We spoke with H.E. Mr Kimmo Lähdevirta, Ambassador of Finland: about how the embassy organised its operations during the state of emergency and how he spends his private time during the pandemic, as well as how Finland itself is coping with pandemic. ”The Finnish Government is also preparing new support measures for restaurants and other companies that have especially suffered from the crisis” – he added.
How did your country organize itself for the post-corona period?
It seems that the measures the Finnish government has taken to contain the epidemic since March have been quite successful: while the R number was 2.4 in Finland in March, it is now 0.8, meaning that one infected person will infect less than one other person. However, this has been achieved with significant costs: it has been estimated, for example, that Finland’s gross national product will decrease somewhere between 5 to 13 percent this year, depending on how long the restrictions will have to stay in place. Our national debt may increase from about 60 per cent of GNP to at least 80 per cent of GNP.
While the epidemic has not even peaked yet in Finland, we now have both the need and the opportunity to start opening our society again. Opening it gradually is also necessary in order to expose the population to the virus in a controlled way, as it seems that there will be no vaccine available any time soon. A key consideration here is the capacity of the health sector and especially the sufficiency of intensive care.
The Government of Finland decided on 4th May, 2020 to continue to fight the epidemic with a hybrid strategy of four key elements: test, trace, isolate and treat. It also decided on some gradual easing of restrictions: on 14th May day care and primary schools will open again and Schengen border crossings will open for work and other essential traffic; on 1st June restaurants, as well as cultural and sports facilities will also open again (with certain restrictions), and the limit of public and private gatherings will be raised from 10 to 50 persons. Situation will be reviewed by the end of June. However, all larger events (over 500 people) will be forbidden until end of July.
In addition to what was decided already in March, the Government is also preparing new support measures for restaurants and other companies that have especially suffered from the crisis. The package will most likely be close to two billion euros, to be paid in May and June.
How did you organize your diplomatic activities?
The Embassy has been operating in distance working mode since March. Luckily most of our staff have the necessary equipment and connections so that they can perform their duties also at home. While the Chancery is not open every day, consular services are provided as needed. Visa and residence permit services are suspended for the time being.
At the beginning of the crisis we concentrated our efforts on helping Finnish tourists abroad to return home. Like many other countries, also Finland organized special flights to those destinations where the majority of Finns were. Here in Serbia we have had excellent cooperation with other EU and Nordic countries and the Serbian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in combining the efforts to repatriate our citizens.
Information with Serbian officials is exchanged mostly via e-mails, phone or videoconferencing, but we have also had some live meetings, e.g. with the President and key ministers. EU ambassadors, deputies and other officials keep regular contact via videoconferencing. What is lacking, of course, are personal contacts between people, which are essential for smooth implementation of some Embassy tasks. Therefore, I’m very much looking forward to possible easing of restrictions also here.
How are you spending your private time during the pandemic?
As everybody else, I suppose, staying at home and reading, watching TV, internet, et cetera. However, I can’t complain as our residence is quite spacious and has a nice garden. And what’s especially important for Finns, we also have a sauna!
What will you do first after the state of emergency is cancelled?
Well, if the weather is good, probably my wife and I will go for a walk together. It’s been a while since we have been to the city center, for example. There are so many nice restaurants, museums and other places that we want to visit again.