Monday. 04.03.2024

Ministers disagree on blocking flights

The Minister of Transport says he will propose to the Government to suspend flights from Skopje but for the Minister of the Interior this is not the best option, as all citizens and permanent residents have the right to return to Finland.

Minister of the Interior Maria Ohisalo (L) and Minister of Transport Timo Harakka. Photos: Finnish Government.

Finland's five-party coalition government remains far from speaking with one voice.

On Monday, two ministers again launched contradictory messages on such sensitive matters as the management of the restrictions derived from the coronavirus pandemic. In this case, Timo Harakka (Social democrat, SDP) and Maria Ohisalo (Green League) staged their disagreement over the option to suspend flights to and from Skopje (North Macedonia).

According to the Finnish Broadcasting Company (Yle), Minister of Transport and Communications Timo Harakka said that he will propose a temporary suspension of flights between Finland and North Macedonia following dozens of coronavirus infections found among passengers arriving from Skopje.

The Government will hold a meeting on Tuesday 18 August at 17:00 at the House of the Estates to negotiate decisions regarding border restrictions.

The issue of flights operated by WizzAir between Skopje and Turku has lately become a source of headache for Sanna Marin's cabinet. On Saturday 8 August, 26 passengers from the Balkan country tested positive for Covid-19 after landing. The following Tuesday, another 5 cases were diagnosed and 12 more last Saturday.

Last week's disagreement

At a press conference headed last week by two SDP ministers, Timo Harakka and Krista Kiuru (Family Affairs and Social Services), the government already talked about the possibility of blocking some air routes, as well as forcing passengers to undergo mandatory quarantines and tests.

That option was rejected the next day by Prime Minister Marin, who said that it is the responsibility of the health authorities to decide who should undergo the test or quarantine, in accordance with the Communicable Diseases Act. The day before, Justice Ministers Anna-Maija Henriksson (Swedish People's Party) and Mika Lintilä (Center Party) had also expressed their disagreement.

Now, a week later, Minister Harakka is back with the proposal to suspend the flights from Skopje.

"Many dangerous infections have clearly come via this route. That's why we must take action and as far as I understand the government is doing that," he said.

Ohisalo: 'Not the best option'

The problem is that such a harsh measure as blocking flights could negatively affect the constitutional right of Finns to return to their country, as the Minister of the Interior Maria Ohisalo said on Monday a few hours earlier.

At a press conference in Helsinki, Ohisalo explained that "border restrictions are not the best option" to address this problem, because most of those infections are not suffered by foreign tourists but by people with Finnish Social Security number.

The Minister of the Interior admitted that it is the responsibility of the Minister of Transport and Communications to investigate the matter. However, she also emphasized that the Finnish constitution guarantees citizens and permanent residents the right to leave the country and return freely.

Instead of suspending flights, Ohisalo proposed to ensure the presence of health professionals and the possibility of conducting tests at border points.

Ministers disagree on blocking flights