In extreme situations of uncertainty such as that unleashed by the global coronavirus (koronavirus, in Finnish) pandemic, people tend to seek reliable information.
These days, in our constant search for trustworthy data that help us to stay calm, we have all seen circulating on the internet innumerable articles and recommendations from pseudo-experts with doubtful or misleading information.
That is why now it is more necessary than ever that everyone can have access to open channels of public information. Channels through which the Government and the health authorities, who are the ones who know best about the development of the epidemic, can explain to everyone how to behave, what they should (or should not) do in case of infection, and what are their rights and obligations in this exceptional scenario in which we have been living since the Government declared a state of emergency.
Unfortunately, this is not being accomplished. The Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) has long been reporting in real time on the evolution of the epidemic, but only in Finnish and Swedish. The few data offered in English are usually scarce and out of date.
In addition to this, in their press conference last Tuesday, Prime Minister Sanna Marin flanked by the Interior, Foreign Affairs and Transport ministers announced the launch of the new app Omaolo.fi. This consists in a digital online service for people to assess their symptoms of Covid-19. Again, it is available only in Finnish and Swedish.
The Government said in a press release that this electronic symptom assessment mechanism "enables equal access to service." However, this system excludes hundreds of thousands of people of foreign origin who reside permanently in Finland and for whom the language is now more than ever an insurmountable barrier.
All those who have ever called their health center and tried to communicate in English with the professionals working there know very well what we am talking about.
At Foreigner.fi, we tried twice to ask the Prime Minister about this issue that worries more and more foreigners, just because Covid-19 affects them and their families as much as it affects native Finns.
In the last two press conferences of the Government (Tuesday and Monday) we sent the following question to the Prime Minister through the WhatsApp channel enabled for questions from journalists:
Around half a million people with foreign origin are suffering the same distress and concern as the rest of the population. To this, they must add the lack of official channels with updated information they can understand. Has the Government thought about enabling information services, for example in English, to keep foreigners also well informed?
Both times, the Government Communications Department decided to ignore us. Our question was not transmitted to the Primer Minister at either of the two press conferences.
We can understand that these days authorities are overwhelmed by a huge amount of work and requirements, but attending to the demands of such a large group as the foreign population and sending them a message of tranquility should also be a priority for the state leaders.
Is this an oversight in the management of the crisis or is the Government deliberately ignoring the population of foreign origin?
Let everyone draw their own conclusions.