Finland is opening up its borders for labor migration from May 14, meaning Estonian citizens working in Finland will be able to commute between the two countries again, after several weeks of closed borders in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Self-quarantining for 14 days is still a requirement of the Finnish government, however, imposed on a voluntary basis and permitting those working to travel between their residence and workplace in Finland.
The move is part of a wider exit strategy on the part of the Finnish government, which includes opening schools, eateries, sports facilities, cultural spots and smaller public gatherings, though with some restrictions still in place, including those on senior citizens, Finnish public broadcaster YLE reports on its English-language page.
After more than a week of uncertainty, during which a loophole which would have allowed Estonian workers to continue travel to Finland throughout the crisis was closed, Finland halted passenger ferry entry from Estonia and Sweden on April 11. Cargo ships have continued to sail between Estonia and Finland.
Crossing the border from Estonia into Finland for significant personal reasons is also permissible, in addition to work, ERR's online news in Estonian reports.
Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin (SDP) made the announcement at a press conference Monday evening following a two-day government meeting where restrictions' lifting was discussed.
Speaking at the same press conference, Interior minister Maria Ohisalo (VIHR) said the restrictions had been lifted with the large numbers of Estonians who remained in Finland after the coronavirus crisis began, and thus have not seen family or friends during that time.
Ohisalo added that those arriving in Finland would still need to follow quarantine rules for two weeks, meaning they can alternate between workplace and home, but are required not to travel around to other locations.
"While border crossings have been eased, we still want people to adhere to 14 days of independent ( i.e. voluntary-ed.) quarantine after arrival in the country. We expect everyone to limit all physical contact as much as possible. Of course you can go to work, but minimizing contacts is still very important," Ohisalo said.
Upon arrival at the Finnish border, those wanting to enter must confirm their awareness of the obligation of independent quarantine. Those working in Finland must have employment contracts.
Details on how and when ferries will arrive in Finland from Estonia and logistics of ticket sales are still under discussion, Ohisalo added.
Estonian prime minister: We welcome the decision
Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Center) welcomed the news.
"In conversation with my Finnish colleague Sanna Marin, I welcomed the decision of her government to resume labor migration on 14 May," Ratas wrote on his social media account Monday evening.
"The details will be clearer in the near future, but it is clear that we need to act step by step and in cooperation - this is the only way we can revitalize our economies without precipitating another [coronavirus] outbreak," he went on.
Urmas Reinsalu: No quarantine for Estonian returnees from Finland
Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu (Isamaa) greeted Finland's decision on humanitarian grounds Monday evening, though noted its practicalities needed ironing out.
"We hope that in the near future we will also receive (from the Finns) precise details of how the procedure will take place," Reinsalu told ETV current affairs show "Aktuaalne kaamera" Monday night.
"We are interested in Estonian people getting information about ferry travel as soon as possible. The theoretical possibility of moving between countries, is one thing, the practical [consideration] is another. It is in our interests to set details in cooperation with the Finnish state," he said.
Estonian citizens returning from Finland would not need to self-quarantining upon arrival in Estonia, he said.
Finland still urges citizens not to travel abroad
The Finnish government still urges its citizens not to travel abroad. It is also opening restaurants from June 1, though with some restrictions on social distancing remaining in place, with similar moves taken regarding sports competitions, public gatherings (up to 50 people), museums, libraries and other cultural facilities, and sporting facilities, all in June.
Finnish schoolchildren will be permitted to return to school buildings from May 14 as well.
Reinsalu: I'm not a palm reader
Urmas Reinsalu noted that once the travel ban is lifted, it is important those with coronavirus symptoms do not start moving between Finland and Estonia, and that vessels and port facilities have adequate disinfectant supplies.
As to precisely when trans-Gulf of Finland travel would be up and running, Reinsalu said he could not say exactly, but it was on its way.
"Well, this time is coming. I am not a palm reader. But I promise the Estonian people that it will come. We are looking forward to this on both sides of the Gulf of Finland," he said.
Editor: Andrew Whyte