Finland to let restaurants, theatres reopen from June 1 as curbs ease

HELSINKI (Reuters) - Finland will lift some coronavirus restrictions from June 1, allowing restaurants to reopen gradually and public services including libraries, theatres and sports facilities to start operating again, the government said on Monday.

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A ban on public meetings will be relaxed from a maximum of 10 people to 50 people from the same date, but emergency powers will be kept in place, it said.

Essential travel, such as work-related journeys, to countries in Europe’s Schengen open-border area will be allowed from May 14, Interior Minister Maria Ohisalo said.

Professional sports events and competitions will also restart from June 1, under “special arrangements”, including restrictions on the crowd, the government said, without giving further details.

As of Monday, Finland had 240 deaths and 5,327 confirmed coronavirus cases, according to health authorities.

Prime Minister Sanna Marin said the disease’s reproduction rate, known as the RO, had fallen to 0.8 in recent days, meaning the outbreak was shrinking.

“Because we have succeeded well in containing the spread of the epidemic in Finland for the time being, it is possible to move from widespread restrictions towards the principles of a hybrid strategy of testing, tracing, isolating and treating,” Marin told a news conference.

The government had already announced it was reopening schools from May 13.

Finland never introduced a strict lockdown or a curfew due to the coronavirus and has allowed its citizens to keep practising outdoor sports freely in the relatively sparsely populated country, while calling for them to respect safety distances also outdoors.

Some of the restrictions that will remain in place include a ban on visits to elderly care units as well as a recommendation to avoid all non-essential travelling abroad.

The government is still recommending people work remotely and for the over 70s to stay at home and avoid physical contact as much as possible.

The government said there was still a risk of the epidemic regaining strength.

The reopening of restaurants on June 1 is subject to an epidemiological assessment closer to the date and the government will change legislation in order to set restrictions on opening hours and the maximum number of customers.

Reporting by Anne Kauranen; Editing by Andrew Heavens, Mark Potter and Alison Williams