oppose the new tax. Only 37 percent though it was a good idea.

People in the 30-44 year-old age group were the most positive about imposing taxes aimed at furthering health policies. According to the survey, supporters of the Left Alliance and the Greens, as well as high-income earners, are most strongly in favour of the tax.

There were some doubts cast upon the accuracy of the poll, however. Vertti Kiukas, who heads the Finnish Federation for Social Affairs and Health, Soste, pointed out that the introductory text to the polling questions mentions the government. Kiukas said be thinks it is possible that this could have boosted negative responses from supporters of the opposition National Coalition and the Finns Party.

No to moving carbon goalpost

Most papers, including the tabloid Ilta-Sanomat, report that National Coalition Party chair Petteri Orpo announced on Wednesday that his party would not partner in government with any party that backs off from measures aimed at climate action.

Speaking at a panel discussion of party leaders, Orpo's comment was immediately interpreted as a response to Finns Party chair Riikka Purra who earlier this week issued a demand for Finland's carbon neutrality target be postponed to 2050.

The goal of the government of Prime Minister Sanna Marin (SDP) is for Finland to achieve carbon neutrality by 2035.

The EU's target date is 2050, and Purra has said not only that Finland's ambitious goal is impossible, but also raises the issue of the nation's competitiveness in international markets.

Orpo stated that the path to carbon neutrality must tred wisely, but that he would not compromise on the goal itself.

Political correspondent Marko Junkkari of Helsingin Sanomat, one of the organizers of the panel, writes that the audience was taken aback by Orpo's response about possibily taking part in a government that would delay carbon neutrality measures, "He answered unequivocally 'no.' Full stop. And then silence."

School holiday concerns

The Swedish-language Hufvudstadsbladet looks at rising rates of coronavirus infections in Finland, and fears among medical staff that the autumn school holidays will result in more pediatric patients being seen in hospitals.

The paper reports that the intensive care unit at Helsinki's Meilahti Tower Hospital is full at the moment. One thing that is now very different there now, compared to the situation during the first year of the pandemic, is that it is no longer seniors who are seriously ill with Covid-19, but mainly people of working age.

With autumn school holidays starting soon, Chief Physician Minna Tallgren says that she is worried about the possible spread of the virus among children.

In principle, all children under the age of 12 in Finland are unvaccinated. Only younger children in high-risk groups may have received a vaccine.

"If people gather in large crowds during the autumn holidays, it will be potential risk factor for infections to spread among unvaccinated children, also on a larger scale," Tallgren told Hufvudstadsbladet.

Minna Tallgren added that even greater vaccination uptake is essential both in terms of the carrying capacity of the healthcare system and for personal well being.

"It would give us who work in healthcare a respite and create a greater sense of security in society."

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