Finland's Prime Minister Sanna Marin
Finland's Prime Minister Sanna Marin gives an update about the COVID-19 situation, during a press conference in Helsinki, on Wednesday April 22, 2020. AP Image Credit: AP

Helsinki: Gatherings of more than 500 people will be banned until the end of July but other restrictions could be lifted soon, Finland's prime minister Sanna Marin said on Wednesday.

Current emergency legislation forbidding groups of more than ten people in public is due to expire on May 13 and unless it is extended, the 500-person limit will then come into force, Marin told a press conference at the end of a day of cabinet discussions over when to lift the coronavirus containment measures.

"We have so far been successful in slowing the spread of the epidemic," Marin said, adding that "Finland will gradually move away from restrictions towards enhanced control of the epidemic."

Testing will be stepped up, Marin said, and a mobile app to trace chains of infection will be introduced.

Although educational establishments have begun to reopen in other Nordic countries such as Norway and Denmark, Finnish authorities will not make a decision on whether to allow children to return to school before next week.

On Tuesday a researcher for Finland's health authority THL said the virus has passed its peak in the country, providing that current restrictions are kept to.

Finnish health authorities have so far recorded 149 coronavirus related deaths and 4,100 confirmed cases, although not all suspected infections are being tested.

Since mid-March Finland has banned large public gatherings and shut its borders. Schools have been closed for children over ten and younger pupils told to stay at home where possible.

The continuing ban on public gatherings will be keenly felt on May 1, when Finns will be unable to follow the traditional "vappu" celebrations which see them don white caps and assemble in large numbers in the streets and parks for alcohol-fuelled picnics.

Earlier on Wednesday Finnish police announced the arrest on fraud and money laundering charges of a businessman involved in a botched deal to procure face masks for Finland's public sector.

Former payday loans entrepreneur Onni Sarmaste was allegedly paid five million euros to source the protective equipment earlier this month, with officials discovering on receiving the consignment that the two million masks were unsuitable for medical use.

The debacle led to the resignation of the head of Finland's emergency preparedness agency on 10 April.