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Tuesday's papers: Finland shuts down

News that much of Finland will soon shut down to fight coronavirus dominated local newspapers on Tuesday.

Helsingin jäähalli HIFK JYP
The last matches in Finland's ice hockey league were played in front of empty stands before the league was cancelled. Image: Mikko Stig / Lehtikuva

The main story on Tuesday morning was the announcement on Monday that Finland is shutting down school facilities and many other public service points, introducing border restrictions and declaring a state of emergency over coronavirus.

The changes are to take effect on Wednesday, after parliament approves the measures on Tuesday. That is expected to be a formality, and the performance of the government’s leading lights in Monday’s press conference was widely praised in the press.

"At the government press conference Prime Minister Sanna Marin showed the leadership that ensured she rose at the age of 34 to the most important job in Finland," wrote Iltalehti’s Lauri Nurmi. "Finns can now trust that the country’s leadership, authorities and healthcare system are putting absolutely everything into protecting people’s health."

Ilta-Sanomat, meanwhile, reports that the measures announced on Monday were a source of debate within the government up to the last minute.

Introducing emergency powers and closing the borders was a tough sell for the Green Party and the Left Alliance, according to the tabloid.

The tougher measures — which were rejected last Thursday when Finland banned large gatherings but kept schools open — were especially pursued by the Centre Party, according to IS.

A deliberate overreaction

The government felt it was better to overreact than to under-react, said the paper, and so we are left with the wide-ranging shutdown for which Finland is now gearing up.

The coming shutdown is the theme in Helsingin Sanomat’s editorial, as the paper focuses on the months ahead for residents of Finland.

Many Finns have grown up with tales of sacrifice from previous generations, particularly related to the Second World War, but now they will have their own challenges to overcome.

"In these exceptional times there is reason to ensure that we don’t cause unnecessary damage to society, jobs or the economy," wrote HS. "That will cost money, but the alternatives are probably much worse."

"We have a collective in Finland already, but in recent years it has been seen by many people primarily as a willingness to pay taxes. Many people have been able to think that paying taxes is the modern way to take care of people not in their own social circles."

That’s all about to change, says HS, as protecting the functioning of society will now entail restrictions on our own freedoms.

The paper also looks at small businesses in the service sector and their reactions to the shutdown. The paper talks to a yoga studio in Helsinki, which says it is moving to video sessions.

It also talks about shops around the country suffering a collapse in customer numbers, before interviewing a business lobbyist who would like to see reductions in taxes and social contributions to help tide entrepreneurs over the downturn.

Mutual aid

Other papers looked at the concrete ways in which everyday life is going to change.

The measures announced on Monday included a recommendation that people over 70 and those in risk groups self-isolate to avoid catching the coronavirus.

That means many people in Finland will need help with everyday tasks like shopping, and groups have sprung up on social media to help.

Iltalehti spoke to Oona in Helsinki who had joined one such group. She said she felt it was important for everyone to pitch in.

"Now is the time to do small things that don’t really burden you but could help others a lot," said Oona. "For example going to the shop."

Stranded Finns

Ilta-Sanomat, meanwhile, found Finns in Spain who were looking to comply with the government’s suggestion they return to Finland, but were unsure how to go about doing so.

The situation is changing day by day, and one Finn who had booked a flight on 23 March from Malaga to Helsinki was worried it might get cancelled before she was able to get home.

Others have found that flights in the coming weeks are full, and they cannot change tickets booked for April and May.

IS reports that as Spain has closed its borders, some Finns on the Costa del Sol will be unable to drive home as they usually do.

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