Finland tightens restaurant, border COVID-19 restrictions

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HELSINKI, Nov. 25 (Xinhua) -- In light of the rapid worsening of the country's COVID-19 situation, several decisions on border health protection measures and restaurant opening hours were taken by the authorities in Finland on Thursday, practically restoring the COVID-19 measures the country had in place in spring 2021.

Over the past two weeks, the incidence rate in Finland has been 237 new coronavirus cases per 100,000 inhabitants, up from 133 recorded in mid-October. Last week alone, 7,200 new cases were reported. The number of patients needing intensive care has nearly tripled over the past three weeks.

Krista Kiuru, minister of family affairs and social services, said at a government press conference that on Thursday there was only a single intensive care unit (ICU) bed vacant for COVID-19 cases. She said that all patients would receive care, but scheduled surgeries would have to be delayed to create ICU capacity.

Finland began relaxing its restrictions in September based on the understanding that an 80 percent vaccination rate would make return to normality possible. However, the virus began to spread among the unvaccinated.

Despite vocal opposition in recent weeks from both the catering industry and the unions, the coalition parties on Thursday decided to cut back restaurant opening hours drastically.

Kiuru told journalists that restaurants and bars in Helsinki would have to close no later than 6 p.m. and end alcohol sales at 5 p.m. The current limits are 12 midnight and 1 a.m., respectively.

At the press conference, senior government adviser Ismo Tuominen said that the new rules will enter into force this Sunday.

At the country's borders, unvaccinated travelers will continue to be tested upon arrival and will be required to undergo a second test later.

Concerns within the coalition about the repercussions on the tourism industry were reflected in political statements earlier this week.

However, Kiuru said that an agreement on the new health controls at the borders had been reached and submitted to parliament. Earlier this week, she said that there were an estimated 100,000 foreign guest workers in Finland. "They would come back after the holiday season and would have to be tested."

Finland uses a decentralized two-tier approach to decisions on COVID-19. Most restrictions are decided at regional level, while the central cabinet is in charge of restaurant opening hours and border control measures only.

Kiuru said she was not satisfied with the regions' slow decision-making processes, urging them to be more efficient.

This week, two of the country's regions issued strict face mask recommendations. Remote work is also returning.

Over 81 percent of Finland's population have already been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. A third vaccine dose has been administered to 4.2 percent, mainly to risk groups and those over 60.

Finland is now preparing to authorize a booster dose to a broader segment of the population and to start the vaccination of five to 11-year-olds in line with the latest European recommendations. Enditem

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