Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin. Picture: LEHTIKUVA VIA REUTERS/VESA MOILANEN
Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin. Picture: LEHTIKUVA VIA REUTERS/VESA MOILANEN

Helsinki — Finland is recommending cancelling public meetings of more than 500 people until the end of May due to the coronavirus outbreak, Prime Minister Sanna Marin said on Thursday, as the government prepares for the possibility of a third of Finns becoming ill.

Under Finnish legislation, Marin said the government is not able to ban all public meetings unless emergency powers are activated, meaning local authorities are in change of enforcing the recommendation.

The announcement came after country confirmed cases had jumped by 50 in a day to a total of 109, the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare said, and after the foreign ministry recommended that citizens avoid travelling anywhere in the world.

Marin said the government had called a meeting with all parliamentary groups to discuss the circumstances of activating emergency legislation, in case it becomes necessary to impose further restrictions such as regional shutdowns, closing schools and universities, or banning air and ferry traffic.

“During the first wave, some 35% of Finns could fall ill and that is what we are prepared for,” minister of social affairs and health Aino-Kaisa Pekonen said.

The government also recommended any people returning from epidemic areas to stay home for 14 days to avoid spreading the infection in workplaces.

The government said Finland would grant €5m to international organisations developing a vaccine for the virus.

Earlier on Thursday, healthcare authorities said a heart surgeon who had returned from a trip to Austria had been tested and found to have the coronavirus, having exposed 28 staff members, including another 15 doctors or roughly half of the Finnish capital’s heart surgeons, to the virus. They were sent home to quarantine as a precaution.

In addition to healthcare staff, four patients and two of their relatives had been exposed.

The government’s recommendation to cancel public events was immediately followed by cancellations by organisers of sports events, including the Finnish Basketball Association cancelling all games at all levels until further notice.

Reuters