Finland to tighten COVID-19 restrictions from March 8

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FILE PHOTO: Finland's Prime Minister Sanna Marin arrives to attend a face-to-face EU summit amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) lockdown in Brussels, Belgium December 10, 2020

HELSINKI (Reuters) - Finland will go into a three-week lockdown starting on March 8 and is prepared to declare a state of emergency, the prime minister said on Thursday, to try to stem a rising number of coronavirus cases.

The lockdown will not include a curfew but will involve the closing of restaurants and ordering school students who are 13 or older to switch to remote learning, the government said.

Prime Minister Sanna Marin said she is ready to declare a state of emergency next week, having discussed this with the president. Among other things, a state of emergency would allow closing restaurants, requiring health care workers to work longer hours and cancel their holidays.

Marin said she thought a state of emergency was needed to stop new coronavirus variants from spreading.

"If we wait for the situation to get worse, it will be more difficult to stop it," she said.

However, Justice Minister Anna-Maja Henriksson, a member of a smaller party in the ruling coalition said she thought that using the full force of the emergency powers act was not necessary, and that limiting the restaurant business would suffice.

While Finland currently has the third lowest infection rate in Europe, after Iceland and Norway, the nation of 5.5 million people has seen a rapid rise in new daily cases, which on Wednesday reached 590.

During the past two weeks, the epidemic has escalated in many areas of the country with the metropolitan area around the capital Helsinki being hit the worst.

(Reporting by Essi Lehto; Editing by Alison Williams)