08 Apr 2021, 13:49 PM

STA, 8 April 2021 - Pupils will return to schools and the youngest children to kindergartens following an 11-day circuit-breaker lockdown on Monday under a decision taken by the government on Thursday, which is in line with the promise made before the country entered its third coronavirus lockdown.

The return to kindergartens and primary and secondary schools will follow the same model as before the lockdown, which means all primary pupils will return to schools, while most secondary pupils will alternate between in-class and remote learning every week, Education Minister Simona Kustec told reporters.

The alternate weeks model applies only to year one to three secondary students, while final year pupils have in-person teaching all the time just like primary pupils.

Student dorms for secondary pupils will reopen on Sunday when the relevant decree adopted by the government today will take effect.

Face masks will remain mandatory in classrooms and schools for primary pupils from the sixth to ninth form, for all staff and for all secondary students, while kindergarten children and primary pupils up to the fifth form are required to wear masks in common school areas outside their classrooms.

Face masks will not be obligatory for pupils during physical education classes.

Higher education institutions remain closed for now except for practical training or exams by groups of up to ten students. For most students, dorms remain closed as well.

In music schools only one-on-one instruction is permitted, it follows from the government decree.

While staff are already being tested for coronavirus weekly, voluntary self-testing is being introduced for older pupils with Kustec saying the measure should be accepted "in good faith" as a measure to fight the virus.

"Schools will be sent an informative film in the coming days so that parents and pupils will be able to learn about the voluntary testing procedure in detail," the minister said, adding the project would be presented to secondary school head teachers in detail tomorrow and then next week to the head teachers of primaries.

The minister could not say yet when self-testing would begin, noting that pupils and parents need to get all the necessary information first, but she hopes it could be introduced as soon as possible.

She said preliminary data collected by schools show about 20% of the year six to nine primary pupils and between 18% and 19% of secondary school students are willing to self-test, which Health Minister Janez Poklukar recently said pupils would perform at home.

Asked about the low interest expressed in self-tests, the minister said it was "essential all of us and everyone among us does as much as possible to make sure school premises remain safe and that schooling can continue in-person until the end of the school year".

Kustec believes once "it has become clear this is about a genuine intention to help individuals and the broader school space the measure will be used more actively".

The minister said her ministry was in discussion with officials from the National Institute of Public Health to determine potential scenarios for the matura secondary school-leaving exam for events such as quarantine orders issued to classes. The exam will start with an essay just after May Day holidays.

The minister also hopes for a return of sports, but it would depend on the opinion of health experts, she said.

With the exception of outdoor exercise involving an individual or members of the same household, sports have been banned since 1 April, except for top registered athletes. Even for those national competitions have been put on hold.

The government is meeting later today to make potential changes to its traffic lights system of measures to apply from 12 April after the lockdown imposed on 1 April ends.

07 Apr 2021, 12:27 PM

STA, 7 April 2021 - Historian Mateja Ratej has published a book about the rise of Hitlerism in the broader Maribor area in the 1930s. She sees some parallels between that era and the present health crisis, in particular with regard to the erosion of people's trust in established authorities.

Entitled Swastika on a Cemetery Wall, the book was presented in an online talk from the Maribor Library on Wednesday after being recently published by Beletrina.

Ratej said that Hitlerism in the Slovenian population in the region of Štajerska had manifested primarily in sympathising with how the Nazis were delivering order, creating an illusion of a better life in a German state under Hitler.

Related: Nazis in Maribor, Celje & Bled, 1941

"When Maribor Germans in the 1930s started leaning towards Nazism, they were followed by many of their Slovenian workers and servants out of loyalty, economic dependence and in hope of greater welfare," the historian said.

The spread of pro-Hitler propaganda in that period is discernible in the files of the Maribor District Court, as Hitlerism was a prohibited political activity in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia.

Some of these files are featured in the book, showing how simple slogans about a better life under Hitler managed to create a specific social climate in which tensions had been gradually raised in the decade preceding the Second World War.


Wikipedia, public domain


German soldiers on Maribor ulica

German soliders crossing from Austria into Slovenia, entering Maribor

The Maribor-based historian noted that there had not been much of a response to the book so far.

"It is possible that even 80 years later we are still not ready to accept the fact that many Slovenians, despite all the horrors that we suffered under the Nazi order, had been swearing by that same order."

The author draws many parallels with the current health crisis, including the many conspiracy theories being circulated among people that are attempting to explain reality, as there is no underlying trust in the established authorities.

Ratej added that very similar trends could be seen in newspapers from the pre-WWII period, meaning that the fight for truth and the media war is nothing new, it is merely another instance of raised tensions in society.

"People are, however, not aware of this to a sufficient extent, much like they were oblivious to it in the 1930s," the author warned.

06 Apr 2021, 18:51 PM

STA, 6 April 2020 - The Slovenian Student Organisation has raised concern after a survey conducted by the National Institute of Public Health (NIJZ) has shown almost one out of four students have experienced suicidal thoughts during the epidemic.

The survey, conducted between November and January, showed 89% out of 484 students surveyed had experienced mood swings such as anxiety and depression in the past four weeks.

Almost 24% reported experiencing suicidal behaviour. They also reported anxiety, despondency, crying episodes, depression and panic attacks.

Related: Covid, Mental Health & Children’s Summer Camps in Slovenia

Commenting on the results for Radio Slovenija, psychologist Tomaž Vec called them horrific. "One in four students is thinking about suicide. It's a piece of information that should prompt the state into action."

The Student Organisation (ŠOS) said the results should lead to a thorough change in the measures aimed at containing coronavirus transmissions.

They noted their calls for state aid to compensate students for a loss of income and reopening colleges as soon as possible to allow lectures and practical classes to resume in-person.

05 Apr 2021, 13:56 PM

STA, 5 April 2021 - Unseasonably cold temperatures are expected across Slovenia in the coming days as a blast of Arctic air that has spread across much of Europe reaches the country. Significant amounts of snow are possible, even at lower altitudes, according to the Environment Agency.

Temperatures will be just below zero Tuesday morning, except in Alpine north-western Slovenia, where the mercury could drop as low as -8. During the day if will be between -2 and 0, up to 4 degrees on the coast.

Strong snow is expected to start in the morning, bringing 5-15 centimetres of snow at lower altitudes, up to 25 in south-central Slovenia. The east should get about five centimetres.

By the afternoon the snowing will die down and it will be clear. On Wednesday scattered showers are possible.

The low temperatures are expected to severely affect agriculture, as widespread frost is forecast.

02 Apr 2021, 11:44 AM

STA, 1 April 2021 - After schools reopen on 12 April, secondary school students will begin self-testing for coronavirus, followed a while later by pupils of the final three years of primary school, Health Minister Janez Poklukar said on Thursday. 

While on a visit to Maribor, Poklukar said everything will be done for schools to reopen on 12 April. By then Slovenia will set up a system of rapid self-testing for older students.

Next week, school staff will be coached about self-testing and the project would be launched when the schools reopen.

Tests would be performed on Thursdays and Fridays so that those with a positive result would be able to get a PCR test on Monday to confirm the rapid test result.

The Health Ministry and the National Institute of Public Health (NIJZ) are also preparing video content for students who will be self-testing.

Commenting on the 11-day lockdown ahead, Poklukar said he would be happy if the incidence figures were the same as today on 11 April.

He underlined the government followed recommendations of the expert advisory group. Commenting on reports that the obligatory face masks outside were not proposed by the group, Poklukar said this was true but that most of its members were not against.

Commenting on the fact that Easter Sunday will be an exception to the lockdown, Poklukar said that this was a risk but many elderly people need the support of their children and grandchildren.

Projections presented today by Leon Cizelj of the Jožef Stefan Institute show the lockdown could relieve the pressure on hospitals by a few hundred patients and by between 50 and 60 ICU cases.

Had the lockdown not been imposed there could be more than 1,100 Covid patients in hospitals by mid-May, while the goal of the measures imposed today is to reduce the figure to between 300 and 800.

The latest data on coronavirus and Slovenia

01 Apr 2021, 15:20 PM

STA, 1 April 2021 - The highly virulent UK variant of the coronavirus is spreading rapidly and currently accounts for more than 40% of all cases, public health authorities said on Thursday.

Tjaša Žohar Čretnik, the head of the National Laboratory of Health, Environment and Food (NLZOH), said that 340 cases of the UK strain of the coronavirus were confirmed last week.

The share of the variant among genome sequencing samples has risen to almost 42% from 33% last week.

"In all the Slovenian regions, the UK variant is effectively crowding out the novel coronavirus variant which has been dominant one until now," Žohar Čretnik said, warning that this had been driving the deterioration of the epidemiological situation.

The Institute of Microbiology and Immunology, which also conducts sequencing, said that 44% of the samples it analysed between 15 and 21 March were the UK variant.

The largest share of the UK variant has been established in South-East Slovenia (78%), the northern Koroška region (68%) and the north-eastern Pomurje region (61%).

The share was the lowest in the coastal Obalno-Kraška region (24%).

Brazilian and South African variants are not spreading. A single case of the former and three cases of the latter have been confirmed in Slovenia so far.

The NLZOH has detected another specific mutation in the most prevalent coronavirus variant in the country (B1.258.17). A total of 64 cases of the mutation have been confirmed so far.

The mutation has already been detected in the South African, UK and other strains of the coronavirus, however what is new is that it has never been confirmed in the B1.258.17 variant.

Outside Slovenia, this combination has so far been recorded only in a single case in Austria, Žohar Čretnik said.

The mutation could theoretically make the virus more transmissible and will be investigated further for the experts to determine its properties and consequences.

01 Apr 2021, 13:58 PM

STA, 1 April 2021 - Health authorities have recommended that Covid-19 vaccination be focused in the next three weeks on older persons so that shots are given to all Slovenian residents aged 60 or older who want to get vaccinated.

The National Public Health Institute (NIJZ) said on Thursday that the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines should be administered to persons aged 65+, and to particularly vulnerable chronic patients regardless of age and residents of care homes.

The AstraZeneca vaccine is recommended for persons aged 60-64, and older persons if they express interest in vaccination with this vaccine.

The NIJZ said that the recommendations were made in accordance with the changed strategy for Covid-19 vaccination and taking into account the situation in which the quantities of vaccine are limited.

It proposes that, due to the deteriorating epidemiological situation and the consequent stoppage of public life until 12 April, vaccination be focused on persons aged 60 and older in the next three weeks.

This is in line with the objectives of the NIJZ strategy and decisions of the government advisory task force for vaccination, the institute said, adding that "this would utilise the available doses of the vaccine to protect the most vulnerable."

In the meantime, data on the possible and exceptionally rare serious side effects of the AstraZeneca vaccine in the younger population reported in some European countries will be analysed.

More data on the vaccinations here (Slovene only, but mostly numbers)

30 Mar 2021, 13:41 PM

STA, 30 March 2021 - From a total of 5,395 PCR tests carried out on Monday, 1,080 came back positive for a positivity rate of 20%, up from Sunday's 16.4%. The daily death toll was as high as 15, an increase of 9. The seven-day average of new coronavirus cases rose by 14 to 957, the government said on Twitter on Tuesday.

The number of Covid-19 patients in hospitals has reached 515 (down 11), of whom 105 are in intensive care (down 7), while 61 were discharged from hospital.

As many as 4,306 persons died until Monday, the government data shows.

The epidemic is on the rise due to the spread of the new, more virulent strains of the coronavirus.

According to the Jožef Stefan Institute (IJS), the reproduction number - showing how many people one infected person will pass the virus on to - is 1.19, but is expected to drop after the 1-11 April lockdown.

Given that the English variant doubles roughly every 11 days, the situation could rapidly worsen without the lockdown, to the point of switching back to tier red in early April; roughly half of the country is now orange (one tier better than red), with the rest split between red and yellow.

First delivery of Johnson & Johnson vaccine expected in mid-April

STASTA, 29 March 2021 - Slovenia expects to get the first delivery of the coronavirus vaccine developed by drug maker Johnson & Johnson in mid-April. The shipment is expected to contain 7,050 doses of the single-shot vaccine, the National Institute of Public Health (NIJZ) said.

Slovenia currently uses the Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna and AstraZeneca vaccines. Johnson & Johnson's is the fourth vaccine to be approved for use in the EU and the first one that requires a single shot.

The latest NIJZ data shows just under 231,000, or roughly 11% of the population, have received the first shot of a coronavirus vaccine and roughly 112,000 have received both shots.

This week the focus of the vaccination campaign is on persons over 70.

29 Mar 2021, 14:45 PM

STA, 29 March 2021 - As Slovenia is headed for a circuit-breaker lockdown as of Thursday, with kindergartens and schools shutting down as well, some headteachers are surprised with the government's decision, while others are prepared for the shutdown. All of them, however, said that remote schooling and closed kindergartens are stressful for the children.

With the British variant of the new coronavirus driving the incidence of Covid-19 in Slovenia, all non-essential services, baring several exceptions, will have to close between 1 and 11 April, while the industry has been asked to allow as much work from home as possible.

While schools for special needs children will remain open, this will not be the case for kindergartens, primary and secondary schools.

Several headteachers have told the STA on Monday that this had taken them by surprise, because the government advisory group as well as the government had said in the past that schools and kindergartens would be the last to close.

Mojca Kirbiš, the head of Maribor schools headmasters' club, told the STA that the decision taken by the government and experts needs to be respected, adding, however, that the developments are taking a toll on schools.

"All of us, teachers and students, are tired of the constant changes... We've barely returned to classrooms and established a normal rhythm but now the system is being changed again," said Kirbiš, also adding that there are no guarantees schools would reopen on 12 April under the model in place at the moment.

Several headteachers also pointed to problems regarding national competitions, some of which have been scheduled for the week slated for lockdown. Moreover, the competitors will not have an equal footing this year, they fear.

Rudolf Planinšek, the headteacher of a Kranj primary school, does not expect too many problems with the process of organising remote schooling, but is worried about grades. Remote schooling widened the gap between good and poor students, he said.

"There will definitely be some problems, but we'll overcome them somehow," he is confident. If students will be allowed to return to classrooms on 12 April, the school year will be a good one, he believes.

Irena Sivka Horvat, the headteacher of an Izola primary school, also believes that the lockdown, planned for only a week and a half, will not have an adverse effect on the grades.

She hopes that students will be able to make up for the lost time once the situation normalises, adding also it was yet impossible to say to what extent the knowledge of children had been effected.

Nevenka Kulovec, the headteacher of a Novo Mesto primary schools, believes the lockdown is a good decision if it will buy time for vaccination. It does however undermine the school's programme, but they will adapt, she said. Grades have gotten worse, students are poorly motivated and their ability to learn has declined, she said.

In secondary schools, remote schooling will cause the most stress to the finishing classes who are about to take the matura school-leaving exams that start in a month. "What if something like this happens during matura?" said Herman Pušnik the headteacher of a Maribor secondary school.

While secondary schools will close completely, kindergartens and schools will have to provide urgent childcare for kindergartners and pupils up to third grade.

Kindergartens are still awaiting instructions from the Education Ministry to learn whether childcare will be provided only to children of parents in critical infrastructure or to others without childcare as well.

They hope to receive this information as soon as possible, so as to be able to organise work and meals for the lockdown period, Romana Epih, the headteacher of the Medvode kindergarten told the STA.

Tea Dolinar, the headteacher of Kranj kindergartens, echoed this position. There is not enough time, she said, but her team is already used to such fast and stressful transitions and will make it work.

Dolinar also pointed to the stress the closures put on the children, with many small kids perceiving the return as if they are coming to the kindergarten the first time. A similar sentiment was expressed by several other headteachers the STA has talked to.

Silvija Komočar, the headteacher of a Brežice kindergarten, meanwhile said that the situation is nothing new and that the kindergarten already had a lot experience with urgent childcare and was well prepared. She also said that the closures were stressful for the children.

Meanwhile, the umbrella association of pedagogical workers has called on the Education Ministry to finally take action and establish a policy that would minimise the negative effects of the closures.

After a year of extraordinary circumstances, the ministry should finally establish a task force to communicate with the government advisory group so as to ensure that restrictions are truly proportionate.

28 Mar 2021, 16:40 PM

STA, 28 March 2021 - UPDATED 18:15 The government has endorsed the proposal from the Covid-19 advisory team to impose an 11-day circuit breaker lockdown starting from 1 April in a bid to help hospitals cope with an expected influx in Covid-19 patients following an increase in Slovenia's coronavirus transmission rates.

"The suspension of public life will be brief. On 12 April the restrictions easing roadmap will start being implemented again," Prime Minister Janez Janša said in announcing the measures at Brdo estate on Sunday.

However, he said the success of the measures would depend on their being consistently implemented, in which case additional measures would not be needed.

Describing the situation as a race against time, Janša said the state administration would switch to remote work almost entirely, urging businesses to follow suit as much as possible.

Non-essential shops and services dealing directly with customers will be shut down and schools will switch to remote classes with day care provided to kindergarten and up to year three primary school children of essential workers.

Gatherings of up to 10 people will be no longer allowed, while movement will be restricted to the region of residence, except for Easter Sunday, when up to two households (no more then for adults) will be able to meet, according to Interior Minister Aleš Hojs.

All in-person religious services will be suspended except for spiritual care for persons in need and cultural institutions will no longer provide services in person, Culture Minister Vasko Simoniti said.

Health Minister Janez Poklukar said face masks would again be mandatory in outdoor public spaces except for exercise in green spaces where there is enough space and on means of transport for same household members.

However, Poklukar said that non-Covid healthcare services would not be reduced because of the immense needs.

During the lockdown, public transportation will run on Sunday or holiday schedule, and road worthiness tests and driving lessons are being suspended, while ski slopes will be closed.

Economy Minister Zdravko Počivalšek said exceptions to a temporary ban on retail and services would include pharmacies, services stations, financial and postal services and delivery.

Construction work on sites, houses and flats that are not currently settled will also be allowed, as will preparing food and drinks for takeaway and delivery without mandatory regular testing.

Meanwhile, regular weekly testing will be required for staff in shops selling mainly groceries, personal care and cleaning items, garden shops, plant nurseries, florists', produce markets, newsagents and technical goods shops.

Presenting details pertaining to her department, Education Minister Simona Kustec said that special needs pupils would continue schooling in classrooms, and sports for professional athletes would be allowed to continue.

Janša said not taking action now would translate into at least 500 additional deaths until June. "The key value is preserving lives," he said, adding that experiences of other countries had shown partial measures were not producing good results.

The lockdown is also needed to give enough time to vaccinate the most at-risk groups of the population.

Janša suggested the current roadmap out of the lockdown would be resumed on 12 April if the figures should be at least at roughly the level they are today and unless a new, more aggressive variant appeared, which he said was not likely for the time being.

Administration Minister Boštjan Koritnik said the government's guidance to state administration heads is that no more than 20% employees should be in workplaces.

The government adopted the measures after the Covid-19 advisory team presented their proposal to a cross-party meeting at Brdo, which the centre-left opposition failed too attend.

The majority were in favour, but Počivalšek had initially aired misgivings about the efficacy of a new lockdown given the pandemic fatigue and low public trust.

He told the press after the government session the measures would not be effective should the opposition continue to abuse the epidemic for politicking. Janša also regretted their absence.

Mateja Logar, the head of the Covid-19 advisory team, welcomed the government heeding their recommendations, saying the experts were united in their position that resolute action was needed to prevent the virus from overwhelming the health system again.

This was as the 7-day average of new daily cases rose to 944 on Saturday, from 927 the day before after standing at 808 a week ago. Of 499 Covid-19 patients in hospitals, 105 are in intensive care.

Slovenia has reported 212,679 coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic with an estimated 12,311 still active infections, data from the National Institute of Public Health (NIJZ) show.

The most recent NIJZ data on the death toll, released on Monday, show 4,258 had died within 28 days of testing positive by Sunday. Since then the government has reported 42 more deaths.

A total of 229,553 people have received their first dose of a vaccine against Covid-19 and 112,087 have received two.

26 Mar 2021, 13:13 PM

STA, 26 March 2021 - Slovenia has recorded over 1,000 new coronavirus cases for the third day running. With 1,032 people testing positive on Thursday, the rolling 7-day average rose to 895, government data show. Another ten patients with Covid-19 died.

Marking a rise of almost 10% from the same day a week ago, the latest cases were confirmed from 6,637 PCR tests, for a positivity rate of 15.5%. In addition 27,189 rapid antigen tests were performed.

The number of patients hospitalised with Covid-19 dropped by one to 500 after 30 patients were discharged yesterday. The number of patients in intensive care rose by two to 108.

Under the government Covid tiers plan, Slovenia is currently in orange tier of restrictions, the third highest. The red tier begins when the 7-day average of new confirmed cases and hospitalisations rise above 1,000, but the plan may be changed by the government on Sunday.

Three of the country's twelve regions are already in red tier.

The cumulative 14-day incidence per 100,000 residents rose to 557, from 545 the day before.

Slovenia has reported more than 210,000 coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic, according to the National Institute of Public Health (NIJZ).

The death toll has passed 4,000, with the most recent NIJZ data, released on Monday, showing 4,258 people had died within 28 days of testing positive by Sunday.

All our stories on covid-19 and Slovenia

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