Finland lifts blockade on capital, retains other restrictions

Finland’s prime minister lifted a blockade on the Helsinki region on Wednesday, but warned that the epidemic “is not yet under control” and other restrictions will remain.

The government on March 28 shut roads and rail services into and out of Uusimaa county, which contains the capital, to all but essential travel in a bid to stop infections spreading to the rest of the country. 

But the growing number of cases outside Helsinki means that the blockade can no longer be justified under state of emergency legislation, Prime Minister Sanna Marin said. 

“Some regions have seen higher levels of spread than in Uusimaa,” Marin told a press conference.  

But she called on residents to continue avoiding travel, saying that “now is not the right time to go to the summer cottage.” 

Other restrictions, such as the closure of schools for older children and bans on gatherings of more than 10 people, will remain in place, Marin said, warning that the country remains “at the mercy of the virus.” 

An expert group will report to the cabinet next week with its initial assessment of how long the restrictions should continue, and whether new measures should be introduced, such as the use of fabric masks in public places. 

On Tuesday, the head of the public health authority THL said people should begin covering their faces when outside to reduce the risk of asymptomatic transmission. 

Meanwhile, health authorities are due to receive the first results this week from a programme of antibody testing carried out on random members of the public, which officials hope will indicate how much of the population has been infected.  

As of Wednesday, Finland had recorded 64 deaths from the coronavirus, and 3,161 confirmed infections, although only a fraction of suspected cases are being tested.