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Wednesday's papers: New restrictions unlikely, vaccine policy, Niinistö-Putin call

Morning papers report that the government is now unlikely to seek new powers to manage the coronavirus epidemic.

Ala-asteen koululaisia tunnilla.
The City of Helsinki is planning extra funding for schools to address mental health problems and learning disabilities caused by coronavirus restrictions, Image: Jyrki Lyytikkä / Yle

The Helsinki daily Helsingin Sanomat reports that the government meets on Wednesday to discuss its exit strategy and whether or not it should again approach Parliament for special powers to manage the coronavirus epidemic.

In late March, the government withdrew a plan for restrictions on movement after Parliament's Constitutional Committee rejected its draft proposal. At that time, it was assumed that the government would rewrite and resubmit the bill.

According to Helsingin Sanomat this is now unlikely. It writes that the cabinet will review the situation, but that the talks are not intended to address restrictions on movement or mask mandates.

Two government sources have told HS that it is very unlikely that any legally mandated use of face masks will be seen either.

At the end of June, several temporary laws will expire, including amendments to the Communicable Diseases Act which have allowed regional authorities, for example, to close recreational facilities.

Health officials have proposed that the government extend these amendments in case the epidemic takes a turn for the worse once again in the autumn.

Vaccine policy

According to the tabloid Iltalehti, the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare THL is to issue new recommendations on Wednesday on the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine, particularly concerning age limits and booster doses.

Up to now, Finland has given the AstraZeneca vaccine only to people 65 years of age and older because of the rare risk of blood clots in younger age groups.

The paper pointed out that Yle reported on Monday that there may soon be a surplus of the AstraZeneca vaccine in Helsinki, but that these doses would remain in storage if THL does not revise its policy.

A similar risk of blood clots has also been found in use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Johnson & Johnson announced on Tuesday that it will delay deliveries of its vaccines to European countries.

Deliveries of 2.4 million doses of this vaccine to Finland were scheduled to begin early this month.

Finnish officials expect deliveries of all other types of vaccine to increase by the final week of this month. It is still uncertain when Finland may achieve herd immunity. Some health officials have estimated that it may reached in late August or early September.

THL's chief physician Hanna Nohynek told Iltalehti that this will depend on vaccine coverage, what mutated viruses are in the population, and whether the vaccines are effective.

Niinistö's "long call" with Putin

Ilta-Sanomat is among the papers reporting that Finland's President Sauli Niinistö had what was described as a "long" telephone conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday that focused on the tense situation on the Crimean peninsula and on the Russian-Ukrainian border.

According to the President's Office, Niinistö expressed his serious concern over an escalation of the situation due to the troop movements and raised the need for dialogue and actions to reduce tensions. President Putin told Niinistö about his most recent conversation with US President Joe Biden, and also about a planned meeting with Biden.

Ilta-Sanomat writes that Biden suggested to Putin that they meet in a third country in the coming months, but did not specify in which country. Putin met Biden's predecessor Donald Trump in 2018 in Helsinki.

The paper reports that the Finnish news agency STT asked the President's Office if Helsinki was mentioned as a possible summit site in Tuesday's call.

In a brief response, Niinistö's office stated that Finland has already offered its services in hosting a meeting between Biden and Putin, but that the site of a possible meeting is still open.

Helping the kids

The Swedish-language daily Hufvudstadsbladet reports that the City of Helsinki may cancel a planned 11 million euro cut in school spending, and provide an additional 17.5 million euros in funding to schools to address mental health problems and learning disabilities caused by the restrictions imposed to battle the coronavirus epidemic.

The city's board of education has proposed that both schools and early childhood education programmes be allowed to exceed their budget by 17.5 million euros this year.

Board member and city councillor Emma Kari (Green) told the paper that it will be left up to the schools as to how best to use the extra funds. She did express the hope, however, that the money will be used to keep down class sizes so that pupils can received enough individual attention to their needs.

City councils can propose budget overruns if the move is deemed justified. Hufvudstadsbladet writes that 40 percent of pupils now need more support than in past years. In view of that figure, the board considers the extra spending as a justifiable budget overrun.

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