Finland to begin easing COVID-19 restrictions, prime minister says

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A man receives a booster dose of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine at the vaccine center in Espoo, Finland, January 4, 2022. Lehtikuva/Jussi Nukari/via REUTERS

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HELSINKI, Jan 18 (Reuters) - Finland will begin gradually easing COVID-19 restrictions from mid-February, Prime Minister Sanna Marin said after a day-long government meeting on Tuesday.

Finland would also stop doing health checks on Schengen Area borders after January as the Finnish health institute had earlier said they do not help with curbing the spread of the pandemic, Marin said.

The government in December decided all travellers coming to Finland would need to show proof of vaccinations or a healed COVID-19 infection and a recent negative test result.

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The health institute estimated on Tuesday that omicron infections would peak in Finland within weeks rather than months.

Marin said her government is inclined to change the criteria for its vaccination passport but doing it would be legally difficult.

"The government wants to do this but it is very challenging from the point of view of fundamental rights," Marin said, referring to people who cannot take the vaccine or have been sick with COVID-19 without an official diagnosis.

Before infections begun to surge due to omicron, the government had introduced the passport as an alternative to restrictions and it could also be obtained by getting a test.

According to the government's new plan, gyms, swimming pools and other recreational venues would remain closed and restaurant opening hours be restricted until mid-February.

Marin said the government would look into updating its COVID-19 strategy which currently still is based on testing, tracing and isolation.

Finland still remains among the countries least affected by the pandemic. According to health institute data, the nation of 5.5 million people has to date recorded 399,329 cases and 1,761 deaths.

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Reporting by Essi Lehto; Editing by Angus MacSwan

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