Government decides on plan for hybrid strategy to manage coronavirus crisis and for gradual lifting of restrictions
On Sunday 3 May and today 4 May, the Government held an informal meeting to discuss an action plan for a hybrid strategy to manage the coronavirus crisis and for ways of gradually lifting the restrictive measures. The Government will adopt a related resolution at its plenary session where it sets out in detail the particular decisions taken. The Government’s decisions are based on the first phase of the report put together by Permanent Secretary Hetemäki’s working group on the coronavirus exit and reconstruction strategy (Annex).
In Finland, the growth of the coronavirus epidemic has been halted through restrictive measures and a clear improvement in hygiene behaviour. Although the spread of the epidemic has currently stalled, there is still a risk that it will escalate again.
The measures proposed by the Government have aimed and will aim to prevent the spread of the virus in Finland, to protect the capacity of the healthcare system and to shield and protect people, especially those who are most at risk. The aim of the hybrid strategy is to curb the epidemic effectively while minimising the detrimental impact on people, businesses, society and the exercise of fundamental rights.
In the hybrid strategy, this will involve a controlled shift from large-scale restrictive measures to more targeted measures and to enhanced epidemic management in accordance with the Communicable Diseases Act, the Emergency Powers Act and possible other statutes.
Moreover, the hybrid strategy focuses extensively on a “test, trace, isolate and treat” approach, alongside the controlled dismantling of restrictive measures. This will help curbing the spread of the epidemic. The approach can be further enhanced using a mobile application, with the precondition that it must be voluntary and ensure data protection.
The emergency conditions continue to prevail in Finland, and the Government has decided to issue decrees on the extension of the application of section 86 (direction of the operations of healthcare and social welfare units), section 87 (other direction and management of healthcare), section 88 (compliance with the time limits for the provision of non-urgent care, assessments of the need for social welfare services), section 93 (derogation from terms of employment), and section 94 (restricting the right to terminate employment) of the Emergency Powers Act.
In its meeting, the Government decided on the gradual dismantling of the following restrictive measures:
- As of 14 May 2020, the statutory restrictions on border traffic will be lifted in cross-border traffic across the Schengen internal borders by allowing employment or commission-related commuting and other essential traffic.
- For the time being, recreational travel abroad is not recommended, and the travel advice issued by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs will be extended accordingly. The Ministry of the Interior will draft more specific guidelines on the gradual opening of border traffic. Finland considers it important that the lifting of the restrictions on border traffic be coordinated at the EU level.
- The gradual opening of restaurants will begin on 1 June 2020, provided that this is supported by the effects of lifting the current restrictions and by the subsequent general epidemiological assessment. This requires legislative amendments that would enable imposition of restrictions on, for example, the number of customers and the alcohol serving hours. Legislative proposals to that effect will be brought for the Government’s consideration no later than 13 May 2020.
- Outdoor recreational facilities will be opened as of 14 May, subject to the restrictions on gatherings.
- Sports competitions and series can be resumed with special arrangements on 1 June.
- The borrowing of books and other material from libraries will be immediately permitted.
- The following public indoor premises will be opened in a gradual and controlled manner as of 1 June: national and municipal museums, theatres, the National Opera, cultural venues, libraries, mobile libraries, services for customers and researchers at the National Archives, hobby and leisure centres, swimming pools and other sports facilities, youth centres, clubs, organisations’ meeting rooms, day care services for the elderly, rehabilitative work facilities and workshops.
- Large public events with more than 500 people are prohibited until 31 July 2020 in line with the Government's decision.
- Restrictions on gatherings are still necessary. Based on an epidemiological assessment, it will be possible to ease the restrictions on the number of persons from the current 10 to a maximum of 50 from 1 June until further notice. The situation will be reviewed again by the end of June.
- The 50-person limit applies not only to public gatherings (the recommendation-based guideline) but also to events organised by private and third-sector operators, to cultural, recreational, exercise and sports events and to religious events. As concerns indoor spaces and enclosed outdoor spaces, such as amusement parks, zoos, libraries and cinemas, safety will be ensured by limiting the number of visitors, ensuring safe distances and providing guidance on personal hygiene. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Health will issue a circular to the regional authorities on implementing these restrictions to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease under the Communicable Diseases Act.
- Restrictions concerning general upper secondary schools, vocational schools, higher education institutions and liberal education will remain in force until 13 May. From then on, starting on 14 May, the use of the premises of the above-mentioned educational institutions for teaching will be controlled through measures in line with the Communicable Diseases Act. Contact teaching can be resumed in a controlled and gradual manner. However, the Government recommends that universities, universities of applied sciences, upper secondary schools, vocational schools, liberal adult education and basic adult education institutes continue distance teaching until the end of the semester.
- Restrictions on the organisation of basic education in the arts will remain in force until 13 May, after which their premises will be opened correspondingly for contact teaching.
- The recommendation on working from home is continued until further notice. The recommendation will be reassessed after summer.
- Anyone aged over 70 years should continue to avoid physical contacts as far as possible. The Government emphasises that those who belong to the risk groups should use own discretion in observing the guidelines.
- The restrictions concerning visits to healthcare and social welfare units will remain in force until further notice and the matter will be next reviewed by the end of June. For example, care units are looking for new practices to enable safe social contacts.
Appendix: Report on the first phase of the working group on the coronavirus exit and reconstruction strategy: Impact of the coronavirus crisis and plan for a hybrid strategy to manage the epidemic
Inquiries: Martti Hetemäki, Permanent Secretary, tel. +358 295 530 292, Ministry of Finance and Kirsi Varhila, Permanent Secretary, tel. +358 295 163 338, Ministry of Social Affairs and Health (working group's report), and Päivi Anttikoski, Director of Government Communications, tel. +358 40 536 4821