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HELSINKI, March 12 (Reuters) - Finland is recommending cancelling public meetings of more than 500 people until the end of May due to the coronavirus outbreak, Prime Minister Sanna Marin said on Thursday, as the government prepares for the possibility of a third of Finns becoming ill.
Under Finnish legislation, Marin said the government was not able to ban all public meetings unless emergency powers were activated, meaning local authorities are in change of enforcing the recommendation.
The announcement came after country confirmed cases had jumped by 50 in a day to a total of 109, the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare said, and after the Foreign Ministry recommended citizens avoid travelling anywhere in the world now.
Marin said the government had called a meeting with all parliamentary groups to discuss the circumstances of activating emergency legislation, in case it becomes necessary to impose further restrictions such as regional shutdowns, closing schools and universities or banning air and ferry traffic.
"During the first wave some 35% of Finns could fall ill and that is what we are prepared for," Minister of Social Affairs and Health Aino-Kaisa Pekonen said.
The government also recommended any people returning from epidemic areas to stay home for 14 days to avoid spreading the infection in workplaces.
The government said Finland would grant 5 million euros ($5.6 million) to international organisations developing a vaccine for the virus.
Earlier on Thursday, healthcare authorities said a heart surgeon who had returned from a trip to Austria had been tested to have coronavirus, having exposed 28 staff members, including another 15 doctors or roughly half of the Finnish capital's heart surgeons to the virus and sending them to home quarantine as a precaution.
In addition to healthcare staff, four patients and two of their relatives had been exposed.
The government's recommendation to cancel public events was immediately followed by cancellations by organisers of sports events, including the Finnish Basketball Association cancelling all games at all levels until further notice. ($1 = 0.8917 euros) (Reporting by Anne Kauranen; Editing by Jon Boyle and Alison Williams)