Finland will go into a three-week lockdown starting 8 March, the country's Prime Minister Sanna Marin said, introducing a second state of emergency amid a rising number of coronavirus cases, national broadcaster Yle reported.
The lockdown will not include a curfew but will see restaurants closed. School students aged 13 and over will shift to remote learning, the government said.
Earlier, the country saw a surge in coronavirus cases, as the more contagious British variant continues to spread amid gloomy predictions. The main reason for the decision is the authorities' desire to regulate restaurant operations, for which either a change in the law or a state of emergency is required.
Meanwhile, professor of anaesthesiology and intensive care Matti Reinikainen, who chairs the group coordinating nationwide intensive care for COVID-19 patients, has warned that the recent surge in the number of infections may result in a major increase in demand for hospital and intensive care services across the country.
“When the number of coronavirus cases rises, a couple of weeks later, so too does demand for hospital and intensive care”, Reinikainen told Yle, musing that a third wave may be on its way.
“It spreads more easily, and thus the number of cases of the disease also increases,” Reinikainen said.
Reinikainen joined the growing chorus of medical experts calling for tougher restrictions in order to stop the virus. Last week, Helsinki and Uusimaa hospital district Chief Medical Officer Markku Mäkijärvi called for curbs on bars and restaurants serving alcohol. Mäkijärvi cited the “rapid worsening of the coronavirus situation” and called for action amid the winter holiday period.
Reinikainen emphasised that the rise in hospitalisations cannot be pinned to infection clusters among young people. Instead, he underscored, the rising case numbers increase the likelihood that older people will become infected, he said.
“When infections in middle-aged and older people rise, then it's inevitable that demand for hospital care will increase,”, Reinikainen said.
The first state of emergency due to the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic was introduced in Finland in March 2020 and was in force for three months.
Finland has so far seen over 55,000 lab-confirmed infections, with daily increases in the 500s, and 737 deaths attributed to coronavirus, which is an order of magnitude fewer than neighbouring Sweden, currently standing at 647,000 cases and nearly 12,800 deaths.