Transport and Communications Minister Timo Harakka (SDP) said on Monday that he will propose the suspension of flights to Finland from Skopje in North Macedonia at a meeting of government ministers on Tuesday.
Harakka’s proposed recommendation follows dozens of positive coronavirus tests among passengers arriving from that destination. As many as 26 people who arrived on a flight that landed in Turku on 8 August tested positive for the disease, while five positive tests were reported on another flight last Tuesday. An additional 12 cases were diagnosed on a flight that arrived last Saturday.
"This is an exceptional measure, but many dangerous infections have clearly come via this route. That’s why we must take action and as far as I understand the government is doing that," Harakka said on Monday.
He noted that the measure would be temporary and added that similar action is not being considered for other routes.
Interior Minister: Suspending flights "not the best option"
Earlier on Monday, Interior Minister Maria Ohisalo (Green) said that government had discussed the possibility of suspending flight connections with Skopje following the confirmation of Covid-positive passengers on incoming flights.
However Ohisalo said that she did not think that border restrictions would be the best option.
"According to the Institute for Health and Welfare (THL), the infections came from people with Finnish social security numbers so border restrictions are not the best alternative in those cases," the minister said.
During a press conference organised by Helsinki city’s social and health care department, Ohisalo said that it is the responsibility of the Transport and Communications Minister to look into the issue. Government will then make a decision based on the outcome of that investigation.
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However she stressed that Finland’s constitution affords citizens and permanent residents the right to enter and leave the country. She said that from the perspective of public health safety, a better alternative would be to ensure the presence of health care professionals at border points and effective testing.
Last week the government proposed a traffic light model for monitoring entry into Finland. That system is currently being developed by the THL.
"Hopefully the THL will be ready this week," Family Affairs and Social Services Minister Krista Kiuru (SDP) told reporters.
Concern over testing bottlenecks
Meanwhile Kiuru said that she is worried about coronavirus testing bottlenecks following reports about concern over insufficient testing capacity in Finland. In the Helsinki region in particular, people have had to wait for days just to get tested, while there have also been delays getting test results.
Kiuru has previously called for testing capacity in Finland to increase from 10,000 to 20,000 tests per day.
"Bottlenecks are concentrated in areas where the virus situation came as a surprise. In those places we have directed [workers in] the field that people have to be able to get tested. There is no justification for waiting so long for a test," she said.
The minister said, however, that she is convinced that the health care system is doing its best and that improvements will soon be seen.
Meanwhile Ohisalo said that Finland is also looking to the private sector to help boost testing capacity, for example in Helsinki.
Edited at 14:06 on 17 August, 2020 to clarify the name of the country North Macedonia.
Edited at 16:07 on 17 August, 2020 to add comments from Transport Minister Timo Harakka and to update headline accordingly.