March 27, 2020 / 10:56 PM / in 2 months

Finland blocks roads to Helsinki to curb coronavirus spread

Police prepare to start the traffic control post near the boundary between Uusimaa region and Kanta-Hame region to prevent the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Hyvinkaa, Finland March 27, 2020. Lehtikuva/Heikki Saukkomaa via REUTERS

HELSINKI (Reuters) - Police and the Finnish army set up roadblocks on all routes that connect Helsinki with the rest of the country, while Finland’s parliament approved the plan at the last moment to enforce the capital region’s coronavirus blockade by midnight on Friday.

Finland’s government decided on Wednesday to issue a three-week blockade of the region around Helsinki, the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak in Finland, to prevent people from travelling and spreading the virus elsewhere in the country. But the decision needed parliament’s approval, which it granted unanimously late on Friday.

Traffic began to jam towards evening on the motorways leading out from the capital region, Uusimaa, as police began blocking lanes with bollards and fences at roughly 30 makeshift checkpoints, local media reported.

Meanwhile in Helsinki, legislators at the parliament debated the law throughout the evening as it got delayed due to constitutional technicalities earlier on Friday.

Travelling to and from the Uusimaa region will be prohibited until April 19, with certain exceptions such as goods deliveries and indispensable work-related commuting.

By Friday, authorities had counted seven deaths and 1,025 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Finland, most of them in the capital region.

Last week, Finland restricted traffic across its borders, banned public meetings of more than 10 people, closed schools for most pupils and urged people to stay at home as much as possible.

Earlier on Friday, the government decided to introduce stricter controls and 14-day quarantine rules for residents who return from abroad.

Due to the coronavirus outbreak, Finland will also temporarily suspend its operations in Iraq, where some 80 Finnish soldiers have participated in international counter terrorism efforts by training Kurdish peshmerga troops, the Finnish army said.

Reporting by Anne Kauranen; Editing by Alex Richardson and Daniel Wallis

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