Finland announced new measures on Tuesday.
The daily number of Covid cases in Finland has hovered around the 2,000 mark for about a week now, with the Omicron variant coming to dominate the number of cases and increasing pressure on hospitals.
On Tuesday, the government announced new measures in an attempt to slow the spread of the epidemic, after seven hours of talks between ministers of the five-party government coalition.
Here’s what you need to know about the new rules.
1. Restaurants and bars restricted from 24.12 and more restricted from 28.12
In areas with community transmission of the epidemic, restaurants and bars will have limited opening hours. From Christmas Eve, restaurants will have to close at 10 p.m. and stop serving at 9 p.m. This restriction cannot be circumvented by asking customers for a Covid pass, so all establishments will have to close at that time.
On the following days, restaurants can maintain these opening hours (closing at 10 p.m.), provided they request the Covid pass.
From Tuesday 28.12, more stringent restrictions come into effect, for an initial period of three weeks. Restaurants will have to close at 6 p.m. and stop serving alcohol at 5 p.m. Food-focused outlets will be allowed to open until 8 p.m., but will not be allowed to serve alcohol after 6 p.m.
Bars and pubs will see their capacity limited to 50%, while food-focused businesses will be able to accommodate 75% of the usual maximum number of customers.
Currently, restaurants have had to close at 6 p.m., but have been able to avoid this restriction if they require customers to present a Covid pass. This exemption will no longer apply.
These rules apply to areas in the “community transmission” phase. These are all hospital districts in the country, except North Savo, North Karelia, Kainuu and East Savo.
2. Covid passes can still be used to keep “low risk” settings like libraries and gyms open.
The government has recommended to regional state administrative agencies, or Avis, that low-risk activities can continue if people with Covid pass through the entrance.
Prime Minister Sanna Marin (SDP) cited THL classifications that suggest low risk environments are museums, libraries, and art exhibitions.
Indoor spaces used for exercise or individual sports are also classified as low risk, as are public saunas, swimming pools and the changing rooms attached to them.
All low risk activities can therefore remain open using the Covid pass system. However, the final decision on these restrictions will be made by the Avi agencies and municipalities, and they can set more stringent rules if they wish.
3. The Covid pass is no longer valid in risky situations
The THL table lists situations where the agency judges the risk of Covid infection to be significant. These activities will not be allowed to take place even with a Covid pass from 28.12 – in areas classified at the “community transmission” stage. These are all hospital districts in the country, except North Savo, North Karelia, Kainuu and East Savo.
This restriction will be in place for three weeks and will be passed as an amendment to the Infectious Diseases Act.
High risk situations include nightclubs, karaoke restaurants, bars, and mass events where there is no seating arrangement.
Moderate risk is involved in choral concerts with more than ten singers, outdoor stands where seats are not allocated and exhibitions where there is no special arrangement to avoid contact. The list also includes “indoor spaces related to team sport or group exercise”.
In practice, this means that these activities and facilities will be closed, even if they ask for Covid passes to prove vaccine status.
4. No new restrictions on schools
There are no new restrictions planned in schools, except for a recommendation for distance education in universities and polytechnics.
The government has discussed the possibility of returning schools to distance education, but Prime Minister Marin said there was no consensus to do so. This means that primary and secondary schools will continue to be delivered in classrooms.
Education Minister Li andersson (Left), however, urged local authorities to introduce rules on wearing masks in schools.
It is recommended that universities switch to distance education, but each institution is free to make its decisions independently. The recommendations do not apply to necessary contact teaching situations.
5. Strengthening border controls
Arrivals at the country’s borders will have to present proof of a negative Covid test that was carried out within 48 hours of entering the country. This rule comes into effect on December 28 and will be in effect until January 16.
In addition to having a negative Covid test, newcomers will need to present certificates proving that they are fully vaccinated or that they have recovered from Covid within the past six months.
Until December 31, 2021, the requirement will apply to arrivals born in 2005 or before, then after January 1, 2022, the requirement will apply to arrivals born in 2006 or before.
There are exceptions to these requirements, including Finnish citizens, permanent residents or people whose entry is deemed necessary, for example for compelling family reasons, according to the government.
In addition, residents of border communities in northern Finland, Sweden and Norway – as well as people in transit between the Swedish municipality of Norrtälje and Åland – can replace the above requirement with a certificate proving: full Covid vaccination, recovery from illness within the past six months, or evidence of a negative Covid test within the past seven days from arrival.