Finland may relax entry to Estonians if mandatory coronavirus testing at the border is introduced, Finnish prime minister Sanna Marin said on Friday.
Speaking at a press conference with Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform), who was on her first official visit to Finland - or indeed anywhere else- as premier, Marin said that a bill to install obligatory COVID-19 tests at Finland's borders had been tabled at the Edustkuntatalo Thursday.
In the meantime, the current regime will now be in place until March 18, while a solution is being worked towards to reestablishing regular work routes.
Currently, Finland's border is closed to everyone except essential workers which has caused problems for the large number of Estonian citizens and residents who commute between the two countries.
Kallas: I understand Finland's position on restrictions
Kallas said she understood the Finnish restrictions, recently prolonged for three more weeks, given the viral spread in both countries and the emergence and spread of new virus strains
"Considering the situation with COVID-19, in Estonia and also in Finland, considering we have new variants, I totally understand the decision of Finland in this regard. However, we discussed possibilities to make this travel possible again. One of the ideas is to make the people present the certificate of negative test before boarding the ferry," Kallas said.
"That way, we could make sure that the virus doesn't travel across borders. So we are happy to cooperate on every level, but we can see that the numbers are as they are currently, and that is why we have to understand that we can't live a normal life right now. This is just the case, we need to get the numbers down."
Sanna Marin: We want to get back to normal
Sanna Marin said: "We don't of course want the situation to be as it is today. We want people to travel, we want a more normal life, but as Kaja said, the situation is very difficult and we also need to make sure that the virus won't spread."
Marin stressed the importance of coronavirus testing for arrivals in both countries, while Kaja Kallas said that mandatory testing and the submission of a vaccination certificate are options that would help ease the restrictions between the two countries, with a digital system making this even more effective.
Marin said: "It is very important that everyone be tested when entering into another country. This is the only way we can get the virus under control, and also see where the variant moves. This is our plan, we want to get the mandatory testing as soon as possible to be a reality, and then we can also lower the restrictions between our countries."
"Currently rules permit the entry into Finland only for persons working in functions which are significant for the functioning of the society or security of supply. These rules are in force until March 18," Marin went on.
"At the same time, Finland and Estonia are jointly developing measures that would make border safe this spring. It is essential to establish clear principles for traveling with advance testing certificates and testing for commuters," she added.
Kallas: Getting on top of virus priority for my government from day one
Kallas said that the viral spread and the emergence of new variants had been foremost in her cabinet's viewfinder since entering office last month.
"For now, we need to be cautious about the virus, also the new variants, the speeds of vaccinations. This has been my government's uttermost priority from day one," Kallas said.
This was an aim both countries shared, she added.
"We are both committed to and working hard on finding a viable and safe solution to reopen the work travel commuting between Estonia and Finland. This is important for both of our countries economies and our people. "
Kallas: Estonia and Finland the silicon valley of Europe
Kallas also used the press conference to not ongoing developments in digital vaccine certifications, which Estonia was developing in conjunction with the World Health Organization (WHO).
She said: "Regarding COVID-19, we also discussed vaccination and especially developing a digital vaccination certificate for the future. I invited Finland to be part of the Estonia/WHO pilot project, and offered the trust framework of the vaccine certificate.
Excellent meeting with @MarinSanna on Covid19 related topics. We are both committed to and working hard to overcome the crisis. Also touched upon projects that connect us & explored new opportunities for collaboration. pic.twitter.com/77GdbV7o86— Kaja Kallas (@kajakallas) February 19, 2021
"As I also said when I was an MEP, Estonia and Finland could be world or European leaders regarding this, being the silicon valley of Europe."
Marin noted that: "Estonia is a pioneer when it comes to digital solutions. We support this kind of digital passport, showing test or vaccination results, so I think it's very important the Estonia is working with WHO on this, and we support this project. I think it is very important for all of us, that Estonia can show us solutions for the future.
Prime ministers: Shared cultural and economic ties undeniable
Both leaders noted the shared mutual ties between the two neighbors, with Kallas saying it was important to: "Move forward on the ambitious Tallinn-Helsinki tunnel and to cooperate more closely on [planned high-speed rail link] Rail Baltica."
"Our cooperation should however not only be marked by the crisis as Sanna already mentioned. Finland and Estonia are like-minded partners, bilaterally, regionally and at the EU level and with international organizations. Our cross-border cooperation has been close, and effective at all levels throughout the history of our countries."
Prime Minister @MarinSanna: "There are many fields, in which we can further enhance our cooperation."— Finnish Government (@FinGovernment) February 19, 2021
Finland and Estonia are launching a yearlong study aimed at further developing relations between the two countries. pic.twitter.com/NVKl3OrYkN
Kallas: Data exchange to be strengthened
Kallas also talked about data exchange and how it could be improved, building on existing changes via Estonia's X-Road system and Finland's equivalent, and noting that the planned digital vaccination passport will follow similar lines while providing proof of the competence of those issuing inoculations.
The passport would function much as boarding cards have done, and involve swiping a code on a scanner when wanting to travel internationally, and receive either a green or red light accordingly.
In a moment of levity, Kallas, who opened her presentation in Finnish, joked that while the Finnish side of a planned study on Finnish-Estonian relations, future cooperation and the relationship as it stands, is headed up by politician Anne-Mari Virolainen, Estonia was unable to find a counterpart with the second name "Suomalainen".
"Virolainen" means "Estonian" (person) in Finnish, while "Suomalainen" means a Finn.
Kallas also meet with President Sauli Niinistö
Other topics on the table included the EU, climate change, security and relations with Russia, as well as Finland taking up the presidency of the Nordic-Baltic Eight (NB8) group.
Kallas also met with Finnish president Sauli Niinistö, with Kallas saying she had been: "Delighted to meet with Sauli Niinistö on my first foreign visit. Being close neighbours with a deep and active relationship, Estonia and Finland share a very similar set of challenges."
Delighted to meet with Sauli @Niinisto on my first foreign visit! Being close neighbours with a deep and active relationship, Estonia and Finland share a very similar set of challenges. Fruitful discussions on #COVID19 related developments, security and Russia today. pic.twitter.com/8BKaQg14Lp— Kaja Kallas (@kajakallas) February 19, 2021
The full video of the press conference (in English and Finnish) is below.
Editor's note: This story was updated to include quotes from both prime ministers on the coronavirus situation, future plans regarding restrictions and vaccinations, shared links between the two countries and planned data exchange developments.
Editor: Andrew Whyte