A new set of Finland lockdowns may be the strictest ever, as five cities, including the capital city of Helsinki, are considering tough measures in response to a rising number of coronavirus cases and hospitalizations. The proposal would restrict citizens to their homes with limited exceptions, while imposing fines for non-compliance.
While Finland has maintained some of the lowest rates of infection in Europe throughout the pandemic, strict measures recently enacted by its government are triggering backlash in the form of creative attempts at normalization.
Bar Q, a pub in the southern town of Imatra, decided to hire 500 employees to join their “staff-only restaurant.” The bar seems to have found a loophole in the recent closure of restaurants and secondary schools across the country, which would allow customers to serve as patrons if they are considered staff members, but not as retail customers. The Regional State Administrative Agency of Southern Finland, who is keeping an eye on Bar Q, has not found the workaround to be in violation of the law.
Hundreds of the bar’s customers are now able to eat and drink at the bar as members of the staff.
According to Finland’s national broadcaster Yle, Senior Officer Markus Leivonen from the Regional State Administrative Agency of Southern Finland, said that his agency had contacted the police over Bar Q’s initiative, but admitted, “based on media information, it seems that it is legal.”
Finnish police have recently responded to at least 33 reports of activity in southern local bars and restaurants, due in part to the fact that some bar and restaurant owners are spying on each other to report violations, a practice that began as early as last spring.
Finland lockdowns strict, meet with business backlash
The proposed five-city lockdown is subject to a parliamentary vote and assessment by the constitutional law committee. It would be the first time Finnish citizens were confined to their homes during the COVID-19 pandemic. Paivi Anttikoski, communications director a the prime minister’s office, told Reuters “These are now the cities with the most difficult epidemic situations but the list can be updated if the situation changes.”
The draft legislation published on March 17, detailed that people would only be allowed to leave their home for a predetermined purpose such as buying food or traveling to a second home during the proposed lockdown period.
With a population of 5.5 million, Finland has recorded 74,754 coronavirus infections and 817 deaths.
Elsewhere in Europe, many business owners have completely rejected lockdown orders. Approximately 50,000 businesses in Italy protested the lockdowns in January with open doors and the hashtag #IoApro, or #IOpen, on social media.
Likewise in Poland, the town of Zakopane saw hundreds of business owners aiming to reopen against lockdown restrictions. The movement, called the Górlaskie Veto, or Highlanders’ Veto, was led by architect Sebastian Pitoń, who said the lockdown measures would “destroy Poland and Polishness, destroy the middle class, small and medium-sized enterprises and kill several hundred people a day.” The mountainous region is heavily dependent on tourism.
Meanwhile, Finland’s largest retailer, Stockman, released a statement to the press on March 26 indicating that it is preparing to close all its department stores in the country due to the increased pandemic restrictions and their negative impact on the economy. The company will start negotiations next week for codetermination, a layoff system which allows employees to furlough for a maximum period of 90 days without losing their jobs.
Approximately 1,200 people will be affected by the closures. Online sales will continue to operate as usual.