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Prime Minister Marin's speech at the referral debate in Parliament concerning decrees on the use of specified powers under the Emergency Powers Act

Government Communications Department
Publication date 26.3.2020 21.44
Pääministeri Marin

Prime Minister Marin's speech at the referral debate in Parliament concerning decrees on the use of specified powers under the Emergency Powers Act on 26 March 2020. Check against delivery:

Mr Speaker,

The Government, working with the President of the Republic, declared on 16 March 2020, that the exceptional conditions referred to in section 3, paragraphs 3 and 5 of the Emergency Powers Act prevail in Finland as a result of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

The pandemic caused by this novel coronavirus has spread throughout the world, to Finland too. For a proportion of the population, COVID-19 is a severe disease. Particularly for older people – the over-70s – there is a very significant risk of death from contracting the virus. Contrary to what was thought at the beginning of the pandemic, coronavirus can also be very severe for some younger age groups, as some of those infected who are aged 30–69 have, as a result of the virus, suffered pneumonia that requires intensive care, with their health and lives at risk. When the duration of an epidemic is prolonged, the proportion of middle-aged people among the total number of severe cases has generally risen.

As it spreads, the virus has driven countries’ healthcare systems to their limits, especially hospital care. Among those admitted to hospital, a remarkably high proportion, as much as a third, have been transferred to intensive care within a few days. The need for hospital care has focused particularly on intensive care for patients with severe respiratory insufficiency and multiple organ damage, and without this such patients would not normally survive. Intensive care for severe respiratory insufficiency due to pneumonia caused by the virus is extremely demanding and recovery is typically slow, with a long period in intensive care.

In Finland, too, the epidemic means an unprecedented burden on specialised medical care, and especially on acute intensive care. Coronavirus also places an extremely heavy burden on primary healthcare, social services and hospital wards.

As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, the Government has introduced a wide range of measures aimed at slowing and preventing the progress of the epidemic, securing the capacity and functioning of the healthcare system, and protecting the lives and health especially of those belonging to risk groups.

The Government has been following the coronavirus situation closely and has been preparing extensively since the start of January. Finland has also taken active steps, focusing strongly on urgent needs, to curb the epidemic.

In February the Government informed all parliamentary groups of the situation and a Prime Minister’s announcement was made to Parliament concerning Finland’s preparedness for coronavirus. The Government also set up a COVID-19 coordination group that is in operation until further notice. It consists of the permanent secretaries and heads of preparedness of the relevant ministries.

At the start of March the Government declared that public events should be cancelled until the end of May, that those returning from outbreak areas should self-isolate for two weeks, that remote-working should be favoured wherever possible, that travel should be avoided, that close contact should be limited in order to protect risk groups, and that coronavirus testing should be increased. In addition, the Government announced it was preparing for the costs arising from the coronavirus epidemic through supplementary budgets.

On Monday 16 March the Government announced 19 new measures. These included decisions on suspending contact teaching in basic education and upper secondary and higher education institutions, on restricting gatherings in public places to no more than ten people, on the closure of public buildings such as libraries, museums and sports and recreational facilities, and on prohibiting visits to older people and other risk groups in housing service facilities, care institutions, healthcare units and hospitals. Private and third sector operators and religious communities were also recommended to close their premises. Finland began preparations for reintroducing border control along its borders, and it was also decided to suspend passenger traffic. Guidance was issued requiring people over 70 years of age to avoid close contact with others.

On 17 March, the Government submitted two decrees to Parliament on the use of specified powers under the Emergency Powers Act. The provisions cover, for example, restriction of the sale of medicines, goods and services used in healthcare, the provision of education and training, and the provision of healthcare and social welfare services, and they also extend notice periods for staff in healthcare, social welfare services, rescue services and emergency response centres.

On Friday 20 March, the Government presented measures for securing jobs and a massive 15 billion euro package for supporting businesses and people.

On Tuesday 24 March, the Government submitted a legislative proposal to Parliament on the closure of restaurants, cafes and licensed premises for the purpose of preventing close contact of customers. At the same time, the Government, working with Parliament’s Finance Committee, is to significantly increase the direct support for small and medium-sized businesses to help them through this crisis period.

The only effective way to slow the progress of the coronavirus epidemic is to reduce people’s contact and movements by introducing restrictive measures. It is important that the necessary measures are introduced if we want to be sure of having sufficient intensive care capacity, of avoiding serious limits on care admissions and of averting danger to the life or health of those infected and others in need of intensive care.

To ensure this, the Government yesterday submitted a decree to Parliament on the use of powers conferred under section 118 of the Emergency Powers Act. The decree restricts, for a fixed period, the movement of people into and out of the Region of Uusimaa.

At the same time, the Government has decided to use the power conferred under section 95, subsection 2 of the Emergency Powers Act, concerning the work obligation applicable to healthcare personnel, and to apply the related sections 96–103.

Mr Speaker,

Under section 118 of the Emergency Powers Act, restrictions are to be introduced on people's movements into and out of the Region of Uusimaa. Specifically, entry into and exit from the region will be prohibited. Everyone will, however, have the right to return to their home or place of residence. Exclusions from the movement restrictions set out in the decree are possible if the travel is essential for conducting official duties, or for work purposes, whether as an employee, an entrepreneur or a self-employed person, or in connection with a position of trust, or for fulfilling a statutory obligation, or in connection with the death of a family member, or the right of access to a child, or for other compelling personal reasons. Recreational travel is not considered such a personal reason. If requested by the police, people will have to declare the destination and purpose of their journey. International and domestic air traffic is permitted for Helsinki Airport within the limits of the aviation restrictions.

At the moment, the epidemic is clearly further advanced in the Uusimaa region than elsewhere in the country. In Uusimaa, the incidence of coronavirus cases that are confirmed and entered in the infectious diseases register is more than double compared with the rest of Finland. The number of people requiring hospital care is also relatively higher than in the rest of the country. The risk of a significant spread in infections to other parts of Finland through non-essential travel from Uusimaa is great.

The main aim of the restrictions is to slow the spread of the epidemic, with the purpose of ensuring that people’s lives and health are not endangered. In terms of both the aim and the purpose, the restrictions on non-essential movements of people from Uusimaa to other parts of the country are necessary. With the virus being transported by people, there are no other means for preventing the spread from Uusimaa to other parts of Finland. Neither should anybody travel to Uusimaa from elsewhere in the country unless this is essential, as the risk of infection in the region is high and returning to other areas of the county would spread the virus.

The movement restrictions between Uusimaa and the rest of Finland are therefore necessary in the way referred to in section 118 of the Emergency Powers Act, for the purpose of ensuring that the growth of the epidemic elsewhere in Finland can be sufficiently slowed. In our assessment, the movement restrictions should improve the availability of intensive care and thus reduce the number of lives lost among those infected with COVID-19 and among others requiring intensive care. There are no alternative powers under our normal legislation that would ensure as effectively that the goal is met. Under the Emergency Powers Act there are no powers with which the goal could be achieve with a lesser degree of intervention in people's rights and freedoms. The Government considers that the movement restrictions are necessary and proportionate.

The restrictions would be imposed with an end date of Sunday 19 April 2020. The practical application of the decree and the progress of the epidemic will be carefully monitored. If the grounds for applying the decree’s provisions are no longer met, the decree will be repealed. If, during the period the decree is in force, it is found that the epidemic has already spread to other parts of Finland to the extent that the movement restrictions no longer have a meaningful effect, the restrictions will be revoked.

Mr Speaker,

As the virus epidemic escalates it is possible that healthcare units could experience a shortage of personnel in relation to the rising need for services. A healthcare personnel shortage could also be exacerbated by sickness absences among healthcare personnel. This could significantly hamper the functioning of critical services.

The primary way of ensuring sufficient numbers of staff is to purchase services and recruit additional personnel in the normal way.

The Government has decided to use the power conferred under section 95, subsection 2 of the Emergency Powers Act and to apply sections 96–103 of the Act.

Section 95, subsection 2 sets out provisions on the work obligation applicable to healthcare personnel.  Under the decree, this obligation on healthcare personnel to carry out work can be applied throughout the country.

To safeguard the position and rights of people obliged to work, the provisions of chapter 14 of the Emergency Powers Act will also apply. These provisions concern the reporting duties of people obliged to work, the content of an order to work, restrictions on issuing an order to work and matters to be taken into account when issuing an order to work. In addition, provisions on the employment relationship of a person obliged to work, the terms and conditions of the employment relationship, the employer’s obligation to disclose information and the work obligation register will apply.  

The purpose of using these powers is to secure a sufficient number of personnel during the virus epidemic, so that we can ensure the functional capacity of our health and social services is sufficient.

The decree is in force until 13 April 2020.

Mr Speaker,

The Government has a duty to ensure everyone’s right to life, to secure adequate health services for everyone, even during a pandemic, and to promote the health of the population. The necessary government actions to achieve these goals are exceptional in their extent and reach, including actions affecting people’s fundamental rights. The grounds for introducing restrictions on movement and stay under the Emergency Powers Act during this pandemic are extremely strong. The restrictions will allow us to protect the ability of the healthcare system to function properly and therefore to combat the serious risks to people’s lives and health.

With these decrees on the use of specified powers under the Emergency Powers Act, we will be exercising powers which the Government considers necessary in the current situation and proportionate for slowing the spread and advance of the COVID-19 pandemic, and especially for ensuring the adequacy of care and other human resources.