Government decides on new COVID-19 restrictions – vaccinations still the key to controlling the epidemic
In its negotiations on Tuesday 21 December, the Government discussed the COVID-19 situation and decided on new restrictions and other necessary measures. In addition to increasing vaccination coverage, effective national and regional measures to limit close contacts are needed to slow down the spread of the epidemic. This will allow more time for giving people third vaccine doses.
It is essential to increase the vaccination coverage and protection against COVID-19 disease. The Government emphasises the importance of third doses and the need to accelerate vaccination in municipalities. It is also important that people take their first and second vaccine doses. There are still almost 600,000 *) unvaccinated adults in Finland.
The Government recommends that the authorities, based on their assessment, take extensive measures under the Communicable Diseases Act to prevent the spread of the pandemic.
Restrictions on the use of COVID-19 passports in areas in the community transmission phase
The Government also decided that the use of COVID-19 passports is to be restricted for a period of three weeks starting from 28 December 2021. A government decree to this effect will be urgently drafted under section 58 subsection i of the Communicable Diseases Act.
These restrictions will apply to moderate and high risk events and premises in community transmission areas. Events and premises identified as having a high risk of infection include bars, karaoke bars, nightclubs and mass events with no assigned seats. Events and premises identified as having a moderate risk of infection include choir singing events with more than 10 people, outdoor spectator stands with no assigned seats, and fairs with no special arrangements for avoiding close contact. Use of COVID-19 passports would be permitted at low risk events.
COVID-19 passport restrictions affect the opening hours of restaurants, cafés and bars
COVID-19 passport restrictions will affect opening hours in restaurants, cafés and bars. Starting from Friday 24 December, alcoholic beverages will not be served after 21.00 and closing time will be at 22.00.
Starting from Tuesday 28 December, alcohol will not be served after 17.00, and businesses that primarily serve alcoholic beverages will be required to close at 18.00. Restaurants will also be required to stop serving alcohol at 17.00, but opening hours for customers with a COVID-19 passport could be extended to 18.00-20.00.
Customer seats in restaurants that primarily serve alcoholic beverages will be restricted to 50 per cent and in restaurants serving food to 75 per cent of their normal number of customer seats. All restaurants in Finland will be entitled to require customers to present a COVID-19 passport at all hours.
Distance learning recommended in higher education institutions, liberal adult education, basic education for adults and basic education in arts for adults.
The Government recommended switching to distance learning in universities and universities of applied sciences, liberal adult education, basic education for adults and basic education in arts for adults until 16 January 2022. The recommendation does not apply to necessary contact teaching.
The recommendation on distance learning does not apply to primary and lower secondary education, vocational education and training, or general upper secondary education. The Ministry of Education and Culture and the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare will update their earlier recommendations for education and training providers.
Internal border control reinstated for traffic between Finland and all Schengen countries as of 28 December
The Government decided to reintroduce internal border control at Finland’s borders starting from 28 December. Due to the rapid spread of the new coronavirus variant, measures taken under the Communicable Diseases Act are not sufficient to safeguard the capacity of the healthcare system. The Government will decide on new restrictions at its session on Tuesday 28 December 2021, and the decision will enter into force immediately. The decision will remain in force until 16 January 2022.
Internal border control is reinstated for traffic between Finland and all Schengen countries. Those arriving in Finland are required to present a certificate of a full vaccine course or a certificate of recovery from COVID-19 disease less than six months prior to entry, and a negative COVID-19 test certificate issued less than 48 hours prior to entry. Until 31 December 2021 this requirement will apply to those born in 2005 or earlier, and as of 1 January 2022, to those born in 2006 or earlier.
A negative test result will not be required of Finnish citizens, foreigners residing permanently in Finland, or persons who have an essential reason for entry, such as compelling family matters or another compelling personal reason. However, all passengers are required to present certificates laid down in the Communicable Diseases Act and comply with the decisions made by the Regional State Administrative Agencies on compulsory health examinations.
As an exception to the above, residents of border communities at Finland’s land border with Sweden and Norway as well as persons travelling between Norrtälje municipality and Åland may present a certificate of completed and approved COVID-19 vaccine course, a certificate of recovery from COVID-19 disease less than six months prior to entry, or a certificate of a negative COVID-19 test taken no more than 7 days prior to entry.
Internal border control was previously in place due to the COVID-19 epidemic from 19 March 2020 to 25 July 2021.
Compensation for costs arising from restrictions
The Government is preparing to compensate for the direct and necessary costs arising from restrictive measures. Decisions will be made quickly on the forms of compensation, especially with regard to legislation on support for business costs (closure compensation, limited business cost support), unemployment security, and the cancellation of events (including culture and sports). In addition, direct costs arising from the COVID-19 situation to the authorities will continue to be compensated in full.
New ministerial working group to coordinate COVID-19 measures
The Government decided to establish a new ministerial working group to coordinate the COVID-19 measures taken in different sectors of administration and to ensure efficient exchange of information. The working group will be appointed shortly.
As a preparatory body, the ministerial working group will discuss policy decisions and Government positions, as well as matters that will be decided at a government plenary session, and cross-administrative matters that will be decided in the relevant ministry. The ministerial working group will be chaired by Krista Kiuru, Minister of Family Affairs and Social Services.
Pasi Pohjola, Director of Strategic Affairs, Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, [email protected]
Taneli Puumalainen, Director General, Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, [email protected]
Ismo Tuominen, Senior Ministerial Adviser, Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, [email protected] (restaurants)
Tuomas Laosmaa, Head of Unit, Ministry of the Interior, [email protected] (internal border control)
*) Correction 22 December 2021 at 6.45 p.m: the right number is almost 600 000 (599 000), not almost 800 000.