The EU Digital Covid-19 Certificate was introduced for domestic use in Finland on 16 October 2021, when an amendment of the Communicable Diseases Act, ie new Section 58i, came into effect. From then on, it has been possible to use the certificate – more commonly known as the ‘Covid-19 pass’ – as an alternative for public health measures. For instance, in case the Government issues a decree limiting the opening hours of restaurants and pubs, or the regional State administrative agencies impose restrictions on the number of people in public gatherings, sports events, gyms, theatres, etc, these measures can be ignored if the organizers only admit people with a valid Covid-19 pass. However, the Covid-19 pass cannot be demanded in grocery shops, pharmacies, or other essential services.
When the Covid-19 pass was domestically introduced in October, Government Decree (826/2021) on Temporary Restrictions on Restaurants and Pubs was in force. According to the decree, restaurants and pubs of seven regions could only serve alcohol until 11 pm and were to close their premises by midnight. Consequently, the introduction of the Covid-19 pass led to a rather absurd outcome. In these regions, clients were first let into restaurants without control of the Covid-19 pass but then, when the clock struck midnight, they were asked to show a valid pass. By doing so, restaurants could stay open until their regular closing time of 4 am. The situation changed on 28 November 2021 when Decree (1024/2021) came into force, and the restrictions were tightened. Restaurants and pubs in most regions are now to stop serving alcohol at 5 pm and close their premises at 6 pm. These measures can be avoided if the clients are required to show a valid Covid-19 pass.
The Government has been criticized for introducing the Covid-19 pass too late. The business and entertainment business lobbies, in particular, have expressed their wish for a speedier and broader introduction of the pass. The slowness of the authorities has occasionally led to innovative interpretations of the law. For instance, many theatres in the Uusimaa region started requiring the Covid-19 pass even before theatres were under any restrictions. The theatres used the abovementioned Decree of 28 November 2021 as an excuse, claiming that the theatres had the right to require the Covid-19 pass since, in order to enter the theatre hall, the audience first had to pass through the theatre's restaurant. The situation changed on 4 December 2021, when the Regional State Administrative Agency for Southern Finland issued new restrictions on theatres and others. Now, theatres can require the public to present a valid Covid-19 pass without having to resort to an innovative interpretation of the law.
The Confederation of Finnish Industries (Elinkeinoelämän keskusliitto), among others, has been vocal in demanding that the Covid-19 pass be also introduced in all workplaces, ie allowing employers to require the pass from their employees in order to enter the workplace. At the time of writing, the Government has, in fact, introduced a bill in Parliament, proposing that all social welfare and healthcare service employers may require that their employees working with the elderly or with clients or patients belonging to high-risk groups be either fully vaccinated or have recovered from Covid-19. Alternatively, if an employee is unable to take the vaccination for medical reasons, a less than 72 hour-old negative test result will suffice. According to some, Section 48 of the current Communicable Diseases Act could basically be interpretated as already enabling the use of the Covid-19 pass for this particular purpose, but the Government decided to play it safe and to propose a new, temporary Section 48a explicitly focusing on Covid-19. The bill received a rather nuanced response amongst trade unions, because employees without the pass would not receive wages for the period during which they would be prevented from working if the employer could not assign them to any other work. It remains to be seen whether said bill will pass the ex ante constitutional review of the Constitutional Law Committee of Parliament, which is extremely likely since the Communicable Diseases Act already includes a rather similar section.
Similarly, it remains to be seen whether the Covid-19 pass will be extended to all workplaces, as is currently the case in Italy. As mentioned above, this has already been demanded by the Confederation of Finnish Industries. Of course, this depends crucially on the evolution of the pandemic in the near future. At the moment, things are certainly not looking good - the number of confirmed cases is the highest in the history of the epidemic and the death rate is reaching similar figures than those of spring 2020, despite the rather high double vaccination coverage of 12 year-olds and over (82.3 % on 12 December 2021).TWEET