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AFP
March 2, 2021

Finland declares state of emergency as Covid cases rise

World

AFP
March 2, 2021

HELSINKI: Finland on Monday activated emergency powers as the government prepared to introduce tougher restrictions to stem a rising tide of coronavirus infections.

Prime Minister Sanna Marin signalled the move was imminent last week when she warned that controls limiting restaurants to takeaway service would come into force for three weeks from March 8 in some parts of the country.

"The government along with the president of the Republic has declared a state of emergency in the country," Marin told a press conference on Monday. Finland’s constitution requires emergency legislation to enforce such a restriction, and the restaurant proposal will now go before parliament, Marin said.

The government also announced on February 24 that it had instructed local authorities in areas with high infection rates, including the capital, to restrict public and private gatherings to six people.

Controls on establishments such as gyms will also be tightened, while municipal buildings including swimming pools and museums have been closed in some areas since November.

Although the state of emergency will allow limits to be placed on freedom of movement, Marin said that the government is not currently planning to reintroduce restrictions such as a blockade between the capital region and the rest of the country, which was imposed in March last year.

However, she told reporters that such restrictions could be brought in if they are deemed "necessary and proportionate". The Nordic country has maintained one of the lowest incidences of the virus in Europe, although infections have risen sharply during February, reaching a total of 58,064 confirmed cases and 750 associated deaths in the country of 5.5 million.

A coalition of UK aid agencies warned on Monday that the Covid-19 pandemic is worsening the "dire humanitarian" crisis in fragile states and raising the risk of famine, including in Yemen.Parts of Yemen and South Sudan are already on the brink of famine, while Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of Congo are at risk, driven by the pandemic’s economic impact, the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) said in a new report.

The warning came as the United Nations appealed at an online conference on Monday for $3.85 billion (4.45 billion euros) to prevent large-scale famine in Yemen. The DEC report covered also Somalia and Syria, and the plight of Rohingya refugees from Myanmar sheltering in camps in Bangladesh.

"People living in places made perilous by conflict, violence and climate disasters are coping with the coronavirus pandemic as best they can, but the odds are stacked against them," DEC chief executive Saleh Saeed said.

"The knock-on effects of the pandemic have crippled economies, making the world’s poorest people even poorer," he added. "Without continued support, many lives will be lost -- not just from Covid-19 itself, but from the economic impact of the virus."

The DEC groups together 14 British charities for crisis appeals, including the British Red Cross, Oxfam and Save the Children. But while it appealed for support from richer donors, Britain’s Conservative government in November said it was cutting roughly £4 billion($5.6 billion) from its own aid budget amid the pandemic.

Andrew Mitchell, a Conservative former international development secretary, said slashing the UK aid budget in Yemen would "continue the slow, agonising and obscene process of starving to death" for millions of people. As this month’s chair of the UN Security Council, Britain "holds the pen" on issues in Yemen and large cuts would be "very serious indeed", he told BBC radio.