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Cheers in Finland, Norway and Netherlands as bars reopen

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Helsinki (AFP)

Merrymakers in Finland, Norway and the Netherlands quenched their thirst as bars reopened Monday following long closures over coronavirus, though with new distancing guidelines and shorter hours in place.

Although the sun was not shining in Helsinki, small groups of drinkers and diners gathered around midday on outdoor terraces in the city centre, which for the last two months had been empty of its usual tables and chairs.

"It feels wonderful to finally be able to open again," Ari Savunen, manager at the Ravintolakolmio group which runs a string of bars and restaurants across the capital, told AFP.

Finland's 10,000 bars and restaurants, closed to indoor customers since April 4, are only allowed to admit half of their normal capacity under regulations that will stay in place until at least the end of October.

The move has been criticised by Finland's hospitality trade union MARA, which said the customer limit will make businesses unprofitable while rent and utilities would be charged at full rates once premises reopen.

Outdoor terraces and gardens will have no customer limits, however, with the law telling punters not to get "too close" to each other without specifying a minimum distance.

Drinkers and diners must be seated at a table or bar while self-service food buffets, a much-loved staple of Finnish restaurant culture, are not allowed for hygiene reasons.

Ravintolakolmio's establishments have been largely closed for the last nine weeks, and the prospect of a summer season without foreign tourists means profits are likely to suffer.

- 'It's safe' -

"We're not expecting gold out of the sky, but we hope that people will at least use our services and have the confidence to come out," Savunen said.

"We've made lots of preparations to help people maintain distance and hygiene rules, so it's safe for our customers to come and enjoy being with other people," he added.

Social Services Minister Krista Kiuru said when announcing the reopening in May that this first phase required "careful and controlled steps".

Finland, a country of 5.5 million that also saw public institutions reopen on Monday, has reported 6,776 coronavirus infections and 314 deaths.

Meanwhile in Norway many were expected to take advantage of the warm weather on Monday's bank holiday to enjoy an "utepils" -- a beer consumed outdoors.

Rules stipulated that groups must be limited to 20 people, with distances of one metre (three feet) between each person except for those living under the same roof.

Only table service is allowed, regular disinfection of tables and chairs is required, and establishments must close by 11:30 pm.

"Experience up until now shows that it is harder to maintain good epidemiological precautions with high alcohol consumption," Oslo city official, Victoria Marie Evensen, said in a statement.

Bars that also serve food were authorised to reopen in early May.

Norway, which has confirmed 8,411 cases and 236 deaths from coronavirus, imposed strict measures to curb the spread of the virus on March 12.

Officials have said the epidemic is under control and began slowly lifting restrictions on April 20.

Meanwhile in the Netherlands, restaurants, cafes, terraces, museums and cinemas were all authorised to reopen on Monday.

Social distancing rules were in place, and people were asked to book in advance as establishments were limited to a maximum of 30 customers.

The Dutch government has since March operated a so-called intelligent lockdown, which was less strict than some other European countries, with no full stay-at-home orders.

A country of 17 million, the Netherlands has confirmed 46,545 cases and 5,962 deaths.

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