Due to COVID-19, Finland was in state of emergency from 16 March to 16 June 2020 and from 1 March to 27 April 2021.
During a state of emergency, the authorities may be granted additional powers, primarily those laid down in in the Emergency Powers Act. The powers defined in the Emergency Powers Act can be exercised only if the authorities cannot control the situation with normal powers. Restrictions may be placed on the rights and everyday lives of individuals only if this is necessary to protect the population.
Now that the state of emergency is over, the powers of the Emergency Powers Act no longer apply and the crisis is being managed using the powers of the legislation in place under normal conditions, including the Communicable Diseases Act and the Border Guard Act. In addition, the situation is being managed through regulations, guidelines and recommendations issued by the authorities.
What does it mean to be in a state of emergency?
The Government, in cooperation with the President of the Republic, may declare a state of emergency when the criteria for a state of emergency are met. Emergencies refer to crises that seriously threaten the nation.
The powers of the authorities during emergencies are primarily laid down in the Emergency Powers Act. The Emergency Powers Act defines five different types of emergencies, which cover particularly serious crises. One of these is a widespread infectious disease, such as the COVID-19 pandemic. Under the Constitution, an Act may also provide for other emergency conditions and the powers of the authorities to be exercised when they are in effect.
The purpose of the Emergency Powers Act is to secure the livelihood of the population and the national economy, to maintain legal order and fundamental and human rights, and to safeguard the territorial integrity and independence of Finland in emergency conditions.
Under emergency conditions, the authorities may exercise only those powers that are necessary for their purpose and proportionate to the objective pursued. The powers laid down in the Act may only be used in ways that are necessary in order to achieve the purpose of the Act and proportionate to the objective of their use. The powers may be exercised only if the authorities cannot control the situation by using regular powers.
Provisions of fundamental rights are laid down in the Constitution of Finland. Public authorities must guarantee the realisation of fundamental and human rights. One of the fundamental rights laid down in the Constitution is the freedom to conduct business: everyone has the right, as provided by an Act, to earn their livelihood by the employment, occupation or commercial activity of their choice. Fundamental rights also include the right to life and health and the right to adequate healthcare and social welfare services. The Constitution further states that it is the duty of the public health authorities to promote the health of the population.
Under the Constitution, provisional exceptions may made to fundamental rights in a state of emergency, provided that these are necessary and in compliance with Finland’s international human rights obligations. The grounds for provisional exceptions must, however, be laid down in an Act.