April 17, 2020 / 2:36 PM / 2 months ago

Helsinki violinist delivers food by bike as city fights coronavirus

HELSINKI (Reuters) - The second violinist of the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra has been redeployed to help fight the coronavirus crisis - he’s using an electric bike to deliver food to the Finnish capital’s elderly residents.

Violinist Teppo Ali-Mattila drives an electric bike as he delivers food to vulnerable residents during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Helsinki, Finland April 16, 2020. Picture taken April 16, 2020. REUTERS/Attila Cser

With old people ordered to self-isolate, city employees have contacted 27,000 citizens aged over 80 to offer help by delivering groceries and medicines.

“We’ve called nearly every 80-year-old in Helsinki and checked if they need help,” Tommi Laitio, Helsinki’s executive director for culture and leisure, told Reuters.

With public gatherings of more than 10 people banned in Finland since March 17, violinist Teppo Ali-Mattila suddenly had time on his hands since all his concerts were cancelled.

He volunteered for a scheme that allows the city to redirect employees, mostly from its cultural and sports services, to the Helsinki Help service for the elderly.

Ali-Mattila misses playing music with his colleagues and performing in front of an audience, but he is happy to be doing something to help.

His deliveries can be the only face-to-face contact that elderly people have with the outside world, even if he does have to stay two metres away.

“It’s a big thing for them and therefore it becomes a big thing for me as well,” he added as he delivered groceries to pensioner Marja-Terttu Lundgren.

“It feels very good that something like this has been organised for us. Every day food, bread and even pizza,” Lundgren said.

The elderly pay for their shopping but delivery is free.

More than 3,400 Helsinki employees have signalled their interest in joining Ali-Mattila if the city needs more help with healthcare and social services.

“The city of Helsinki wants to make sure that we don’t have to lay anybody off, so we want to make sure that the people we have employed have relevant things to do in this time of crisis,” Helsinki Mayor Jan Vapaavuori said.

By Thursday, Finland had 3,369 confirmed coronavirus cases and 75 deaths, according to health authorities.

Reporting by Anne Kauranen and Attila Cser; Editing by Giles Elgood

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