The Government, in cooperation with the President of the Republic, has declared a state of emergency in Finland due to COVID-19. The Government decided on the matter in its plenary session on 1 March 2021. Based on the decision the country is in a state of emergency as referred to in section 3, paragraph 5 of the Emergency Powers Act.
Section 3, paragraph 5 of the Emergency Powers Act states that a widespread outbreak of a serious infectious disease, the effect of which is comparable to a major disaster, meets the definition of a state of emergency.
The state of emergency was declared because earlier this year, Finland experienced a considerable increase in the number of new COVID-19 cases. The number of cases continued to increase at an alarming rate despite restrictive measures. The state of emergency entered into force immediately and remains in effect until further notice.
Amendments to powers based on the Emergency Powers Act
On 11 March, Parliament adopted two government decrees by virtue of which it is possible to use powers under the Emergency Powers Act. The decrees are in force between 11 March and 30 April 2021 or, at the most, for as long as Finland is in a state of emergency as defined in the Emergency Powers Act. The decrees do not apply in Åland.
Based on the powers under the Emergency Powers Act,
- the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health and regional state administrative agencies may guide and supervise the operations of healthcare and social welfare units
- municipalities may temporarily deviate from the time limits for non-urgent care
- the Prime Minister's Office may manage and coordinate communications in emergencies
- the Government has the right to resolve disputes and interpretations concerning the use of powers.
- Prime Minister’s Office decides on management and coordination of COVID-19 communications (19 March 2021)
- Government to introduce powers necessary to manage COVID-19 with decrees on use of powers under Emergency Powers Act (5 March 2021)
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.