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Wednesday's papers: More farm workers, more masks, cooler weather again

Newspapers report that the government plans to raise the number of seasonal agricultural workers being recruited from abroad.

Nainen poimii mansikoita Rossi Tarhojen itsepoimintatilalla
Young woman picking strawberries. Around 16,000 foreign seasonal workers are usually employed by the agricultural sector in Finland each year. Image: Roni Rekomaa / Lehtikuva

Turku's Turun Sanomat is among the morning newspapers carrying a Lännen Media group report that the government plans to double the number of seasonal agricultural workers being sought to work in Finland this summer.

According to the report the original quota of 4,500 farm workers will be raised to 9,000. It says that the formal decision was scheduled to be made on Wednesday, but because Prime Minister Sanna Marin is presently on sick leave, the cabinet has postponed its approval of the plan until Friday.

Under normal circumstances, around 16,000 foreign seasonal workers are employed by the agricultural sector in Finland each year. Of those, around 9,000 usually come from Ukraine.

Because of travel restrictions imposed by the spread of the novel coronavirus, the agricultural sector has serious concerns about how harvests will be gathered this year without its normal number of seasonal workers. There is an ongoing campaign to recruit more locals to work in the country's fields and greenhouses this year.

Fewer summer service jobs

The local Helsinki paper Helsingin Uutiset reviews a summer job survey carried out by the Central Organisation of Finnish Trade Unions SAK which shows that there are far fewer summer jobs available for young people this year.

The survey indicates that nearly one-fifth of companies in the service sector have cut back on plans for summer season hiring, and in companies that do intend to take on more seasonal staff, the number is only around half (48%) of what it was last year.

Just under a third of union shop stewards say that because of the impact of the coronavirus epidemic, their employers have cancelled summer job contracts. This is especially true in the public sector and the private services sector.

Even though prospects are far from bright, Kirsi Rasinaho, a training and labour force expert at SAK is encouraging young people to remain active job-seekers.

She told Helsingin Uutiset that, for example, companies in the service industry such as restaurants, cafés and amusement parks may start last minute recruitment when they open their doors again in June.

More masks

The Oulu-based Kaleva reports that on Tuesday, Oulu University Hospital took delivery of 200,000 surgical masks for distribution to regional health units in the north of the country that were a gift to Finland from Taiwan.

The masks went to the stores of the hospital because Finland has an official policy of not accepting aid directly from foreign governments.

Meanwhile, Helsingin Sanomat reports the start of the industrial production of hospital-quality surgical masks in Finland.

The Helsinki-based company Lifa Air on Tuesday announced it had started up its first production line, initially churning out 100,000 masks a day. The company's daily target is 650,000.

In an interview with the Finnish News Agency STT on Tuesday, Prime Minister Sanna Marin said that she hoped that domestic production of surgical masks can be brought up to a high enough level so that these masks will be available for use outside medical facilities, as well. According to Helsingin Sanomat, this now looks to be likely.

A number of other Finnish companies have announce plans to manufacture masks intended for private use. The S-Group retail market chain said Tuesday that it will start selling its own brand of single-use masks at the start of June.

Lifa Air also has plans to begin daily production of 220,000 FFP2-standard respirators.

More local responsibility

Helsingin Sanomat also points out that some 85 percent of confirmed coronavirus infections in Finland have been in the capital region. About half of the rest have been seen in the south-west of the country, meaning that in practice, the spread of the virus has come to a standstill is many regions. This then raises the question, the paper writes, if there is any reason to continue with the same restrictions nationwide.

Minna Karhunen, CEO of the Association of Finnish Local and Regional Authorities told the paper that local governments will be able to exercise more independent discretion as of the first of June when restrictions on restaurants and gathering are eased.

She said that responsibility for public safety will be shifting to municipal authorities, service providers and private businesses, such as restaurants.

Helsingin Sanomat writes that once temporary travel restrictions in and out of the Uusimaa region were lifted in April, the epidemic did not spread further as many had feared. It now looks as if domestic travel will revive, especially as the foreign ministry is still advising Finns it is best not to travel abroad.

Cooler days and lots of warnings

The warm, sunny weather of recent days will abandon us once again, the tabloid Iltalehti tells its readers, as a weather front moves in from the west during the day bringing rain cooler temperatures throughout the country on Wednesday and Thursday.

The paper also points to the very large number of warnings issued by the Finnish Meteorological Institute. Flood warnings in northern areas may be upgraded to "dangerous" as the week moves on, and large parts of the country are currently under "potentially dangerous" forest fire and brush fire warnings.

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