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Govt, oppositions express mixed reactions over use of face mask

Published : 05 May 2020, 23:01

  DF News Desk

A citizen stops at the famous city sculpture "Three Smiths" which has been put on facial masks, in Helsinki, Finland. File Photo Xinhua by Zhu Haochen.

Disagreement arose between the coalition government and the opposition on Tuesday for the first time amid the COVID-19 crisis, following the government's decision to start easing restrictions but without a simultaneous order to use face masks, reported news agency Xinhua.

Several European Union (EU) countries have enforced face mask usage, but the Finnish government did not follow the pattern when announcing the easing of the current COVID-19 restrictions on Monday.

The government maintained on Tuesday that it wants "to weigh the benefits of face masks" before instructing the general population to use them. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Health said that as "researcher views on the masks differ, a detailed study would be commenced," and it would be completed in June.

Petteri Orpo, the chairman of the opposition Kansallinen Kokoomus (National Coalition Party-NCP) said on national TV Yle that people "need a feeling of security," adding that he could not understand what was so difficult in the mask issue as "they would diminish the risks anyway." He claimed that almost everywhere in the world a reopening policy has been coupled with usage of masks.

Jussi Halla-aho, the chairman of the main opposition Perussuomalaiset (Finns Party), said on Yle that people would not go back to restaurants if they do not feel safe, even though restaurants would reopen soon.

Political observers noted that during the COVID-19 crisis opposition parties have been fairly loyal to the government, and the issue of masks was one of the first situations where the opposition said it would have acted differently.

Researcher Tuomas Aivelo from the Helsinki University said on Yle that the government seemed to be going towards "the Swedish policy line of gaining herd immunity." The concept presumes that when enough people have immunity, the disease will expire. Aivelo said the government policy appears to be unclear.

Prime Minister Sanna Marin said late Monday in a TV interview that Finland "follows the situation in other countries, but wants to review the matter". She denied that any "acute shortage of masks exists in Finland," but said she was "concerned about the future availability."

The Ministry of Social Affairs and Health also denied on Monday that a shortage of face masks is the reason for not giving positive instructions about their use. The ministry said that while it does not recommend their use, "people can use them if they so want."

Kirsi Varhila, the ministry's permanent secretary, said that the daily need for face masks would amount to even 15 million if the use would be mandatory. In that case, the masks would be paid by the state and given out free.

As of Tuesday afternoon, Finland has confirmed 5,412 COVID-19 cases. Nearly 3,500 people have recovered while 246 have died, according to the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare.