Finnish dailies: Border may close to all bar key foreign workers next week

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West Ferry Terminal in Helsinki. Source: Port of Helsinki.

Finland's interior ministry plans to close the country's borders to all but the most essential foreign workers, Finnish media reports, as a safeguard against more virulent strains of the coronavirus finding their way into the country, including those reported in the media as being identified in the United Kingdom and South Africa.

According to a report in Finnish daily Helsingin Sanomat (link in Finnish), only those workers key to ensuring essential supplies of other societal functioning would be admissted. This might include truck drivers, first responders, care-givers, the diplomatic corps and military personnel.

The move might see as much as a 75-percent reduction in movement between Estonian and Finland, the report said – the average number of people traveling to Helsinki from Tallinn per week this year so far has been 30,000, the paper said.

A significant proportion of these are likely to qualify for the essential worker category, however, including in hospitals and old people's homes.

Estonians and others registered as resident in Finland would still be able to leave and enter the country freely, the paper said, along with Finnish citizens.

The restrictions are likely to apply from next week, pending a government meeting Friday which the paper says is likely to approve the measures, despite there not being total unanimity in the cabinet.

Finland anxious to avoid repeat of Ireland recent COVID-19 experience with British virus strain

Finland established a near-total entry ban during the peak of the coronavirus spring wave, with exceptions for key workers such as truck drivers in place then.

Finnish public broadcaster Yle's English-language portal also cites tabloid daily Iltalehti, which says that health officials are particularly concerned about potent coronavirus strains entering in the country, citing the spread in Ireland, which went from having one of the lowest COVID-19 rates in Europe in December to one of the worst globally in January, as a scenario to be avoided. So far, 86 cases of the so-called British or South African variant strains have been found in Finland. None have been reported in Estonia so far.

Flight links between the U.K. and both Estonia and Finland were briefly instated in December, while U.K. arrivals in Estonia must provide proof of negative COVID-19 test result in the preceding 72 hours, as well as quarantine for 14 days, compared with the 10 days for arrivals from most other European states.

Finland's prime minister discussed the situation with Jüri Ratas (Center), the outgoing Estonian prime minister, Thursday evening, in a pan-EU conference call.

Marin said: "Restrictions, testing and quarantine in border traffic are key to how well we can control the spread of the virus from one country to another."

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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