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Wednesday's papers: Border congestion, Sote vote, dramatic weather

Finland's press reports that health authorities on the Finland-Russia border let football fans through the crossing without Covid tests.

Bussiletka raja-asemalla.
Football fans returning from St. Petersburg were sitting in cars and on buses in the intense heat for hours at the Vaalimaa border crossing. Image: Niklas Joki / Yle

Most of Wednesday morning's papers report on the congestion at the Finnish-Russian border on Tuesday as hundreds of football fans made their way home after watching Finland play Belgium in the European Championship finals in St. Petersburg.

Helsingin Sanomat writes that the queue was so long at the Vaalimaa border crossing point that regional health authorities decided to wave fans through without the need for a coronavirus test. Instead, the travellers were told to take three days of voluntary quarantine and apply for a test in their home region.

Chief Physician Marja-Liisa Mäntymaa told HS that the decision was made just after 8pm, and that about 10 buses and an unspecified number of cars were allowed to go through without passengers being subject to tests. The border point was scheduled to close at 9.30pm, which could have led to hundreds of people being stranded overnight.

"Over the last hour, I have been negotiating with our staff, border authorities and an infectious diseases specialist. This is the only way to handle the matter so that the people do not get stuck at the border," Mäntymaa said, adding that the decision was partly influenced by the 30-degree heat and because many people had been sitting in cars and on buses for a number of hours.

One returning fan, Vesa Laakso, told HS by phone that the heat on his bus was as intense as a "sauna" and there was initially no drinking water available.

"Our bus left St. Petersburg at 12pm, so we had already had a moderately long day. We were at Vaalimaa station at about 5pm, and we then waited at the border for more than three hours," Laakso said.

HS adds that there were only two healthcare workers carrying out the coronavirus tests at the Vaalimaa border crossing point on Tuesday, supported by two health counsellors, which was also a contributory factor in the long delays.

"Before the European Championships, the border and health authorities had very flimsy information about how many passengers would go to the finals, by which means of transport they would go and when they would return," Mäntymaa said.

End in sight for Sote?

Tampere-based Aamulehti reports that Parliament will be voting on Wednesday on whether to pass the long-awaited reform of Finland's social and healthcare services, colloquially known as Sote.

The reform has been in the pipeline for more than a decade and over the years has dumbfounded various governments, even leading to the resignation of the Juha Sipilä (Cen) administration in 2019.

If passed, it would see responsibility for providing social and healthcare services transferred from roughly 300 municipalities to 21 new regional authorities plus the City of Helsinki.

Aamulehti writes that it "remains to be seen" how many government party MPs will vote against the proposed reform, with Green Party MPs Inka Hopsu and Mari Holopainen having already indicated that they do not think the current model does enough and therefore intend to reject the proposal.

Weather "dramatically divides" the country

Using a rather unusually dramatic tone for a meteorology story, tabloid Ilta-Sanomat reports that the weather has "dramatically divided" the country into two very distinct parts, as chilly and unstable conditions in the west and north have contrasted significantly with the 30 degrees Celsius record heatwaves in the south and east.

Western regions in particular have taken the brunt of the adverse weather conditions, with Storm 'Ahti' hitting the area on Monday followed swiftly by Storm 'Paula' on Tuesday. IS reports that one person died and three people were injured in Oulu as a result of the storms.

But why are the 'weather gods' treating different parts of Finland so differently, IS wonders.

"The reason is that Finland has been under a barrier of high pressure with hot air flows on the very outer edge," Finnish Meteorological Institute meteorologist Iiris Viljamaa tells the tabloid. "The low pressures of the west and the high pressures of the east have twisted over Finland."

IS adds however that, as we approach this weekend's Midsummer holiday, the gap between the two will narrow as the high-pressure front is expected to recede to the east, and cooler air will flow into Finland from the north. Southern and central areas can expect temperatures of between 23 and 27 degrees Celsius on Midsummer Eve (Friday) and around 25 degrees on Midsummer's Day.

"The atypical hot spell of 30 degrees will luckily be behind us. And so will the intense thunderstorms," IS writes.

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