March 16, 2020 / 9:39 AM / 5 months ago

Pressure mounts in Finland to close schools

FILE PHOTO: A person walks by an empty toilet paper shelves at a supermarket as consumers worry about product shortages due to the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Helsinki, Finland March 13, 2020 Lehtikuva/Heikki Saukkomaa via REUTERS

HELSINKI (Reuters) - Finland’s largest opposition party on Monday stepped up criticism of the government as most schools and daycares remained open despite the coronavirus outbreak.

“There are only four countries in the EU which have not closed schools. Responsibility should not be shifted on municipalities or local authorities. They wait for a decision from the government,” Jussi Halla-aho, chairman of the nationalist Finns Party, wrote on Twitter ahead of a government meeting on Monday.

For the time being, Finland has adopted an approach similar to that of the UK in trying to tackle the virus, allowing shops, restaurants and public services to operate normally, while many other European countries have imposed stringent lockdowns to try to slow the spread of the disease.

“At the moment, there is no evidence that shutting down schools and daycares would significantly slow down the spreading of the epidemic,” Helsinki mayor Jan Vapaavuori said on Sunday, reiterating that those services would continue as usually in the Finnish capital for now.

On Sunday, there were no deaths and 241 confirmed coronavirus cases in Finland, but the tally had become less relevant as the country had begun heavily restricting its coronavirus testing to most vulnerable groups and healthcare personnel only since Friday.

Finland’s government was expected to meet at 1000 GMT to discuss the situation.

Reporting by Anne Kauranen; Editing by Giles Elgood

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