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Thursday's papers: "Surprise" border decision, Lapland travel plea, annoying neighbours

Finland's press examines reasons and reactions to the rollback of travel restrictions on the Uusimaa regional border.

Kuvassa liikenne kulkee vapaasti Uudenmaan sulun loputtua keskiviikkona.
The travel ban in and out of Uusimaa was lifted on Wednesday. Image: Petteri Juuti / Yle

Helsingin Sanomat delves further into the government’s decision to reopen the Uusimaa regional border, and reveals that the Centre Party in particular were "surprised" by advice that the border should be reopened immediately, and not on 19 April as originally planned.

A cabinet meeting on Tuesday evening at the House of the Estates in Helsinki, which HS writes was "exceptionally long", discussed statements by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health and the National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) that recommended that the restriction was "no longer necessary".

The measure was aimed at preventing the novel coronavirus from spreading too quickly from the Uusimaa region to the rest of the country. The goal of the restriction was to allow regional hospitals time to prepare more intensive care units, for example.

Chancellor of Justice Tuomas Pöysti advised the government that the restriction was no longer an unavoidable measure and should be repealed.

On the immediate lifting of the restriction, Pekka Timonen, permanent secretary of the Ministry of Justice, told HS that the government was not in a position to wait until the originally-intended date of 19 April, but needed to act immediately.

"The premise is that rights may be restricted only when the criterion of necessity is met - and only as long as the criterion of necessity is met," Timonen said. "Once it has been established that the criterion of necessity is not met, it is not possible to wait for a later date, but the restriction must be abandoned immediately."

"Do not come to Lapland"

With the border restriction lifted, Lapland-based Lapin Kansa reports on an instruction issued by Lapland regional authorities to would-be tourists from Uusimaa and other regions, "do not come to Lapland yet".

In a press release, a committee urged all Finns to avoid unnecessary movement, especially as the pandemic is "still in its infancy" in Finland, particularly in Lapland.

In March, despite the government declaring an emergency due to the rising pandemic, many tourists stuck to their ski holiday travel plans and descended on resorts in Lapland. A number of confirmed coronavirus cases were subsequently traced back to the ski resorts. Authorities in Lapland are hoping to avoid a repeat of that scenario.

"By avoiding close contact, maintaining good hand hygiene and staying at home, we each contribute to the containment of the spread of coronavirus," Joni Henttu, director of the Lapland regional government's rescue and preparation department, told the paper. "The disease can be fatal to any of us, so it is worth preventing the spread of the virus by all means necessary."

Lapin Kansa adds that Henttu also highlighted one further positive aspect of the measures restricting movement due to the coronavirus pandemic: there are far fewer flu infections than in recent years.

Neighbourly relations going up in smoke

As people are now spending much more time at home due to the coronavirus pandemic, friction between neighbours is on the rise. One particular growing area of discontent in apartment buildings, according to the tabloid Iltalehti, is smoking.

IL writes that ASH Finland, a public health and tobacco policy organisation, has received numerous complaints from people about the indoor smoking habits of their near neighbours.

"Many smokers do not think that tobacco smoke spreading to another living space also poses a health risk," the organisation’s Executive Director Mervi Hara wrote in a press release, and called on housing associations to emphasise to their residents the need to reconsider their smoking habits, especially during the coronavirus pandemic.

Under current Finnish legislation, smoking is prohibited in interior common areas of an apartment building, but residents may be permitted to smoke on balconies, outdoor areas or even in their own apartments depending on the housing association's regulations.

This means that non-smoking residents may be exposed to the risks associated with passive smoking, which IL writes include lung cancer and cardiovascular diseases, as well as an increased risk of the impact of coronavirus to those with underlying conditions, such as asthmatics.

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