STA, 23 February 2020 - As the novel coronavirus is spreading fast in neighbouring Italy, Slovenian health minister assured the public on Sunday that there was no reason for alarm. However, a medical official, speaking at the same press conference, said there was little doubt that the virus would appear in Slovenia as well.
Slovenia has not confirmed any case of infection with the novel virus as yet, Health Minister Aleš Šabeder noted at the press conference in Ljubljana.
How safe is Slovenia from coronavirus?
So far the only Slovenian to test positive for the virus that originated in China was a couple who contracted the virus, named Covid-19, on board the Diamond Princess cruise liner docked in Japan's Yokohama for over a fortnight. The couple have been admitted to a hospital in Japan.
Šabeder said that the government would call a session of the National Security Council secretariat for Monday to discuss the situation and take potential additional measures.
The minister does not want the virus to become a political issue. "This is a serious situation, unfolding not only in Europe, but also elsewhere round the globe," he said.
Is traveling to Italy from Slovenia safe?
He said that official data from Italian authorities showed that 124 had so far contracted the virus in Italy. Meanwhile, Italian media have reported the number has risen to over 150 with three fatalities.
Should Italian authorities establish that a Slovenian citizen has been in contact with those infected, Slovenia will be alerted right away, the minister said.
Health Ministry State Secretary Simona Repar Bornšek noted that part of Slovenia had just finished winter school break and that many would have spent it abroad.
With north of Italy being a popular skiing destination for Slovenians, the official advised all travellers who had returned from north Italian regions to monitor their condition and to contact their GP or duty service in case of a fever, cough or shortness of breath.
Hospitals prepare for coronavirus in Slovenia
All primary and secondary healthcare providers have been notified of the measures they need to take and the hospitals that could admit potential coronavirus patients have been urged to re-examine their contingency plans.
The state secretary said there was no confirmed coronavirus case in Slovenia, but that additional measures would be taken depending on the developments such as expanding testing.
She urged the public to follow information the website of the National Public Health Institute (NIJZ), which is being updated 24 hours a day, and not to fall for provocations.
Tatjana Lejko Zupanc, the head of the UKC Ljubljana Department of Infectious Diseases, said that there was almost no doubt anymore that the novel coronavirus would appear in Slovenia as well.
But she said that health institutions were getting ready for such a possibility. Their department sped up activities to be able to admit the first patient.
"All the paths have been agreed, which tests would be conducted. A few beds are ready, including at the intensive care unit. We'll have extra beds ready during the week," said Lejko Zupanc.
The department could admit 10 to 20 coronavirus patients at one of its units, theoretically even more. It is also capable of providing 10 intensive care beds, which "should suffice for a smaller outbreak".
In case of a massive outbreak, procedures would be quite different, involving the civil protection, among other mechanisms, said Lejko Zupanc.
She said everyone on the staff was willing to be involved in the effort in case of a potential outbreak, and if necessary military health staff could be engaged in case of staff shortages.
She said there were currently no suspected cases in Slovenia according to her information. She also said that Slovenia was well equipped for tests which were being conducted at three labs.
She said there was no need for panic or fear; if people "have been to what are epidemic hotspots at the moment", they should monitor themselves and seek advice from health services.
As prevention against potential infection NIJZ official Maja Sočan advised regular washing of hands, regular surface cleaning and measures generally taken to prevent an infection spread.
Sočan said the four Slovenian passengers from the Diamond Princess, who have already returned to Slovenia, were feeling fine, as were the couple hospitalised in Japan.
There were a total of six Slovenians on the ship, three couples.
NIJZ has not advised against travel.
Matija Cevc from the Slovenian Medical Association noted that posters appeared in parts of the country calling for citizens on behalf of the association to take preventive tests.
He said the association had not issued such a poster, denouncing the campaign as "utterly abject". He supposes it was aimed at making money at a time when people are in distress.
All our stories on coronavirus and Slovenia can be found here