Post-summer COVID news: Increasing number of Finns disatisfied with government’s COVID-19 response

**This article is continuously updated with the latest developments.

34% of about 3,000 Finnish companies feel that Prime Minister Sanna Marin’s green and red government has been dealing with the crisis badly or even very badly and has not managed to control the pandemic, according to the Central Chamber of Commerce’s October survey.

In a similar survey in May, a wide majority of the country’s businesses and industry approved of the measures taken by the government, while only 13% of those surveyed voiced their dissatisfaction, particularly among the service and travel sector.

Among the companies included in the October survey, about 75% of them have witnessed a drop in sales, while 44% have been forced to lay off staff. In the next two months, 43% are predicting more staff cuts.

New travel regulations

Due to rise in COVID-19 infections, travel between Finland and Latvia, Liechtenstein and Cyprus will be restricted from 12 October.

Finland also lowered the recommended self-isolation period after possible exposure from 14 to 10 days, as health officials in the country consider that more than half of all cases become evident within five days and nearly all within ten days.

Importing nurses from the Phillipines

Private nursing home company, Attendo, is planning to hire 1,000 nurses from the Philippines to staff around 400 homes, the Talouselämä magazine first reported.

The health sector has a more acute shortage of qualified workforce and will continue having this problem in the near future.

On estimate, public and private nursing homes will need up to 4,000 health care professionals within a few years due to new regulations which oblige to add up the number of personnel.

Attendo has already previously hired some 300 nurses from the Philippines and experiences have been very positive. The Asian country educates a lot of well-qualified professionals, but many of them can’t find work in their own country.

A dwindling economy

Even though the Finnish economy has been less struck by the coronavirus pandemic than many other nations, the country’s economy will nevertheless shrink by 4.5% this year, according to an economic survey published by Finland’s finance ministry on 5 October.

Predicted is a slow recovery which might gather pace if the pandemic can be harnessed and a possible COVID-19 vaccine becomes available.

The finance ministry is expecting the Gross domestic product (GDP) to grow by 2.6% in 2021 and by 1.7% the year after. Unemployment for 2021, however, is expected to rise to 8.2% at most. The following year, demand for labour is expected to grow gradually and earnings will rise by about 2%, while the increase in consumer prices will remain moderate.

New COVID-19 restrictions

Following the marathon-like negotiations on the coronavirus situation, the Finnish government came out late on Tuesday evening (29 September) with a set of new restrictive measures.

Restaurants, bars and nightclubs will have to close at 1 am and serving alcohol is only allowed until midnight.

The new regulations come into effect on 8 October and will be in place until the end of the month, though the government confirmed it would assess the situation on a weekly and geographical basis and tighten the regulations accordingly, if necessary.

Like in the rest of Europe, younger adults (20-29 years of age) are the group accounting for most cases of the virus and the pandemic in Finland has now officially entered the acceleration phase, the National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) has announced.

For many restaurants and clubs, the government’s decisions may be the last nail in the coffin as the early hours after midnight are often the most profitable ones.

The Finnish Hospitality Association is predicting bankruptcies and rising unemployment.

Travel restrictions reinstated a week after easing

Due to the worsening COVID-19 situation in Europe, the Finnish government decided on 24 September to reinstate travel restrictions that were eased less than a week ago.

From 28 September, Finnish citizens can travel only to six European countries without having to quarantine upon return, while travelling to any other country is not recommended.

Travelling to Finland without restrictions will be permitted only from countries where the number of diagnosed coronavirus cases has been lower than 25 per 100,000 inhabitants.

Travellers arriving from risk countries where the number of COVID-19 cases surpasses the 25-person limit, will either undergo a voluntary, or in some cases, mandatory 14-day quarantine.

Work-related travel to and from Sweden and Estonia will be exempt from this measure, even if infection numbers rise. The same applies to cross-border traffic up north between Finland, Norway and Sweden.

In addition, face masks should be used in schools, colleges, universities and all events where safe distancing is not possible, the country’s Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) also announced on 24 September.

This comes after the Finnish government had decided on 10 September to have less rigid border traffic restrictions as of 19 September.

From 19-28 September, people travelling to Finland did not have to undergo a two-week quarantine if they came from countries with up to 25 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, compared to the previoust eight cases.

To enter Finland from a country that has more cases during that period, travellers had to present a negative coronavirus test result.

At the time, the government’s decision was a huge relief for holiday operators, especially in Lapland, where preparations are underway for the Christmas season.

Finland launches new COVID-19 tracing app

The Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) launched on 31 August a free coronavirus tracing app called Koronavilkku (corona flash in English).

Within its first four days of availability, the app was downloaded by one in four of Finland’s 5.5 million population, director Mika Salminen of the Finnish Institute For Health and Welfare said on 3 September, adding it was among the best download rates for such apps launched around Europe.

In the hope of breaking infection chains, the app finds out whether users may have been exposed to the virus.

When the phones of app users come into close contact, a generated code will be sent to the users via a Bluetooth signal. If close contact is made with someone who reported their infection, an alert of potential exposure is sent to the app.

For those diagnosed with the virus, health services will send the patient a key code that can be keyed into the app so that other app users who come in close contact are alerted.

Location data of app users are collected from users who are within the phone’s proximity for at least 15 minutes. The information stored in phones is promised to remain anonymous, before being automatically deleted after 21 days, and user identity and location is not saved.

Launched at first in Finnish and Swedish, and available in the App Store and on Google Play, the app will be available in English by autumn. With close to 84% of Finland’s population having a smartphone, the Koronavilkku app is expected to be widely downloaded.

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A very slight drop in GDP but a bigger-than-expected budget deficit

Finland’s seasonally adjusted GDP saw a 3.2% drop in the second quarter of 2020, according to Statistics Finland. Back in May, the national banks and other economists predicted the economy to take a 10% hit.

This means that following the health crisis’ ravaging impacts on European economies, Finland’s economy, which relied on a smooth transition to remote working and digital skills, appears to be the EU’s top performer, according to Eurostat figures.

For EU member states, GDP dropped by almost 12% on average between the first and second quarter of the year, Nordic neighbours Sweden and Denmark saw their respective GDPs drop by 8.6% and 7.4% during the same period.

Though many economists believe Finland has fared rather well, the country’s economy will depend European export markets and the companies’ ability and willingness to invest.

Stakes are particularly high in the tourism sector. Operators and hotels in Lapland are informing that ten weeks without customers would be enough for most of the sector to go bust.

When it comes to the budget deficit, things are a little less rosy.

Next year’s budget deficit will be more than €7 billion which is more than anticipated, announced Finance Minister Matti Vanhanen (Centre Party) midway through the three-day budget negotiations on 14 September.

On top of that, Finland’s industry has been affected by closures and layoffs.

In September, not only did forest industry giant UPM announce the closure of one of its major facilities in Finland, fuel firm Neste also confirmed it will be shutting down its refinery.

Some of the strictest travel restrictions in Europe

From 24 August, travellers coming from just a handful of states will now be able to enter Finland as the country has removed most EU member states from its so-called “green travel list”.

Finland’s tougher rules mean only travellers from Italy, Hungary, Slovakia, Estonia and Lithuania will now be allowed into the country without proof of a valid reason and self-isolating for two weeks. The same applies to the following non-EU countries: Georgia, Rwanda and South Korea.

For travel between Finland and Iceland, Greece, Malta, Germany, Norway and Denmark, controls have been reinstated, however. And when it comes to states from outside the Schengen Zone, travel restrictions will now apply to people travelling from Ireland, Cyprus and San Marino and Japan. Travel restrictions with Sweden and Russia will also remain in place.

While all non-essential travel such as tourism should be avoided, permission is granted for work-related travel, land border travel between Finnish, Norwegian and Swedish local border communities, as well as for exceptional reasons such as family emergencies.

“Finland’s border policy is the tightest in the European Union, because we have wanted to preserve the relatively good virus situation,” Interior Minister Maria Ohisalo told a press conference.

Since June, Helsinki has said it will allow arrivals from countries with fewer than eight new coronavirus cases per 100,000 population in the last two weeks, though ministers have now made exceptions for countries with under 10 cases.

Finland currently has one of Europe’s lowest incidences of COVID-19, registering a total of 337 new cases (5.5 per 100,000 inhabitants) in the past two weeks, reaching a total of 7,938 cases since the start of the pandemic.

[Edited by Natasha Foote, Alexandra Brzozowski, Gerardo Fortuna, Vlagyiszlav Makszimov, Daniel Eck]

 

→ Read more on the measures taken before summer break here:

Finland to lift travel restrictions to EU and Schengen states from 13 July

The EURACTIV Network provides you with the latest news on how the country is dealing with the coronavirus health crisis.

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