Finland to start scaling back COVID curbs early, Greece eases restrictions

COVID measures have been scaled back in Greece and Finland as COVID-19 cases begin to fall. [EPA-EFE / KOSTAS TSIRONIS]

Finland will scale back some of its coronavirus restrictions early while Greece has extended the opening times of cafes and restaurants and allowed music amid falling cases.

The Finnish government announced Thursday (27 January) as the strain on the healthcare system eases despite the Omicron wave sweeping the continent.

Starting 1 February, curbs on low-risk events and businesses will be eased.

“The burden on hospitals is still high, but the most serious cases are declining, and there has been a turn for the better in intensive care,” health minister Hanna Sarkkinen wrote in a statement on Twitter.

The Nordic nation of 5.5 million has maintained some of the European Union’s lowest incidence rates throughout the pandemic, but infections have increased in recent weeks due to the Omicron variant.

On 18 January, the Finnish government extended a slew of virus curbs introduced in December, including reduced opening hours for restaurants and bars as well as caps on public gatherings.

At the time, Prime Minister Sanna Marin anticipated most curbs would need to stay in place until mid-February.

But starting at the outset of next month, restaurants will be allowed to stay open until 9 pm, three hours longer than what is currently allowed, the government said in a statement.

Bars will still need to close at 6 pm and stop serving alcohol at 5 pm.

The government also said that restrictions around low-risk cultural and sporting events could start being eased.

Earlier on Thursday, the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare reported around 52,000 new COVID-19 cases last week, compared to 57,000 the week before, while the number of virus patients in intensive care had declined nationwide.

Since the start of the pandemic, Finland has recorded 470,665 confirmed cases and 1,973 deaths.

Finland’s announcement comes after Nordic neighbour Denmark said it would scrap virtually all COVID-19 restrictions on 1 February, setting it on course to become the first EU country to lift domestic curbs.

Greece allows music and longer hours

Meanwhile, Greece will allow music in restaurants and bars again and extend operating hours. It lifts some of the restrictions imposed last month now that coronavirus infections and the pressure on hospitals are easing, authorities said on Thursday.

The country last month forced bars, nightclubs and restaurants to close at midnight, with no standing customers and no music, following a surge of cases over the Christmas holidays due to the fast-spreading Omicron variant.

“We have decided to scale back the restrictions, taking into consideration the course of the pandemic in terms of cases which have been declining in recent weeks,” Health Minister Thanos Plevris said in a televised statement.

He said that despite ongoing pressure on the health system, the rate of hospital admissions and discharges, shorter duration and less severe illness for the Omicron variant compared to Delta allowed authorities to ease the curbs.

Capacity restrictions will remain in place for sport events, while a double mask is mandatory in supermarkets and transport.

Greece reported 19,712 new cases on Thursday. Since a record high of around 50,000 in early January, infections have been easing.

A total of 23,083 deaths linked to COVID-19 have been reported since February 2020, and 1,867,935 cases out of a population of 11 million people.

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