Government submits proposal to amend Communicable Diseases Act with regard to restrictions on food and beverage service businesses after lockdown
On 11 March, the Government submitted to Parliament a proposal for an act on temporarily amending the Communicable Diseases Act. According to the proposal, a government decree issued under the temporary provisions of the Act could impose stricter restrictions on the opening hours, licensing hours and number of customer seats in businesses located in areas that are in tier 2 of epidemic prevention measures. The amendments would enter into force on 29 March 2021 at the latest and would remain in force until 30 June 2021.
In line with the proposal, the number of customers in food and beverage service businesses could be limited to as little as one third of the normal capacity if the conditions laid down in the act are met. Businesses could be required to stop serving alcoholic beverages as early as 17.00 and to close their premises by 18.00.
The decree could also require customers to make reservations, for example, and could place restrictions on singing and playing music in food and beverage service businesses.
The new restrictions will be laid down by government decree at the end of March as the epidemiological situation requires.
More stringent restrictions aim to prevent the spread of new virus variants
In May 2020, restrictions on the activities of food and beverage service businesses were temporarily added to the Communicable Diseases Act, under sections 58a and 58b, in order to curb the spread of the COVID-19 epidemic. The new proposed amendments aim to better respond to the worsened epidemiological situation and the threat posed by new virus variants. The proposal would make it possible to introduce necessary and proportionate restrictions on food and beverage service businesses in line with the Government’s hybrid strategy, especially after the restaurant closures have ended.
Under the amended Act on Accommodation and Catering Operations, food and beverage service businesses must remain closed to customers between 9 and 28 March 2021 in the areas provided for by government decree in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Despite the intensified hygiene measures and restrictions, numerous major transmission chains and mass exposures originating in food and beverage service businesses were identified in January and February 2021, in which nearly all customers in the establishment in question had become infected. The greatest risk has been observed in businesses whose primary source of income is the sale of alcoholic beverages, but there have also been infections originating in businesses that mainly serve food.
It is possible that the increased prevalence of more infectious virus variants has further heightened the risk of transmission in restaurants, bars and other premises where adults meet and gather.
Existing restrictions and general obligations remain in force
Food and beverage service businesses must continue to follow specific hygiene requirements and ensure sufficient physical distance between customers. They are required to draw up a plan on how to implement the restrictions and obligations. The plan and the maximum permitted number of customers must be displayed where customers can see them.
The Regional State Administrative Agencies are responsible for overseeing compliance with the restrictions and obligations.
The restrictions laid down in the act do not apply to the activities of staff restaurants or to takeaway sales of food and beverages. The restrictions on opening hours do not apply to food and beverage service businesses operating in connection with service stations or to food and beverage services on ships and airplanes travelling between Finland and other countries or operating abroad.
Ismo Tuominen, Senior Ministerial Adviser, [email protected]