The Finnish government has prepared a draft plan for the gradual easing and removal of restrictions on coronaviruses, starting this month with the end of the partial shutdown.
The plan would see elementary school students in all parts of the country return to classrooms in April, while bars and restaurants would once again be allowed to open their doors to customers.
There are still plenty of uncertainties around the plan to ease restrictions, as measures may need to be maintained or reintroduced if the epidemic situation worsens, but the government presented the project to opposition parties on Thursday and has l plan to officially release the finalized plan on Friday.
Here is a summary of the main points of the plan:
April, end of exceptional circumstances:
- Emergency Use of Powers Act expires
- Elementary students return to class
- Bars and restaurants open, with customer capacity limits
May, restrictions are lifted again
- Restrictions to curb the rapid acceleration of the epidemic will be removed
- Outdoor recreation for children and young people begins
- From Grades 7 to 9, secondary and vocational schools return to classrooms nationwide
- Public spaces, such as libraries and museums, are open
- Work-related travel within the EU will be allowed
June, phasing out of regional restrictions
- Restrictions on public gatherings will be relaxed
- Restrictions on opening hours, capacity of bars and restaurants will be relaxed
- Beginning of outdoor group activities for adults
- Audience events begin, with participation limits
- End of controls at the EU’s internal borders
July-August, increase vaccination coverage
- Restrictions on gatherings will be relaxed and removed
- Restrictions on participation in public events will be relaxed
- Group recreation begins again
- Opening of work-related trips outside the EU
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Progress in immunization and lifting restrictions go ‘hand in hand’
The government will closely monitor vaccination coverage as restrictions are relaxed, with a current estimate that all older people will have received at least one dose of a vaccine by the end of April and those in risk groups. by the end of May.
The government hopes that 50 percent of the working-age population will receive at least one dose by June, rising to 100 percent in August. Seniors and at-risk groups should receive their second dose by August.
However, projections by the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) are subject to change due to uncertainties over vaccine supply, their restrictions on different age groups and people’s willingness to take the vaccine.
The epidemic will likely subside by May 1
The government’s plan is based on the THL’s assessment that the coronavirus situation will start to improve around the end of April or early May. If this happens, there would be an opportunity for the gradual opening of the company before the summer months.
The assessment is based on the assumption that the vaccination rollout will go as planned, which is described in the plan as “prudent”.
Not all restrictions will be relaxed, however, even by the end of summer, as many people still would not be fully vaccinated and the most contagious variants of the virus would likely be the most infectious forms.
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The plan therefore predicts that the number of infections will start to rise again in August as social contact in schools and workplaces increases.
However, this increase in infections is expected to be more moderate than last fall, as the vaccination coverage of adults, especially young adults, would be high enough to prevent a resurgence of infections.
Plan dependent on several indicators
The government will not start to automatically lift the restrictions in the spring and summer, as the easing or removal of restrictions will depend on the current epidemic situation based on several indicators.
The first of these indicators is the infection rate, which is expected to be reduced to around 50 cases per 100,000 population in the previous two weeks across the country. In addition, the chains of infection should be under control and the proportion of positive results in all coronavirus tests should be less than 1.5%.
Each phase-out of a restriction would be accompanied by an observation period of two or three weeks, after which further restrictions could be lifted.
The government is also working to coordinate the lifting of restrictions with other EU countries, with member states agreeing that external borders can be opened when the epidemic situation in neighboring countries is the same.
Travel to the EU possible with the “ Covid passport ”
EU countries are preparing a common ‘Covid passport’ that would allow travel between member states for people who have been vaccinated, those with negative test results or those who have already had the virus.
Finland is preparing to have the Finnish vaccine passport ready by the end of the summer. It will be implemented using the Omakanta system, which allows users to view their own health information, including records and prescriptions.
The European Commission had previously hoped the passport system would be in place by the end of June, but many countries have indicated that they will miss the deadline.
The government’s plan states that “due to the pace of vaccination, the government does not deem it appropriate to introduce privilege regimes for those who have been vaccinated,” and therefore, the travel restrictions would still apply to all. people living in Finland.
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The government also predicts that work-related travel and trips to see close family within the European Union would be possible again in May or June.
Work-related trips to the EU from third countries could possibly start again in early autumn, while tourist trips to Finland from third countries are described more loosely in the plan, “as the epidemic is fading “.
Bars, restaurants open under strict conditions
The current closure of bars and restaurants in most parts of Finland is scheduled to end on Sunday April 18. After that, the government expects that the reopening of the premises will come with restrictions on opening hours and limits on the number of customers allowed at any time.
A bill is currently being studied in Parliament, which would allow the opening hours of bars and restaurants to be more strictly regulated than before the closing decree.
In its strictest form, the bill would mean that bars and restaurants in the worst affected areas could be ordered to stop serving as early as 5 p.m. and close at 6 p.m.
If the viral situation improves, it is likely that the more stringent bar and restaurant regulations would apply to fewer regions than the current shutdown order.
Events could restart in three stages
The government plans to facilitate the organization of events, such as concerts and festivals, through a three-step process. However, these restrictions are decided independently by municipalities and regional state administrative agencies (Avi).
As a first step, it would be possible to organize events in which members of the public were assigned their own seats and the groups could avoid close contact with each other.
At this point, the national infection rate is expected to be 75 cases per 100,000 population in the previous two weeks, and the regional situation should also be brought under control.
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In the second stage, it would be possible to organize “bigger events”, but the maximum audience would have to be scaled according to the space. In this situation, the national infection rate should not exceed 50.
In the third step, the restrictions would be lifted entirely.
Mask, telecommuting recommendations may end in June
As part of the lifting of the restrictions, the government intends to consider in early June to remove the recommendations to wear face masks and to work from home if possible.
However, both recommendations will be reconsidered again in August, as the end of the summer vacation could cause the virus to spread among unvaccinated people.
In addition, recommendations to stay home and take a coronavirus test if symptoms of the coronavirus are evident may remain in place for a long time until the outbreak subsides.
Recommendations for good hand hygiene and coughing may also remain permanent.