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Tuesday's papers: School opening debate, balcony picnics, don't feed the ducks

Among items in the press today are the debate on reopening schools, annoying neigbours, and advice on May Day safety.

Sorsa Letkun puistossa
Image: Timo Nykyri / Yle

Finland's largest circulation daily, Helsingin Sanomat, writes that Wednesday evening's cabinet meeting could be the time that the government makes a decision on whether or not to reopen schools before the summer holiday period.

The paper concedes that this is speculative, as top officials at the Ministry of Education have declined to confirm when a decision will be made beyond saying "in April".

Pressure is high from both sides in the debate, writes Helsingin Sanomat. What looks most likely to this paper is that many of the youngest pupils, those in first to third grade of elementary school will return to their classrooms for a couple of weeks, starting 14 May.

There has also been discussion of a short period of classroom "transition lessons" for pupils in 6th grade who will be moving to middle school in the autumn, and 9th graders who will be heading to upper secondary or vocational schools.

Schools switched to distance learning in Finland on 18 March.

On Monday, Education Minister Li Andersson tweeted that if emergency measures are extended by the government beyond 13 May, the government will have to demonstrate that this is unavoidable in the current situation.

"This is not a matter of opinion," Andersson wrote, "rather this is a matter of weighing basic rights, and in any case must be done carefully, gradually, within a view to the health of all."

Helsingin Sanomat notes that there is mixed data from different countries on the health effects of opening schools.

This is one of the reasons that the teachers' union OAJ is opposing reopenings in Finland, calling it a "human experiment". The OAJ says that medical advice such as washing hands at least five times a day is impractical in schools and making sure that smaller pupils, in particular, maintain a safe distance from each other and their teachers would be close to impossible.

What's bugging you?

The tabloid Ilta-Sanomat asked its readers what kinds of public behaviour they find especially annoying from their fellow Finns during these trying times.

Some said they are taking things as they come and aren't usually annoyed. Many though, said that they way some people behave in shops, and the failure to observe safe distance, makes them grit their teeth.

The number one source of annoyance is the way a few people act in shops.

"What's hardest to understand is fumbling through the fruit, pulling out dirty tissues, throwing rubber gloves and masks into the street," commented one reader.

"People breathing down your neck in a queue," wrote another.

Not everyone has the sense to maintain a safe distance from others out of doors, either.

"I just lost it when a cyclist rode right up beside me, cellphone in hand, even though there was plenty of room."

"It is really annoying when people walk three or four abreast and don't make room for you to pass on the pavement."

With people spending more time at home, noisy neighbours got more than one mention from Ilta-Sanomat readers. Also, know-it-all types who are constantly handing out safety advice came it for criticism.

Unruly children, barking dogs, and clueless old folks all received (dis)honouorable mentions, as well.

Ilta-Sanomat notes, though, that not everyone is troubled about how their fellows are acting these days. Almost all of the complaints were received from urban dwellers. People in the countryside seem to be taking life much easier.

"Here in the countryside things are different. There is room to walk and jog. The birds are building their nests, as they do every spring, blissfully ignorant of any virus," wrote one reader.

Safe May Day

With the May Day holiday fast approaching, officials around the country have appealed to the public to observe restrictions on gatherings of more than ten people.

The Kuopio-based Savon Sanomat reports that local police are prepared to enforce the rules and will be keeping an eye on spots that usually see crowds celebrating in Kuopio, Pieksämäki, Iisalmi and Varkaus. It reports that a group of young people held a party in Kuopio last weekend, despite the ban on large gatherings, and the same has happened in other towns and cities.

The daily Iltalehti notes that picnics with are a regular part of May Day tradition for many people, but are not a good idea this year.

Instead, the paper provides readers with a list of alternative ideas, and advice.

Top of the list is organising an online, virtual picnic or spreading a blanket and setting out food and drink the back yard, on the balcony, or in the living room.

One advantage of picnicking with friends and family from home via video link is that no one will cancel because of the weather.

If you do attend a small, under-10 person picnic, Iltalehti suggests you bring your own food and drink and maintain strict social distancing - and do your best to eat your doughnuts without touching your face.

The City of Helsinki is urging residents to spend the holiday at home. The Helsinki traditions of putting a student cap on the Havis Amanda statue and holding a May Day eve concert will go ahead - but streamed online. The City is also this year offering streams on May Day of concerts by the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra and the a cappella jazz ensemble Rajaton.

Don't feed the ducks

Ducklings are cute. Ducklings seem to be always hungry. But, please, don't share your sandwich with the ducklings.

The daily Helsingin Uutiset reports that Helsinki's Urban Environment Division says that giving ducklings bits of bread or buns do them more harm than good.

If fed, the birds tend to eat less of their natural diet of water plants and insects. The lack of proper nutrients can contribute to a painful and debilitating condition known as "angel wing" in which the flight feathers of one or both wings of a duck or goose twist away from the body.

Meanwhile, feeding the adult ducks can teach ducklings to "beg" by example rather than learn to seek their own food, so the Urban Environment Division says not to share with them either.

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