Finland will allow holidaymakers to visit the country for up to three days in order to help the struggling tourist industry, ministers announced on Friday.
Under the new measures, travel restrictions will be eased to allow visitors from Germany, Sweden, and other countries with fewer than 25 new cases per 100,000 inhabitants in the past fortnight.
Arrivals from countries with higher levels of infection, such as France and the UK, will also be admitted without quarantine requirements if they are traveling with a charter flight or organised tour group and if their stay does not exceed 72 hours.
In recent years tourist numbers in Lapland, in Finland’s far north, have grown to record levels.
Among three million overnight stays in 2018, British tourists were the largest group.
Husky sled rides, seeing the Northern Lights and a visit to the “real” Santa’s grotto are among the most popular attractions.
The Finnish government has come under heavy pressure to ease travel restrictions to help businesses in Lapland, where tourism generated one billion euros ($1.1 billion) of revenue in 2018 according to the area’s regional council.
Currently, Finland’s tight border restrictions ban arrivals from all but a handful of EU countries in an attempt to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Economic Affairs Minister Mika Lintila told a press conference on Friday that the new policy “will bring clarity to the business and tourism sectors.”
“The decision takes into account safety and the needs of business.”
An official told reporters the health ministry had been “critical” of the idea of loosening border restrictions.
But “these decisions have been made based on broad cabinet discussions,” health ministry strategic director Liisa-Maria Voipio-Pulkki said.
The country of 5.5 million has registered 337 COVID-related deaths and around 8,500 cases, though there has been an uptick in infections after the summer.