On September 22, 2021, the Finnish Parliament voted to adopt an amendment to the Infectious Disease Act (Lag om smittsamma sjukdomar (FFS 2016/1227)), removing the “close contact” definition in Section 58d (58d §), a temporary provision that applies to public spaces in restaurants, stores, and other venues.
As temporarily adopted in May 2021 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the language in 58d § was intended to allow the responsible municipal authority to adopt rules mandating that all businesses and other actors (aktörer) whose space is open to the public and intended for a limited number of customers or participants be organized in a way that participating parties avoid all “close contact” with each other. As defined in 58d §, a “close contact” is a person who is closer than two meters (about six feet) for more than 15 minutes in an indoor setting.
For 58d § to apply, it had to be obvious that lesser measures — for example, in accordance with 58c §, distancing, hand washing, extra cleaning, and other measures already taken — were not sufficient to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 epidemic.
As a result of this new amendment, the law no longer requires that businesses prevent all close contacts, but only that they reduce the risk of transmission because of close contact, which is meant to allow for more flexibility in adopting measures that specifically prevent transmission and not only limit close contact. Moreover, close contact is no longer defined to mean being within six feet of another patron for more than 15 minutes, but instead applies to risk areas such as cramped crowds or instances of direct physical contact. Municipal authorities in decisions on restricting access will also have an opportunity to determine what amount of close contact is safe.
The decision to amend the close-contact language in 58d § was made as an alternative to scrapping the entire provision. By leaving the law provision in place, quick measures to reduce the spread of the coronavirus could be implemented, with the new language allowing for greater flexibility in adopting measures to reduce the spread of the disease, which could but need not include six-feet distancing between patrons.In addition to removing the close-contact reference in 58d §, the incidence reference in paragraph 2 of 58d § was removed — that is, the law no longer specifies that local restrictions can be imposed when “the incidence of confirmed cases of infection within the area of the health care district during the last 14 days for which information is available is at least 25 per 100,000 inhabitants.” According to the proposal, the general incidence of COVID-19 in an area is no longer as relevant in the pandemic response, but measures may be taken in response to more local outbreaks and clusters of disease. Therefore, under the amendment, the Municipal Administrative Agency can make decisions to implement restrictions if significant disease clusters are found in the area of the municipality or health care district whose infection chains cannot be traced reliably and, according to an expert assessment, pose a significant risk of extensively spreading new infections in the area. In addition, corresponding decisions may be made if measures are necessary within the area of several municipalities.