Prime Minister’s announcement on the handling of the COVID-19 crisis
On Wednesday 29 April 2020, Prime Minister Sanna Marin made an announcement to Parliament on the handling of the COVID-19 crisis. Translation of the Prime Minister’s speech, subject to change:
The global COVID-19 pandemic has driven societies into an exceptionally serious crisis, both in terms of health and financially. At the beginning of the year, we had no idea that the crisis would be so profound and serious. Although Finland has a high level of preparedness for different situations when compared to many other countries, we were also surprised by the epidemic and its social and economic effects.
Finland introduced exceptionally wide-ranging and severe restrictive measures at an early stage of the epidemic. The aim of the restrictive measures has been to prevent the disease from progressing among the population, to safeguard the carrying capacity of our healthcare system in all situations and, in particular, to protect the lives and health of people at risk, for whom the disease can be very serious.
We have also succeeded in slowing down the progression of the disease and in adapting our actions to the changed situation. For example, we have increased the level of preparedness in healthcare and the carrying capacity of intensive care.
Although the situation has fortunately remained moderate in Finland thanks to the restrictive measures, it is not yet time to breathe a sigh of relief. The situation is still very serious. The disease is unpredictable, and there are still many things we do not know about this coronavirus.
The Government’s policies on restrictions and other measures are based on the latest available information and experts’ assessments of the progression of the epidemic. As the virus is new and has spread rapidly in different countries, we have had to make decisions in the midst of uncertainty and under severe time pressure.
It has been very valuable for Finland that all of our parliamentary parties have been able to cooperate extensively to enable the rapid introduction of restrictive measures. I would particularly like to thank the opposition parties for their constructive cooperation in dealing with this national crisis. The Government has sought to keep the parliamentary groups informed and has discussed the situation and measures regularly with all groups. We want to continue to do so.
The Government has also been working closely with the Member States and institutions of the European Union during the COVID-19 crisis. We have maintained close contact at the ministerial level and between Prime Ministers, especially with our neighbouring countries Estonia and Sweden. The European Council has met four times via remote connection to discuss healthcare measures, restrictive measures and measures to deal with the economic impact of the COVID-19 crisis. It is of paramount importance that Europe seeks solutions to the crisis together. We need joint coordination and joint action.
We also need broader multilateral cooperation to tackle the global pandemic, develop a vaccine and guarantee its availability. Finland has therefore decided to increase its voluntary funding for the WHO to EUR 5.5 million. Finland is also committed to international research aiming to develop a coronavirus vaccine and has provided EUR five million in finances for its development.
We would not have succeeded in curbing the spread of the epidemic in Finland without the citizens’ commitment to complying with the restrictive measures. People have acted responsibly and have responded to the situation with the seriousness required by it. For this, I would like to thank each and every one of you!
I would also like to thank the numerous healthcare workers, teachers, cleaners, police officers, public transport drivers, retail and catering workers and many other groups of professionals and Finnish businesses that are responsible for keeping society functional in the midst of the crisis.
These exceptional circumstances and restrictive measures are difficult for all of us. Dealing with insecurity, navigating abnormal everyday life, longing for family members and friends, and concerns over our own health and that of our loved ones all put strain on people’s minds and wellbeing. Some people are also concerned about their jobs and livelihoods.
The Government has decided on a number of measures to safeguard jobs and livelihoods and to ease the situation of businesses in the midst of the crisis. Collective organisations have also done valuable work to find solutions. In these difficult times, it is important for us to be able to cooperate extensively and seek solutions together.
Many Finns are certainly wondering when the restrictive measures can be lifted so we can return to normal life. This question is very understandable, and I wish I could give a clear and unambiguous answer. However, the truth is that we do not yet know how long the situation will continue and when we will be able to resume our normal lives. Even if we succeeded in suppressing the disease in Finland, it is possible that it will come back later. One way or another, we have to learn how to live with the virus for the time being.
It is clear that we will not survive the crisis without damage. The epidemic has serious consequences for human health, wellbeing and the economy. We aim to ensure that the damage is as minimal as possible. However, the crisis will inevitably leave its mark on society.
It is important to make sure that the burden caused by the crisis is shared in a socially, economically and environmentally sustainable way, and that it is divided fairly between the generations.
On 22 April, after hearing experts’ assessments of the situation, the Government updated Finland’s coronavirus strategy. Our goal is still to prevent the spread of the virus in Finland, to protect the capacity of the healthcare system and to protect people, especially those who are most at risk.
The efforts to curb the progress of the epidemic in Finland have been successful so far. Consequently, the Government considers that Finland can transfer gradually and in a controlled way from a situation in which there are extensive restrictive measures in society to one in which management of the epidemic is elevated to an enhanced level, in line with the Communicable Diseases Act. However, the restrictive measures cannot all be lifted at once, because the situation is still serious.
Finland’s hybrid strategy focuses on a “test, trace, isolate and treat” approach, alongside the controlled dismantling of restrictive measures. The progress of the disease can be impeded through extensive testing, effective contact tracing of identified infections and chains of transmission, isolating those whose are ill and quarantining those who have been exposed. As part of this hybrid strategy, the Government is continuing with preparations to introduce a mobile application for use in managing the epidemic. A precondition is that the application must be voluntary and must ensure privacy protection.
The preparation group appointed by the Prime Minister’s Office and led by Permanent Secretary Martti Hetemäki will draw up a plan by 1 May for lifting the restrictive measures in a timely manner and moving to the next stage in curbing the progression of the disease. An informal Government meeting on the matter is scheduled for Sunday 3 May. However, the Government is already holding negotiations on early childhood education and other schooling today so that education providers can prepare to resume contact teaching if necessary.
The Government is closely monitoring the effects of its decisions on the progression of the disease. We are also prepared to make changes to our decisions and to correct our policies in the light of new information.
In the midst of this crisis, the Government has also made mistakes. For example, the unclear situation at Helsinki Airport, which went on for too long, should have been resolved more quickly.
When mistakes are made, we must study them and learn from them. The situation at Helsinki Airport was rectified. The targeting of business subsidies is being investigated and solutions are being sought by the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment. We still face challenges in obtaining protective equipment and healthcare supplies, both in Finland and in many other countries, but we are looking into solutions to deal with this issue.
It is absolutely certain that mistakes will also be made in the future. This is because we cannot know everything or predict all possible scenarios. People also fail and make mistakes because we are human.
It is extremely important that we record our experiences of this crisis. We must learn lessons from the crisis and, once the acute situation is over, we must carefully assess the functioning of our central government, cooperation between authorities and our national preparedness for emergencies. Based on our experiences so far, I can say that we have lacked the instruments needed to deal with times of crisis, and we have had to create them along the way under far too tight a preparation schedule.
Our emergency powers legislation must be carefully assessed and reformed in cooperation with all parliamentary parties. The legislation as a whole should be revised from the point of view of preparedness so that we can be better prepared for possible crises in the future.
“If we can’t know for sure how things will go, let’s assume that all will go well.”
These words by President Mauno Koivisto are also well suited to the current moment. Our outlook for the future is exceptionally uncertain. We are walking through a fog, and it is hard to see what lies in front of us. Yet we must move forward and trust that we will find a way out of this crisis together.
As a nation, we have survived many trials over the course of history. We will get through this, too.