Policy responses for Finland - HSRM

Finland


Policy responses for Finland

6. Measures in other sectors

6.1 Measures in other sectors

Many MEASURES IN OTHER SECTORS beyond the immediate scope of the health system are being taken to prevent further spread of the virus. This section contains information on many of these areas, including border and travel restrictions and economic and fiscal measures, among others.

Border and mobility restrictions

Due to the pandemic, travel on Finland’s external borders has been restricted.(1) Measures have been put in place to restrict passenger traffic at Finnish external borders of March 19th, resuming internal border control in Finland’s internal border and restricting passenger traffic.(2) Finnish citizens’ return home has been guaranteed, as is essential commuter traffic and goods traffic.(3) Airports were closed bar three key airports (Helsinki-Vantaa, Turku, Maarianhamina) on March 19th.(4) 

On March 27, the measures were strengthened by guiding people at the airport home or into quarantine. From then on, individuals arriving in Finland from abroad were required to fill in a form assessing their situation already at the border control stage. Based on the information provided in the form, the person will either be instructed on making their way home or directed to a health checkpoint or a service point for making transport arrangements. People arriving at the airport as of March 27th or the harbour as of April 2nd are not allowed to leave using public transport, but they can leave using their own car. If a returning traveller does not have their own vehicle and is unable to arrange transport home, a charter bus or taxi may be provided.(5,6)
      
Since March 22 2020 crossing the border has only been allowed for Northern employment-related mobility between Finland and Sweden and Finland and Norway. Other borders have been closed for commuters. Working in Finland has not been forbidden, but 14 days of quarantine in Finland is required before work can be resumed.(7) On March 30th, the Government also announced that due to the development of the epidemic in Sweden, the Government will begin preparing tighter limits to traffic at the national borders in the north and west, and to terminate the carriage of passengers via sea transport.

While international passenger travel has been restricted due to the pandemic, goods and freight transport has been supported in various ways. NESA has launched financial support measures to secure the flows of goods that are important to the security of supply from Finland to Sweden and the Baltic countries and, through them, to Central Europe. Transport companies will continue to pay shipping companies for the journeys aboard ships as usual. In addition to this, the Government plans to start paying financial aid to shipping companies to cover the difference between income from cargo transport and the income level required for economically viable operation. The aim is to secure cargo transport until the situation returns to normal. NESA is prepared to spend €45 million on measures to support ferries operating under the Finnish, Swedish and Estonian flags.

For inland travels, the Emergency Powers Act has been used to put in force strong travel restrictions limiting all but extremely necessary traveling between the Uusimaa (capital) region and other regions in Finland. On March 27, the Government submitted to the Parliament decrees concerning the restrictions of movement to and from the Uusimaa region.(8) The movement restrictions entered into force on March 28 and remained in force until April 15, 2020. Restrictions did not apply if movement is necessary for official activities, travel for work, for studies or in connection with a societal position of trust, the performance of military service or any other statutory obligation, or the need for care, risk of death or death of a family member, the right of access to a child, or for any other similar compelling personal reason. The lockdown of the Uusimaa region was taken down on 15th April because of the lack of legal foundation to continue it. The powers provided under section 118 of the Emergency Powers Act may be exercised only if it is necessary to do so. When the travel restrictions entered into force COVID-19 incidence in the region of Uusimaa was increasing significantly faster than in the rest of the country. While Uusimaa still has the highest number of COVID-19 cases, the gap with the rest of the country has narrowed. (17) However, the Government continues to recommend that all unnecessary travel, such as leisure travel, be avoided also within Finland.

The Defence Forces were called to assist police with border checks between the Uusimaa region and the rest of the country.(9) The Defence Forces support the police with 40 professional soldiers and 750 conscripts. According to the law, conscripts may be used for certain executive assistance tasks, including traffic control and isolating a location or an area. Conscripts cannot participate in dangerous tasks while providing support to other authorities. In addition to the Police, the Defence Forces is also supporting other authorities. Military has provided e.g. assistance to the Border Guard and Ministry for Foreign Affairs.

On April 7th 2020 the Government agreed on further reductions of movement in the common travel-to-work area along the borders with Sweden and Norway. Only strictly necessary travel to work will be allowed, and employees must carry a certificate from their employer stating that the work is essential. Finns working in Sweden and Norway in the areas along the Finnish border must stay under quarantine-like conditions when they are in the territory of Finland. As an exception to the rule, employees may continue to travel to work if they comply with this condition and follow the quarantine guidelines. (16)
On April 7 2020 it was also stated that persons arriving across internal borders to Finland are obliged to remain under quarantine-like conditions for 14 days from their last entry to Finland. (16)

On May 4 the Government decided that as of 14 May 2020, the statutory restrictions on border traffic will be lifted in cross-border traffic across the Schengen internal borders by allowing employment or commission-related commuting and other essential traffic. For the time being, recreational travel abroad is not recommended, and the travel advice issued by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs will be extended accordingly. The Ministry of the Interior will draft more specific guidelines on the gradual opening of border traffic. Finland considers it important that the lifting of the restrictions on border traffic be coordinated at the EU level.

On 28 May the MSAH and the Government announced that recommendations on mobility and travel recommendations for the summer are under preparation. It was said that the recommendation on avoiding travel outside Finland is still valid. However, travel into Finland is hoped to be gradually allowed. Travel across borders was allowed for work-related travel more openly across Schengen borders on 14th of May for work as well as return and necessary mobility was broadened in Schengen borders, otherwise restrictions have been temporarily extended until 14th of June (28). Estonia allows visitors from 1st June onwards on the ground of epidemic situation (incidence below 15/100.000) in countries (29). Further debate has concerned the relevance of epidemic situation between countries, in particular, between Sweden and other Nordic countries, in particular the closure of border between Finland and Norway. On 29th of May Government moved away from restrictions in internal travel while reminding health and safety precautions (30). Further guidance on mobility was given on 11th of June, when government removed restrictions on internal border control for some countries, but kept external control until 14th of July for Russia and third countries. Internal border restrictions and quarantine requirements were removed from 15th of June for Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. (31)

On June 23, the Government decided that as of July 13 the internal border control and restrictions on traffic between Finland and countries where the incidence of COVID-19 is similar to that in Norway, Denmark, Iceland and the Baltic countries will stop. At present, the limit incidence is a maximum of eight per 100,000 persons in the previous 14 days. The final decision will be made on July 10. Within the EU, based on the current epidemiological situation,  internal border control and travel restrictions would continue between Finland and the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Luxembourg, Malta, Portugal, Poland, France, Sweden and the Czech Republic. (32)

On July 8, the Government agreed that as of July 13 the restriction on traffic at the internal borders between Finland and countries where the coronavirus incidence is at maximum eight new cases per 100,000 persons in the previous 14 days. Based on the epidemiological assessment, the border control was lifted between Finland and most countries belonging to the Schengen area except the Czech Republic, France, Luxembourg, Poland, Spain and Sweden. Of non-Schengen countries, as well as the United Kingdom Andorra, Monaco and the Vatican, the travelling restrictions continued between Finland and Bulgaria, Croatia, Romania, the United Kingdom and Monaco. It was also decided that Finland applies the EU recommendation (“green list”) of countries on the lifting of restrictions on border traffic for non-EU countries if the number of new corona infections in the country does not exceed 8 per 100,000 persons in the previous 14 days. The travel restrictions were decided to be reviewed every two weeks. (34)

Based on the changed epidemiological situation, on July 20, the Government decided to reinstate border control for traffic between Finland and Austria Slovenia and Switzerland as of July 27. The Government also updated the list of restrictions for non-Schengen and non-EU countries and decided to permit passenger traffic at all ports operating at border crossing points. (35).

On 26th August THL released “a traffic light model” to help the public evaluate whether one could visit a country without quarantine on arrival.  The model is not intended to replace Government instructions and decisions on travel restrictions. The model separates countries according to the incidence of Covid-19 per 100 000 people, to green, orange and red sectors. In green, no quaratine is needed; in orange and red incidence is higher than in Finland and a 14 day quarantine is recommended on arrival to Finland. In late August, only 4 countries were in the green category for travel.

On 11 September, the Government adopted a resolution on a new operating model for implementing the hybrid strategy to manage COVID-19 in border traffic and travel. The operating model will make it possible to ease restrictions on entry while also combating the pandemic at the borders (37). The Government will now categorise countries and regions with more than 25 cases per 100,000 inhabitants in the previous 14 days as areas with a higher incidence.  Apart from certain exceptional categories of persons, a certificate of a negative COVID-19 test taken less than 72 hours prior to arrival would be required for those arriving from higher incidence countries or regions. Persons arriving in the country may be placed in quarantine in accordance with the Communicable Diseases Act. Quarantined persons could end their quarantine upon receiving a negative result from a second COVID-19 test taken 72 hours after entry at the earliest. Persons staying in the country for less than three days will not be required to quarantine or take a second test. The above-mentioned special measures will not be required for persons arriving from countries or regions with a lower incidence (no more than 25 cases per 100,000 inhabitants). Charter and group tours from both EU and Schengen countries and those countries on the EU’s Green List will be permitted even if the country’s incidence exceeds the limit value of 25 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, as long as the tour lasts no more than 72 hours. (37)

To ease the conditions for work and other daily interaction between border communities, travel without a test certificate or quarantine requirement will be permitted at the northern land border and in ferry and air traffic to Estonia and Sweden, as long as the regional disease situation remains roughly equivalent, regardless of the incidence rate in the countries. In the case of other passengers, the health authorities will carry out targeted inspections and testing based on their risk assessment. (37)

As an exception to the requirements set by the new model or the transitional model, special groups, such as representatives of culture, sports and business life, may be approved for entry for justifiable reasons. These reasons primarily include carrying out tasks necessary to secure the recovery, new growth or long-term operating conditions of a certain sector. (37)

Work and daily traffic between Finland, Norway and Sweden remains in force in the autumn without testing or voluntary quarantine. Weekly or more frequent work-related travel from Sweden and Estonia is allowed without voluntary quarantine or testing. Cruise-ships from EU or Schengen countries are not restricted. Personnel groups that are necessary for the security of supply do not need to stay in voluntary quarantine and can enter upon permission by Border Guard. (38)

On 9th November the traffic light model was updated for travel between countries. Daily traffic between Sweden, Finland and Norway continues to be possible in border communities without testing or quarantine. It is possible to come and work from Sweden and Estonia without a 10 day quarantine, or tests, but the commuting must be regular and at least weekly. Voluntary quarantine can still be shortened with a test. On 9th November the residents of only Thailand, New Zealand, Uruguay, South Korea, Australia, Japan, Rwanda and Singapore can come to Finland without voluntary quarantine, even if they transit through a higher incidence country.

In a press conference on 26th November, the prime minister recommended avoiding unnecessary travel. A similar advisory is given by THL. Quarantine measures and negative test requirements continue.

On 11th December the restrictions on border traffic were continued from 14th December to 12th January 2021. The border control uses three terms: Normalised border traffic, restriction level 1 and restriction level 2. Countries are grouped according to these restrictions. From 14.12 border control would not be implemented for the citizens of the Holy See, Australia, South Korea, Japan, Rwanda, Singapore, Thailand and New Zealand. Restriction level 1 (internal border) countries include the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Iceland, Italy, Austria, Greece, Luxembourg, Malta, Norway, Portugal, France, Sweden, Germany, Slovakia, Slovenia, Switzerland, Denmark, Czech Republic, Hungary, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Liechtenstein and Poland, Andorra, Bulgaria, Ireland, Croatia, Romania, United Kingdom, Monaco, Cyprus and San Marino. All other countries are in level 2 restrictions (external border).  Necessary travel for work or other reason is still allowed for even restricted countries in level 1, while in level 2 only essential reasons including healthcare personnel, logistics personnel and diplomats can travel (40)

The FINENTRY application is intended to smooth travel when border restrictions are loosened. The application can store a COVID test that has been done in the origin country and reserve a COVID test in Finland if the tests are required. The traveller will get a text message from the test time, directions for arriving at the text and the result to the number they have given to the service. The service will first be available in English and then in other language in stages. (41) Finentry application was introduced in the port of Helsinki and Helsinki-Vantaa airport on Jan 7. (49)
 
On Dec 21, due to both the new strain of Covid-19 found in the UK and the subsequent recommendation by THL, Traficom temporarily suspended all flights from the UK to Finland for 2 weeks (43).  The suspension of flights continued until Jan 11 (44) and beyond, as recommendation of THL was expanded to flights from Ireland and South Africa, as well as the UK, until Jan 18. (45) Passengers, who arrived from the UK to Finland on or after Dec 7 were recommended to get tested for COVID-19 regardless of whether they have symptoms or not. (46) The guideline was extended on Dec 28 to include those arriving from South Africa on or after 7 December. (47). From Jan 8, 2021 all passengers arriving at Helsinki Airport from abroad are directed to COVID-19 testing (48). On Jan 22, THL reported that the situation at the airports has improved – and that the airports now have sufficient resources to prevent the spread of mutated COVID-19 variants (51). Thus, THL considered that there exists no necessity on the of basis which to continue the suspension of flights from Ireland, South-Africa and UK and based on this opinion Traficom stated that the suspension of passenger flights to these countries was no longer necessary from 25th Jan 2021. (63)

On Jan 7, 2021, the restrictions on the entry to the country were extended until Feb 9. Restrictions on internal border control remains unchanged whereas minor changes were made to the restrictions on external border traffic. Restrictions on entry for residents of Japan and South Korea arriving in Finland were reinstated and the change entered into force Jan 11. (50)

On Jan 15, city of Helsinki started COVID-19 testing on arriving ships at Helsinki harbors. On Jan 22, the Government decided to tighten border traffic to prevent re-escalation of the pandemic due to the mutated COVID-19 variants. (52) Tighter restrictions will enter into force on Jan 27. Border control at internal borders (restriction level 1 countries, see above) was extended until Feb 25. Entry into the country based on employment was restricted to only essential duties – which at internal borders constitutes work that is important for the functioning of society or for security of supply. Belonging to a border community is no longer a valid reason for an exemption. The definition of family members (concerning border crossings) was tightened to include only: spouse (including cohabitant and close personal relationship), children, parents, parents-in-law and grandparents. Quarantine recommendation to border crossings were reintroduced.

From 28th January 2021, the airline Finnair requires either a certificate of a negative coronavirus test or a doctor’s certificate stating that the traveler has had the coronavirus, within the past 6 months, but is fully recovered from it and fit to travel. Specific requirements of the certificates are described on the website of Finnair. (54)

On 9th February 2021 the Ministry of Foreign Affairs recommended that people avoid travel to Brazil, South Africa, Ireland, Great Britain and Portugal.(57)  THL recommends educational institutions to suspend temporarily all short-term international student exchanges. (58) .

THL recommends that as of 23rd of Feb, all travellers from outside Finland would have a negative COVID-19 test result or a doctor’s certificate stating that the traveler has had the coronavirus, within the past 6 months (64). Thus as of 23rd  Feb, the shipping companies demand a negative test result from travellers arriving to Finland from abroad (65). Restrictions on travelling to Finland continued until 18th March(66) and after that, with minor changes (opening hours of certain border crossing points restricted to daytime and evening hours to ensure the sufficient resources (68)) until 17th and then 30th April (69). Restrictions on travelling to Finland will be continued until the end of May 2021 (71)

On April 27th 2021, THL recommends avoiding all travel to India due to the emergence of the new variant. A similar recommendation issued by THL to avoid all travel to Brazil and South Africa remains in effect. (72)



Economy

Among the first measures due to pandemic the Ministry of Finance established on March 12 a special group on fiscal measures which included permanent secretaries and preparedness directors from the Prime Minister’s Office, Ministry of Finance and four other ministries. To support business sector the Government announced several measures on March 16, which included doubling financing of small to medium enterprises from €2 billion to €4.2 billion, increasing flexibility of enterprise tax payments and employer payments, and additional support of €30 million to creative and travel sectors. (9) The Government also invited trade unions and employer organisations to propose measures to support the position of entrepreneurs and employees, in order to avoid bankruptcies. According to that proposal, the Government decided to implement several measures, such as a temporary reduction and postponement for the employers’ pension insurance contribution and an increase in flexibility for companies to lay off their employees.

The support package intended to safeguard the private sector business already given on March was increased by approximately EUR 1 billion.  An increase of approximately EUR 1.1 billion is proposed in total for the central government’s share of the earnings-related component of unemployment benefit and job alternation compensation, and of the basic security component of unemployment benefit. The increase in job losses and lay-offs account for EUR 794 million of the total increase. To expedite the processing of benefit applications, EUR 20 million is allocated to support the operations of the unemployment funds. (19)

As the first step to ease the difficulties faced by the municipalities, the Government allocates EUR 547 million to compensate for the loss of municipal income tax revenue in 2020. Besides the decisions already made, the Government is also preparing measures to support the rapid recovery of the economy after the crisis, and these will be presented in a supplementary budget proposal in May. Already before the COVID-19 crisis, the Ministry of Finance considered that rising social and health care expenditures are risking the financial balance of several municipalities. Increasing costs and decreasing tax revenues related to the pandemic are expected to further negatively affect the financial position of the municipalities. Municipalities will face significant financial difficulties as a result of the coronavirus crisis and the Government is preparing a municipal support package for the May supplementary budget proposal. It has been estimated to amount to a minimum of EUR 1 billion. (19)

The Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment and the Ministry of Finance appointed a working group on April 1 2020 to prepare an expert assessment of the impact of the coronavirus crisis and of the measures that can be used to limit the damage to the Finnish economy. The working group will also explore measures that could help to get Finland back on track towards sustainable growth, high employment and sustainable public finances after the crisis. The working group is required to complete its report by 1 May 2020.(18)

The Government has decided to support companies through multiple channels which includes the business development funding from Finvera Business Finland, regional Centres for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment (ELY Centres), and Finnish Industry Investment. In addition, support to sole entrepreneurs is available from municipalities. The state-owned financing company Finnvera has extended its guarantees for bank loans for companies by €10 billion and the state owned Finnish Industry Investment Ltd Tesi is launching a special funding programme for medium-sized enterprises. By early May, Business Finland and ELY Centres had granted close €400 million in total to development projects proposed by companies. (21) However, a challenge for supporting businesses suffering from the COVID-19 pandemic has that the Finnish state has no existing organisation that could provide emergency financing. The Government has prepared a proposal on support to restaurants for re-employment and compensation for imposed restrictions due COVID-19. (22) Altogether the planned support amounts €124 million and it tends to favour smaller companies. Stakeholders has criticised the support model which will finally be decided by the Parliament. The Government is also preparing a proposal on general support for businesses afflicted by the pandemic. The proposal is waited to be presented by mid-May.

On May 8, the Government published a report by the working group nominated to assess the economic impact of the coronavirus crisis and the measures to reduce the damage to the economy and to restore Finland after the crisis to a path of sustainable growth.(23, 24)  The group comprised independent economic experts and academics. The report presented a three-stage economic strategy for dealing with the impact of coronavirus crisis. According to the Group at the first stage, the aim is to reduce the immediate adverse effects associated with the restrictive measures and the public fear related to the epidemic, focusing above all on the ability of businesses to function. At the second stage the economy needs a substantial stimulus and finally, when growth returns, the economic damage needs to be repaired and public finances consolidated. For supporting businesses, the Group suggested a launch of a general system supporting companies in all sectors targeted at small- and medium-sized companies. After the acute measure, the Government financial policies should continue expansionary with budgets including public investments and measures reinforcing productivity. While the measures to tackle the economic impact of coronavirus will weaken the balance of the Government finances, in the longer run there is a need for substantial adjustments through reducing expenditure and/or raising taxes.  According to the Group the minimum extent of the adjustment is 3-4% of GDP which could stabilise Finland’s government debt to GDP level below 90% in the 2020s (instead of the current 60%).
Following the proposal of the expert group, in May 13 2020, the Government decided to propose a new form of support to companies that have experienced a marked decrease in turnover due to the coronavirus epidemic, and have costs that are difficult to adjust. The exact turnover decrease required to be eligible for support and the levels of compensation will be determined as the preparations proceed. (25.)

On 20th of May the Ministerial Committee on Economic Policy noted that the economy is facing an exceptional downturn and that the current circumstances constitute an exceptional situation as defined in the Government Programme. The Ministerial Committee on Economic Policy therefore supported the Government’s introduction of the exceptional situation mechanism in line with the Government Programme. The Programme includes a mechanism that can be activated in the event of an exceptional economic situation. The mechanism allows for an increase of up to EUR 1 billion in one-off expenditure. The conclusion was based on the expert assessment done by the Bank of Finland and three research institutes (the Research Institute of the Finnish Economy, the Labour Institute for Economic Research, and Pellervo Economic Research Institute). Based on these assessments and its own analysis of the situation, the Ministry of Finance has determined that Finland is facing an exceptional cyclical downturn as defined in the Government Programme, which speaks in favour of introducing the exceptional situation mechanism in line with the Government Programme. (26)

On 4th February 2021, the Government issued instructions regarding the entry of seasonal workers to Finland. They include the standard THL guidelines on two COVID-19 tests within the first 72 hours after the entry but also cover specific instructions on quarantine rules for seasonal workers as well as an obligation for the employers to notify the municipal health authorities of the arrival of foreign workers. When entering the country, a seasonal worker has to present a form filled in by the employer. (56)

Social and income support

Due to the pandemic, the Social Insurance Institution of Finland (Kela) adopted a number of measures, including allowing employer sponsored rehabilitation courses to be cancelled; interpreters for the disabled can be used at a distance; and subsides for school or university meals to be sold as take-out meals or home deliveries. The COVID-19 epidemic is also considered valid reason for insufficient progress in studies for those receiving study support. On March 20, Kela announced that parental benefits can be paid without a mother’s postnatal physical examination certificate (previously a condition for the commencement of parental leave payments).

On March 24, 2020 the Government proposed changes to unemployment insurance. These changes included removing the five-day self-payment period; reducing need for employment prior to unemployment from 26 weeks to 13 weeks; and decreeing that the unemployment period will not be spent during furlough. The Government has provided access to unemployment insurance regardless of form of entrepreneurship in order to support entrepreneurs. In addition, solo entrepreneurs will be able to apply for financing from municipalities to address difficulties caused by the coronavirus.(11) The state is able to provide this support in full by allocating €100 million in the supplementary budget for 2020.

On April 8th2020 the Government proposed that those absent from work with no pay due to the coronavirus epidemic could apply for temporary support. The support could be paid to a parent who cares for children at home when they are not attending early childhood education and care or basic education due to the restrictions. The support would be applicable only in situations where a child is entitled to contact teaching even in exceptional circumstances. The benefit would also be available to persons arriving in Finland from abroad who have been placed in quarantine-like conditions to combat the pandemic and are therefore away from work without pay. The amount of the support would be the same as the minimum parental allowance, i.e. EUR 28.94 per weekday (EUR 723.50 per month). The support would be paid for the duration of the restrictions, as from 16 March. The support could be applied for retroactively. The total amount of funds reserved for this support would be EUR 94 million. (19.)

The Finnish social security agency reports weekly on the COVID—19 impact on income support and other welfare support applications. They conclude that key welfare benefit applications that support income have increased during the COVID-19 epidemic. (27). 

On June 17, the Government decided to propose a law on temporary compensation to basic social assistance clients due to COVID-19 epidemic. From September to December 2020 an additional temporary compensation of €75 per person per month would be granted for those who have received basic social assistance during the period of restrictions, in case they continue to receive basic social assistance in autumn 2020. (33)

In contrast to expectations, according to research by Finnish Occupational Health Institute wellbeing at work actually improved on average during the spring 2020 (34) Nevertheless, more recent research shows that the ongoing epidemic has decreased wellbeing at work on average during autumn 2020, especially among young people and people working remotely and living alone. (55)

The Federation of Unemployment Funds in Finland(TYJ) and THL and KELA (Social Insurance Institution in Finland) have published to reports on unemployment benefits and social assistance in 2020. According to the reports, the number of persons who received basic social assistance, increased only 5% in 2020 compared to 2019. However, in 2020 the number of the unemployed and furloughed, who had received earnings related unemployment benefits, was the highest in the last 20 years; about 450000 corresponding to an increase of 86% compared to the previous year. In addition, the number of persons who received the basic unemployment allowance paid by KELA increased and was 18% higher in November 2020 than a year before. The increase was partly due to extending the coverage of unemployment allowance to entrepreneurs and self-employed persons.(61,62)

On 2nd February the government decided to continue the COVID-19 measures in unemployment insurance and entrepreneur support. The support measures will be continued until June 2021. This means maintaining the increased threshold that a person can earn while receiving unemployment insurance, shorter processing times, reduction in travel support, continuation of advance payments of unemployment insurance. Until the end of June 2021, entrepreneurs will be entitled to job seeking allowance/unemployment insurance. (59,60)

Prisons

On March 13th, the Criminal Sanctions Agency closed the doors of all open prison units. The Central Administration of the Agency advised all prison unit directors to consider whether to arrange all granted visits and to put into practice or grant the prisoners’ permissions under the Imprisonment Act, such as prison leaves, study permissions, and permissions for civilian work. The unit management makes the decisions concerning their unit and the individuals there. The enforcement of all new prison sentences are postponed from early April. Short sentences were postponed already from 18th March. Prison occupancy rates are currently high, which is a risk factor for the spread of the coronavirus epidemic. With the changes, prison population can be temporarily reduced by a total of 300-400 prisoners. Transfers from one prison to another are only carried out when they are necessary.(12) 

The enforcement of prison sentences such as conversion imprisonment for non-payment of fines and unconditional imprisonment of less than six months are restricted from December 4, 2020, until March 3, 2021. The aim is to decrease the number of short-term convicts and the possibility of COVID-19 infections among the convicts and prison personnel. (42)

Other measures

The Finnish Food Authority, which operates under the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, issued guidance in relation to state of emergency and food security on March 19.(13). The guidance included specific directions concerning regulatory activities on food safety, animal husbandry, plant production, rural subsidies and their oversight.

The Finnish Food Authority initiated enhanced COVID-19 testing at Finnish mink farms after the reported COVID-19 transmissions from minks to humans in Denmark and Netherlands. The present tests have been conducted only on humans connected to the farms, but now minks will also be tested. (39)

The Ministry of Transport and Communications has provided information on transport.(14) Government has not closed internal transport, but encourages people to stay home seeking to limit numbers of people using public and private transport. Bus companies have constructed on their own initiative measures for protection of drivers. While timetables have been changed and cancellation made, these are due to diminished number of passengers. Government measures can be communicated also via text messages as was the case of the closure of Uusimaa.

The Finnish Competition and Consumer Protection Agency, which operates under the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment has published guidance on consumer protection and cancelled travel on February 27 in Finnish and on March 11 in English.(15)

Several special arrangements based on voluntary action have occurred throughout the country. These include for instance special shopping hours for over 70-year-olds and risk groups in some shops and different types of voluntary, NGO or local government arrangement of shopping services for groceries and medication.

The Defence Forces monitor the epidemic situation among their personnel and servicemen. In year 2020 there was 82 confirmed cases among personnel and 98 among servicemen. In the beginning of the year 2021 there was several chains of infections in the Karelian brigade (18 cases) and some isolated cases in other brigades. (53) Building sites have been a longer term concern for contact tracing, but lead to large spot epidemics, mass-testing and closures of sites. Similar type of challenges have been seen in shipyards and in Rauma shipyard up to a third of all workers have contracted corona (67)

In April 2021, the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, and Ministry of the Environment released new COVID-19 risk assessment instructions for construction sites. The focus is on the prevention of employees' exposure at work sites as well as during non-working time, and include also guidelines on how to proceed in the event of possible exposure or infection or when an occupational disease is suspected. (70)

On April 27th Finland announced an offer of material assistance to help India tackle the COVID-19 epidemic. Finland is prepared to send oxygen bottles to India through the EU’s Civil Protection Mechanism. The preparations are made in collaboration between the Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, the National Emergency Supply Agency and Oy Linde Gas Ab, which will provide the oxygen bottles. (73)