Suomi’s doubts: fight COVID-19 or boost the economy?

Suomi's doubts: fight COVID-19 or boost the economy?

To identify the main off

The COVID-19 coronavirus epidemic in Finland has become frightening for a small country-on April 24, there were already 4284 cases of infection, 172 people died. The state authorities, on the one hand, would like to introduce the most effective measures of quarantine, and on the other — they are afraid to irritate society too much. Hence such diverse impulses: to close and then open the borders of the capital region, to invite Ukrainian guest workers to summer seasonal work, then de facto abandon this intention. In the Finnish ways of dealing with the infection to understand “news”.

The conscious and the unconscious

Finland is currently under a state of emergency — until May 13, it is assumed. However, it is possible that it will be extended. The majority of cases live in Helsinki and the Uusimaa Metropolitan region. However, experts warn that the real number of infected people may be ten times higher — since tests have so far been done selectively only to representatives of several groups of the population. The number of deaths in municipal and private nursing homes in the city is growing — almost half of the dead are old people. Deliveries of additional ventilators for hospitals in Helsinki and Uusimaa are being delayed. Trying to smooth the situation, the Ministry of Health assures that there are still enough devices for everyone, and additional ones were ordered for reinsurance. Finland was not able to immediately establish the production of the necessary number of medical masks and first had to import them by plane from China. However, Finnish experts later said that many of the Chinese masks are of poor quality and are not suitable for use in hospitals. Anyway, the head of the strategic Department of the Ministry Liisa-Maria Voipio-Pulkki assures that the Department constantly monitors the situation in medical institutions, and the number of patients diagnosed with coronavirus in recent days was less than expected.

At the end of March, the Finnish authorities decided to isolate the capital region of Uusimaa from the rest of the country. Roadblocks have been set up at the borders, and mobile police patrols have begun their work. Many residents met this news with indignation, and there were many who wanted to break the quarantine. So, during the Easter weekend alone, the police deployed 866 vehicles at the Uusimaa border and fined 70 people.
If many adults do not disdain to violate the conditions of quarantine, then such nihilism on the part of young people is not surprising. Due to the epidemic, gatherings of more than ten people before may 13 are prohibited in the country. However, in recent days, the police in the city of Pori in the South-Western part of the country had to disperse several times a group of teenagers under a hundred people. To force them to disperse, several patrols had to be brought in at once. Large concentrations of young people were seen in other cities — particularly in seinäjoki and Vaasa. Law enforcement officials ask parents to keep a close eye on their children.


It will not seem enough

The country is predicted to suffer huge losses. The Ministry of Finance predicts that Finland’s GDP will shrink by 5.5% this year-if the restrictive measures last three months. The services, industry, and construction sectors were hit hardest by the crisis. The Ministry of Finance believes that the situation is comparable to the global financial crisis of 2008. A survey of 1,360 entrepreneurs and executives found that the turnover of a third of companies has fallen by at least half. Half of the respondents stated that they need financial assistance from the state. Less than half of them sincerely hope that banks or landlords will meet them halfway, they said. The state is trying to improve the situation as best it can. Small and medium-sized enterprises are actively applying for government-promised financial support. At the moment, entrepreneurs have already received more than 200 million euros, transferred through the organization Business Finland and regional centers for economic development. These centers help companies with fewer than five employees, while Business Finland focuses on larger players. Municipalities pay one-time benefits in the amount of €2 thousand to individual entrepreneurs. The Finnish business Association hopes that restaurants and other catering establishments will gradually start opening again in the coming weeks. Mikael Pentikainen, the Chairman of the Association, suggests that this should be done gradually, taking into account the General epidemiological situation. But it is not a fact that a frightened citizen will immediately rush to restaurants: even in the shopping centers that remained open during the epidemic, the number of visitors decreased by a third.

Perhaps the only ones who won in this situation are the Alko chain of stores that sell alcohol. Before that, sales had been declining in Finland for twelve years in a row, and politicians had triumphantly declared that the people were gradually getting rid of the bad habit. However, the coronavirus made its own adjustments. First, a lot of people are temporarily out of work, but with a lot of free time that needs to be filled with something. Secondly, due to the closure of borders, Finns have lost the opportunity to bring alcohol from abroad, where it is cheaper to drink. As a natural result: in March 2020, the increase in alcohol sales compared to March last year was 9.3%.

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Strangers don’t come here

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In early April the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Finland, Pekka Haavisto said that the country is preparing to host Ukrainian seasonal workers. “I spoke with the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine about this. They now do not recommend their citizens to leave the country for any reason. The head of the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry, however, assured that if Finland needs specific people, the Ukrainian side is ready to cooperate in everything related to the procedure for the arrival of these people to us,” the Finnish Minister explained. Later, the Ministry of agriculture and forestry named the number of foreign seasonal workers who are planned to be accepted specifically for the needs of this industry — about 1,500 people.

Haavisto admitted that Ukrainian workers will be delivered to Finland at the expense of employers on Charter flights. However, in an effort to reassure the population, he clarified that after arriving in the country, workers will be placed in a two-week quarantine. “Everything is very strict in this matter. You can’t come to Finland and start working right away,” the Minister warned. According to him, Finland has an urgent need for foreign labor — especially in the construction, food, and pharmaceutical industries, as well as agriculture. This is true: at the end of 2019, there was data that Ukraine had overtaken Estonia, which had previously been the leader in the supply of guest workers to Finland. However, in Estonia, the salary level has recently increased, and workers from this country have started to return home. The places that were freed up in the Finnish labor market are now willingly filled by Ukrainians. They work in Finland as builders, agricultural workers, taxi drivers, couriers, cleaners, etc.

According to experts, it is difficult to determine the exact number of employees from Ukraine who are currently in Finland. In addition to the data of the immigration service, which keeps records of foreigners employed directly by Finnish enterprises, there are also so-called rental workers. They are employees of Ukrainian or Estonian companies that send them to work in the company of a Finnish customer for a certain period of time. Haavisto’s words about possible Charter flights that are planned to transport foreign workers caused a stir in Ukraine. Rumors spread that these flights were already organized — and the Finnish Embassy in Kyiv had to issue a denial. However, many Ukrainians still have high hopes for employment in the Northern country.

It is worth noting, however, that the import of Ukrainians carries a risk that neighboring Baltic countries have already faced. The example of Lithuania is clear: in 2019, more than 800 cases of measles were registered in this country. Peddlers are visitors from Ukraine, where the measles epidemic has been raging for several years — tens of thousands of people have been infected. With the collapse of the Ukrainian health care system, when two generations have not been vaccinated, the infection can easily spread to neighboring countries. Ukrainian guest workers are mostly not vaccinated. Even the politically correct Finnish press cannot hide the fact that visitors are a risk group. However, not only Ukrainians are a danger to indigenous Finns. Helsinki authorities report that 1.8% of ethnic Somalis living in the city have been diagnosed with a coronavirus infection, compared to 0.2% of residents of the Finnish capital as a whole. In other words, one in five confirmed cases of infection in the capital is diagnosed in Somalis — a total of about 200 people. In this regard, the city of Helsinki and the medical district of Helsinki and Uusimaa intend to increase public awareness in different languages — not only in Somali but also in Arabic, Kurdish and Persian.