STA, 5 February 2021 - One day into the implementation of a decree that sets the public health rules for border crossing, the government has changed the decree to make it simpler for daily cross-border commuters and students, after complaints that the system was unsustainable due to insufficient testing capacity.
The changed rules that entered into force today required that cross-border commuters and students must provide a negative test no older than seven days, a requirement similar to than put in place by Austria that takes effect next week.
Under the changes expected to enter into force on Saturday, the negative test will only have to be submitted for arrivals from countries whose 14-day number of cases per 100,000 population is higher than Slovenia's, government spokeswoman Maja Bratuša said Friday evening.
The same rules apply to EU and Schengen zone nationals who cross the border to help family, maintain contact with children, perform maintenance on property, and some other, smaller groups of exemptions.
The list of countries whose coronavirus statistics are worse than Slovenia's is very short at present and includes only Spain, Portugal and Czechia. The list will be updated on a weekly basis, Bratuša said.
The decision comes after cross-border commuters living along the borders with Austria and Italy started complaining about potentially insurmountable hurdles, a point also raised by centre-left opposition parties.
In the Nova Gorica area in western Slovenia people lined up for hours today to get a free rapid antigen test before free-testing sites close for three days.
Slovenia has a bank holiday on Monday and those working or going to school in Italy on Monday would not be able to get tested on time otherwise.
Simon Vendramin, a senior member of the civil protection force in the region, said the local community health centre was overstretched and would not be able to handle large groups of daily commuters on top of all walk-in tests and regular testing of teachers each start of the week.
The changed government decree is to be published in the Official Gazette this evening and take effect today, according to Bratuša.
STA, 5 February 2020 - Data by Johns Hopkins University from the US shows Slovenia has the highest percentage of population of any EU country that has already received two doses of a Covid-19 vaccine. A table tracking vaccine efforts around the world shows that 0.90% of Slovenian population has been fully vaccinated.
Some 70,940 doses have been administered in Slovenia, with 18,726 receiving both jabs by now, the Johns Hopkins table shows.
Slovenia's covid tracker Sledilnik, which draws data from the national vaccination registry, shows that more than 54,200 people have received at least one dose of a vaccine by Thursday and over 36,000 the second shot.
Slovenia started vaccination, which is voluntary and free of charge, in late December, with the elderly, care home and hospital staff taking priority.
It is currently using three different vaccines produced by Pfizer/BionTech, Moderna and AstraZeneca, all of which require two jabs.
Israel has the highest percentage of fully inoculated population (18.28%), with the rest lagging far behind. The UAE are in second place, followed by Iceland, the US, the Isle of Man and Slovenia in place six. The EU average is currently at 0.29%.
STA, 4 February 2021 - The government amended the rules for entry into Slovenia last night to scrap some of the exceptions for entering the country without the quarantine requirement and a negative coronavirus test.
The new rules will take effect a day after they are published in the Official Gazette, which was released today, meaning they will enter into force on Friday, deputy Police Commissioner Tomaž Pečjak explained at today's press conference. They will remain in place until 12 February.
Under the new rules daily migrants working in any of the EU or Schengen zone countries returning to the country after more than 14 hours will also be obligated to present a negative test, PCR or rapid test conducted in the EU, no older than seven days.
Those failing to present a negative test at the border who are residents of Slovenia will receive a quarantine order, which can be cut short with a negative test, Pečjak explained.
Negative tests will also be required for persons crossing the border occasionally due to their work in child care, education or science in Slovenia or the EU, and for EU citizens coming from other EU countries where they are providing care or support to vulnerable groups, providing for their family members, do maintenance work on their property or are involved in efforts to protect people's lives, health or assets and are returning within 12 hours since crossing the border.
A negative test requirement will also be in place for persons who have a medical appointment in Slovenia.
Entering the country without a negative test and quarantine will be possible in only ten cases, including for persons conducting international transport, persons transporting goods or persons into Slovenia, for transit passenger and freight transport if the person leaves the country within eight hours or returns to the country after no more than eight hours.
The government also slightly amended the list of red countries with a quarantine requirement, expanding it to some administrative units of Norway and Denmark.
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STA, 2 February 2021 - Slovenia's biggest festival, Kurentovanje, which draws large crowds to the medieval town of Ptuj every year, will only take place online this year. It seems that Kurents, one of the most iconic Shrovetide costumes in the country, are not scary enough to drive away the coronavirus epidemic like they do with winter every year.
Starting today, the festival will run until 16 February and will feature online events focusing on the history of the event and the tradition, as well as highlights of the previous editions.
Talking to the press last week, Ptuj Mayor Nuška Gajšek expressed belief that neither the locals nor other fans of the carnival will forget the tradition. Instead, they will have an even greater appreciation for it, she believes.
Among other things, the festival will feature competitions for best doughnut, which are traditionally eaten around Shrovetide. On Shrove Sunday, usually when the main parade was held in Ptuj, fun ethnographic events will be taking place online, while on Shrove Tuesday comedian Tadej Toš, a native from Ptuj, will bring the festival to an end.
A new brand of wine, Kurent's Mistik will also be launched and an interactive online game, Kurent's Symphony, will be released next week.
Like every year, the postal operator Pošta Slovenije will launch a carnival stamp, while local media have been invited to feature tradition-related content in the period before Lent.
STA, 1 February 2021 - Slovenia will receive the first batch of the newly approved AstraZeneca vaccine, amounting to 15,000 doses, either at the end of this week or the beginning of the next, the STA has learnt from the National Institute of Public Health (NIJZ).
Today, Slovenia expects to receive some 17,500 doses of the Pfizer/BionTech vaccine. The vaccine will be used for second shots, while vaccination of the elderly who have not yet received a jab will continue next week.
In the past days, the most recent Moderna vaccine shipment of 2,400 doses arrived in Slovenia and the next batch, amounting to 4,800 doses, is expected on Friday.
Three more batches of the Pfizer/BionTech are expected in the next three weeks. 17,500 doses are to arrive on 9 February, 21,060 doses on 15 February and 22,300 doses on 22 February, the NIJZ said.
Meanwhile, the supply of AstraZeneca vaccine in the future remains unclear. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said yesterday after talks with the company that AstraZeneca is to deliver 40 million doses to the EU by the end of the first quarter of the year.
NIJZ data show that 52,942 people in Slovenia have received their first jab, while 23,035 have already had two shots.
STA, 28 January - The Ministry of Education has notified schools in Zasavje and Obalno-Kraška regions that schools and kindergartens will have to close once again on Monday. The decision comes only two days after pupils of the first three grades and kindergartners were allowed back in nine of Slovenia's 12 administrative regions after more than three months.
The two regions have slipped back into black tier and the government decided on Wednesday that all non-essential services would shut down once again, leaving the decision on schools for today.
The closure comes less than a week after the government decided to allow in-person education for the youngest children and kindergartners, and some additional services to reopen.
Speaking to the press after the government session, Education Minister Simona Kustec said the government also introduced a key change, allowing schools to provide childcare to graders one through three whose parents work in essential infrastructure and security services.
Commenting on the decision to close the schools in the two regions, Kustec said Slovenia has entered a period of constant change and the the government followed closely its epidemic exit plan, under which schools in black-tiered regions are closed.
A number of school heads who will have to switch to remote teaching again next week have expressed regret and disappointment with the decision, with many pointing out that the situation had worsened in their region due to an increase in the number of infections in care homes.
They underlined that the rules of social distancing are being upheld at schools and several have said that their entire staff had tested negative for the coronavirus earlier this week.
Apart from Zasavje and Obalno-Kraška regions, Goriška, Posavska and Southeastern Slovenia are also in black tier.
In black-tiered regions only stores selling mostly groceries are allowed to remain open, as well as some services, such as hair dressers. Kindergartens provide child care only to children whose parents cannot arrange any other form of child care.
Meanwhile, special needs schools remain open also in the black-tiered regions, with staff obligated to get tested once again on Monday.
Exceptions to a ban on gathering in schools remain in place, so as to allow school councillors to provide emergency aid to children and to allow schools to carry out procedures related to completion or continuation of schooling, such as enrolment.
In the seven red-tiered regions, children will remain at home on Monday, as staff will get tested for coronavirus again, Kustec also said.
The National Institute of Public Health (NIJZ) has advised the government to prioritise keeping the schools open if the situation deteriorates, closing instead other potential locations of infection transmission.
Bojana Beović, the head of the government's coronavirus advisory group, meanwhile told the press today that they did not have a position on whether it was sensible to close schools again after only a week.
"My personal belief is that it is unpleasant to close schools after only a week and that it would be good to take a look at regions individually," Beović said.
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STA, 27 January 2021 - The National Assembly determined on Wednesday in a 51:13 vote that changes to the foreigners act tightening up conditions for residence for foreign nationals in Slovenia as well as amendments to the international protection act aiming to prevent asylum law abuses are fit for further debate. Both bills were met with mixed reactions.
The first bill also transposes an EU directive that regulates the situation of foreign students and researchers in Slovenia and introduces a concept of a complex crisis, which has drawn criticism from the opposition.
Interior Minister Aleš Hojs told the MPs on Tuesday that the complex crisis concept was a way of enabling a special temporary regime on the border in the event of mass migration in line with the 2019 Constitutional Court decision.
In 2019, the court annulled part of the 2017 contentious amendments, specifically sections of clause 10b of the foreigners act, explaining that they violated Article 18 of the Constitution, which guarantees the principle of non-refoulement.
Based on the latest concept, the government would be able to declare a complex crisis and effectively suspend the implementation of the law under special circumstances such as those seen in 2015 and 2016.
The changes also set down return policy in case of foreigners who are residing in Slovenia illegally and the extension of the deadline for reuniting families up to two years.
Moreover, Slovenian language skills have been made the new requirement for asylum seekers - a foreigner who is entering the country for the first time should have a basic knowledge of the language, whereas the A2 level is a threshold set for a foreigner who has been residing in Slovenia for a number of years.
The complex crisis concept has drawn criticism from the opposition, who believes the regime would pave the way for returning refugees without giving them an option of seeking international protection.
The Left said the measure was contrary to the 2019 ruling and the constitution, whereas the Marjan Šarec Party (LMŠ) described it as even worse than the 2017 controversial changes. On the other hand, the National Party (SNS) believes that the concept heeds the Constitutional Court's ruling.
The coalition New Slovenia (NSi) thinks that integration efforts should be stepped up and the ruling Democrats (SDS) think it necessary to prevent any abuse of the system.
The Modern Centre Party (SMC) also believes that Slovenia has the right and duty to adopt measures that would enable smooth functioning of the country in the event of disproportionate pressure on the asylum system as long as there is no agreement on the EU migration pact.
Meanwhile, the second bill that has been deemed fit to continue its journey through parliament aims to streamline international protection procedures in case of those who actually need such protection and strives to prevent any abuse of asylum law, according to Hojs.
The proposal envisages sanctions for obstructing the implementation of such procedures and violations of or failure to comply with relevant rules.
Those with international protection would be encouraged to integrate and movement restrictions would be made more effective.
Certain parties, including the SDS and SNS, wanted the regulations to be made even stricter, however that would not be in line with EU law, said Hojs when presenting the bill in parliament.
The NSi considers the changes necessary due to an increasing number of asylum seekers. The party said that some 80% of asylum seekers had left Slovenia for other EU countries, describing the situation as a security and social risk in the EU.
The SMC also voted in favour of the bill to pass the first reading. However, at the next stage the party would like to hear the opinion of the parliamentary legal service.
The opposition DeSUS backed the bill, lauding the proposal for what the party sees as efforts to prevent any abuse. The rest of the opposition parties are critical of the bill though, saying it restricts access to international protection or even makes it impossible to get asylum status.
STA, 26 January 2021 - Slovenia recorded another 1,652 new coronavirus infections on Monday, when more than 35,000 tests were conducted amid mass testing of teachers ahead of partial school reopening.
Currently, 1,157 people are in hospital, 16 fewer than the day before. The number of patients needing intensive care remained level at 190. 91 patients were discharged from hospital and 27 new deaths were reported.
Yesterday, 1,149 new cases were confirmed in 4,700 PCR tests (positivity rate of 24.4%). Because of testing of teachers ahead of partial reopening of schools and kindergartens, as many as 30,392 rapid tests were also conducted to detect 503 new infections for a positive rate of just 1.7%, said the government's Covid-19 spokesperson Maja Bratuša.
In 20,673 rapid tests among teachers, 278 infections were confirmed by 9pm last night, the Health Ministry said. The positivity rate was thus 1.3%.
Some teachers were tested this morning, as 53,306 pupils from the first three grades of primary school returned to school and 74,630 children returned to kindergartens, according to Education Minister Simona Kustec.
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STA, 25 January 2020 - Kindergartens and the first three grades of primary school in Slovenia will open as planned on Tuesday despite additional confirmation that the highly virulent UK variant of coronavirus has been present in Slovenia since the start of the month.
After almost three months of closure, the partial reopening was decreed by the government last week, but the plan was thrown into doubt today when Prime Minister Janez Janša told parliament "we still don't know whether classes in schools will really be re-started on Tuesday."
After confirmation that the UK variant is in Slovenia, he solicited opinions from the Education Ministry and the National Public Health Institute (NIJZ), which both said the reopening may proceed. "Let's help teachers to make sure work is safe," Janša tweeted in the afternoon.
The Education Ministry said in its opinion schools were prepared and classes would be safe, while the NIJZ said its position remained unchanged and noted that it would carefully monitor the situation at educational institutions and "propose further measures at any sign of a deteriorating epidemiological situation".
All efforts now need to be invested in managing the epidemic at the national level and making sure the school environment is safe for children and staff. "If restrictions need to be tightened, other potential transmission locations should be closed first," the NIJZ said.
Slovenia conducted mass testing today of all teachers who will return to in-person teaching tomorrow.
STA, 25 January 2020 - Mass testing of teachers and other personnel in education is under way in Slovenia on Monday in the largest such testing operation yet as kindergartens and the first three grades of primary school are set to reopen in nine of Slovenia's 12 regions on Tuesday, with a final decision due in the afternoon.
No major disruption is reported in what is the largest single-day testing for coronavirus so far.
Some kindergarten and school staff are being tested in their institutions or in community health centres, while testing for more than 3,000 employees of kindergartens and primary schools in the capital is organised at the Ljubljana fairgrounds.
Gregor Pečan, the head of the Association of Head Teachers, told the STA that while there were no official responses from his colleagues around the country, while some staff had already expressed their disagreement with the mandatory testing beforehand.
"Procedures are running smoothly, and we have not had a positive case so far," said the head teacher of the primary school in Dol pri Ljubljani for the school in question, where around 90 employees are to return to work tomorrow.
In the Ljubljana municipality, kindergarten and primary school staff are being tested since the early morning, and 3,260 of them are expected to be tested by 8pm.
Around 1,100 persons were tested in the first four hours, and only three infections were confirmed, testing coordinator Uroš Zafošnik of the Ljubljana Community Health Centre told the STA. The testing involving around 50 medical staff runs smoothly as the employees had been assigned precise time slots.
Around 800 teachers and other employees in the 20 primary schools in Maribor will start to be tested in the early afternoon.
"The experiences are different, of course, as some head teachers are reporting certain problems, but these are individual cases," Mojca Kirbiš, a representative of head teachers in Maribor, said.
Helena Ocvirk of the Olga Meglič primary school in Ptuj said that employees had had some reservations about the testing at first, but later accepted the measure as it was mandatory for those who wanted to work with children in-person.
Health Ministry State Secretary Alenka Forte told the press that today's testing was the "largest testing in a single day so far", adding that it was a major organisational and logistic challenge.
According to Forte, no complications with the mass testing with rapid antigen tests have been reported so far.
Testing will have to be repeated every seven days, while the staff who have recovered from Covid-19 and those who had been infected more than three weeks ago need not to be tested.
Around 53,000 primary school pupils and almost 75,000 kindergarten children are expected to return to classrooms tomorrow, after in-person classes for special needs children started three weeks ago.
However, this is still not certain as Prime Minister Janez Janša, speaking in parliament today, put the reopening into doubt, saying that "we still don't know whether classes in schools will really be re-started on Tuesday."
Janša said he expected the opinion from the Education Ministry, the National Public Health Institute and the government Covid-19 advisory team on the matter by 4pm.
The prime minister explained that the issue remained open because of the discovery of the highly transmissible UK coronavirus variant in Slovenia. Studies in the UK show that it spreads fast among children, he added.
STA, 24 January 2021 - The first case of the highly transmissible UK coronavirus variant has been officially confirmed in Slovenia in a Kosovo national with temporary residence in Slovenia who arrived from Belgium, Prime Minister Janez Janša announced on Sunday.
The Kosovo national was in Belgium on company business. He arrived in Slovenia on Saturday and had been tested twice, with one coming back positive and one negative, Janša told a special press conference.
The man appears to have used the negative test to cross the border but was detected after Slovenia received notification from Belgian authorities via a rapid reporting system.
A new test at arrival was positive. The man does not appear to have had contact with other people. "If that is indeed the case, the risk was not big," Janša said.
In addition to the first confirmed case, another two cases of UK coronavirus variant are suspected as a result of the testing of 80 Slovenian samples, said Janša, who added it was possible the UK variant has been in circulation in Slovenia for a while.
The National Institute of Public Health (NIJZ) now plans to retroactively check tests from all regions that have come back positive since 11 January, in order to get "a clear enough picture" of the potential prevalence of the UK variant in the country.
This will be done after the health authorities received on Friday special test kits from Slovakia that detect the UK variant.
Janša thanked the Slovak government for providing the kits. He said Slovenia would now order such kits too, but he noted that their availability on the market was limited.
As for the overall epidemiological situation, the prime minister said that it had not been improving as Slovenia hit a new plateau.
While kindergartens and the first three grades of primary school will reopen on Tuesday as scheduled after nearly three months of closure, Janša noted that the situation was prone to change in the event the UK variant becomes more widespread.
"We are facing very demanding times and have very challenging weeks ahead... It is all the more important to comply with all hygienic and precautionary measures," he said.
Unlike some other countries, Slovenia has not yet decided to demand the wearing of better masks in certain situations. Janša nevertheless urged the people to wear surgical or FFP2 masks when possible.
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