On March 30, Finland said it would extend its countrywide shutdown until May 13 from April 13. It appears strict social distancing and quarantines are working, but it comes at a massive economic cost. Now we're beginning to learn that the country's welfare system is cracking and cannot handle the influx of unemployed.
Finland has recorded 1,615 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 19 deaths, by far, some of the lowest numbers when compared to the rest of Europe.
There are signs that restrictions on civilian movement are working, Mika Salminen, the director of health security at the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL), told reporters at a government press conference on April 1.
The number of people in the risk groups for #coronavirus varies significantly by region in #Finland – variation may affect the need for hospital care across the country.— Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) (@THLresearch) April 2, 2020
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The opportunity cost of flattening the pandemic curve has come at a tremendous economic cost, resulting in a downturn and high unemployment. Bloomberg notes that Finland has the best welfare system in the world, which is now starting to crack as the surge in unemployment applications is overwhelming the system.
And just like that, in a matter of weeks, 300,000 Finns lost their jobs because of quarantines. The tradeoff is preserving the nation in the long run while dealing with short term economic pain.
Managing Director Sanna Alamaki said on April 1 that funding the welfare system isn't the current issue: It's "that the benefit applications can't be processed and, consequently, money can't be paid out quickly enough."
Even if General Unemployment Fund YTK were to triple staff to increase application output, there still would be a three-month wait for out-of-work Finns to receive their benefits. YTK expects that 100,000 more applications could "flood" in this month (April) due in part to the extended shutdowns.
The problem developing, like in many other countries, is that Finland is becoming overwhelmed by the virus. Though each country is different, it's Finland's generous welfare system, one of the best-funded in the world, cannot process applications in time that could lead to prolonged suffering by households that have seen incomes dry up in the last month.
Finns who cannot receive benefits in time will lose faith in the government, and that could be the moment when social unrest follows.