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24 Jan 2021, 13:25 PM

STA, 24 January 2021 - A public opinion poll commissioned by the commercial broadcaster POP TV shows that almost 60% of the respondents would probably or very probably get vaccinated against Covid-19, which is three times more than last October. The share of the respondents opposing vaccination has meanwhile dropped significantly to 25%.

In the poll involving 501 people and conducted by the pollster Mediana, almost 60% of the respondents think that Covid-19 vaccination should be mandatory for employees in community health centres, hospitals and care homes.

More than 50% of the people polled thinks that Covid-19 vaccination should be mandatory for employees in schools and kindergartens, while 13% disagree with this.

Almost 47% of the respondents support the idea to introduce a vaccination passport, while 38% oppose this. Some 22% of the respondents who are against Covid-19 vaccination would get vaccinated if this would enable them to travel.

The latest data on Slovenia and coronavirus

22 Jan 2021, 15:16 PM

STA, 22 January 2021 - Although testing for the coronavirus is not compulsory, teachers returning to school on Tuesday will have to be tested if they want to teach in person in a classroom, Health Ministry official Vesna Kerstin Petrič explained on Friday. She also said testing for school children could be introduced in the future.

Returning to in-class schooling are primary school children in the first three forms, as well as kindergarten children, in nine of the country's 12 statistical regions with the best epidemiological situation.

Testing for kindergarten and primary school teachers is planned for Monday, and those testing negative will be able to start teaching on Tuesday. In case of a positive test, they will have to self-isolate, Kerstin Petrič, the head of the public health directorate, said at the government's Covid-19 briefing.

Testing will be organised in collaboration between schools and local community health centres, either at health centres or at schools. In case of a great number of teachers to be tested and for schools in remote areas, the ministry will ensure mobile units.

At the same time testing of university teachers will be carried out, as lab sessions will also be relaxed on 26 January. Testing will be available in all the cities where tertiary education is carried out.

Kerstin Petrič said testing of education workers is a key measure recommended by the World Health Organisation, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, as well as by Slovenian institutions. It should be carried out before schools reopen and then periodically at least once a week.

She did not rule out introducing testing for school children. "Testing students is being discussed in entire Europe. Some countries have already launched it. I think it is worth waiting to see what results it brings before we opt for it in Slovenia. But it is highly probable that this will be the next step."

22 Jan 2021, 15:07 PM

STA, 22 January 2021 - The epidemiological curve continues to flatten in Slovenia, as 1,439 new coronavirus cases were confirmed in 11,149 PCR and rapid tests on Thursday, a slight decrease both on the day before and in weekly comparison. Another 25 deaths were recorded, according to fresh government data.

A total of 1,140 Covid-19 patients were hospitalised, 19 fewer than the day before, while 185 were in intensive care, two more than the day before. 95 patients recovered and were discharged from hospital, the same as the day before, while 25 patients died, two fewer than on Wednesday.

21 persons died in hospitals and four in care homes, said government Covid-19 spokesperson Maja Bratuša. Slovenia's death toll currently stands at 3,309.

Out of the 4,872 PCR tests 22.9% came back positive, while the share of positive tests among the 6,277 rapid tests was 5.2%. The share of positive PCR tests was down compared to Wednesday when it stood at 24.2%, while the positivity rate for rapid tests was up from 4.1% on Wednesday.

Over the last seven days 407 people per 100,000 citizens became infected, which is down from 424 on Wednesday, said Bratuša.

The 14-day incidence per 100,000 residents has fallen to 893, with central Slovenia having the lowest figure for the first time, at 777.

In Ljubljana, 119 new infections were confirmed on Thursday, and 55 in Maribor.

The seven-day average of new daily cases decreased slightly to 1,220, show data released by the National Institute of Public Health (NIJZ).

The latest figures bring the total number of confirmed infections in the country since the start of the epidemic to 155,752, according to the NIJZ, which estimates that 18,908 of them are currently active.

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Slovenian contact tracing app upgraded with many new features

STA, 22 January 2021 - The Slovenian Covid-19 contact tracing app on mobile devices, launched by the Public Administration Ministry last summer as a measure to contain the spread of coronavirus, has been upgraded to include many new features, including cross-border exchange of tracing keys.

The upgraded #OstaniZdrav (#StayWell) app is available as of Friday for Android devices, and it is expected to be available for Apple devices in a few days at the latest.

Those who already have the app will need to upgrade it if their devices do not upgrade applications automatically, the ministry said, adding that the new app had many new features.

Minister Boštjan Koritnik, who has himself been infected with coronavirus recently, said that the app was very useful, even though it had turned out in his case that it could not prevent infection.

Among other things, the upgraded version enables cross-border exchange of tracing keys, entry of the date when Covid-19 symptoms appeared and, unlike the original German app, the new intermediate orange level of risk.

Koritnik added that the upgraded app also featured a link to a guide in sign language, while it would also update the situation more frequently - six times in 24 hours, and not only once a day as it has so far.

Also added to the app is a link to the e-Administration portal so that users can acquire quarantine orders, and a link to the online form for getting assigned a 10-digit tracing codes for users who tested positive.

"Epidemiologists are sometimes not able to call in time and provide codes, and this option does not even exist in rapid tests. For this reason codes may from now on be obtained via the shortcut that takes you to the website of the National Public Health Institute," said State Secretary Peter Geršak.

If the positive test is already in the database, users may get a code by SMS after entering their information, he added.

Geršak noted that the cross-border exchange of tracing keys would enable the use of the app abroad without the need to download the national app of the foreign country.

An EU-level server has been established for the exchange of data from the national apps and their back end systems, so that risk levels could be calculated, he added.

The state secretary said that this interoperability feature would be enabled in Slovenia in a week to ten days.

Once they open the app, the users will see only Slovenia in the cross-border section, but the other EU member states participating in the data exchange will be gradually added.

The ministry reiterated that the app alone did not protect people from getting infected with coronavirus, and that it was just another accessory in the fight against the epidemic.

Almost 370,000 owners of mobile devices in Slovenia have so far downloaded the app, which is more than a quarter of the active population in the country, the latest data show.

The ministry noted that not every person who gets infected enters the code in their application, either because they do not receive it, do not know how to enter it, or simply do not want to enter it and inform others about their condition.

22 Jan 2021, 11:53 AM

STA, 21 January 2021 - Education Minister Simona Kustec presented on Thursday detailed rules for next week's reopening of kindergartens and schools for the first three grades in nine out of the 12 Slovenian regions. She said teachers would have to wear masks at all times, children will have to mask up only outside their classrooms or their bubbles.

Children from one group will form bubbles and will not be in contact with other groups. The size of the groups will be determined by head teachers.

Children will stay in their classrooms during breaks as well and will also eat lunch there. They will use the gym one group at a time.

Pupils who are advised against attending school for health reasons will continue to do schoolwork at home.

The state will provide additional masks to schools and kindergartens that will request this.

Obligatory coronavirus testing for staff will be performed on Monday and in-person classes will start on Tuesday.

Distance learning will remain in place for all other students, and for music schools. At universities, obligatory lab classes will also be allowed.

Prime Minister Janez Janša called for a safe return to schools on Twitter, noting that the government had followed the proposals of experts and the Constitutional Court despite having reservations.

The head of the Association of Head Teachers, Gregor Pečan, told the STA the partial reopening of schools had been expected given the government's criteria for easing restrictive measures. He said schools were familiar with model C of schooling, which will be in place, so he expects no problems.

According to him, the only thing that may be problematic is the testing of the staff, as a large number of people will need to be tested and the testing will be obligatory. "I know that some have reservations for some reason or another although this is a completely non-invasive procedure," he said.

Schools are preparing for the reopening and will start informing parents about this soon, he asserted.

Bojana Verdinek, the principal of the Prežihov Voranc primary school in Ravne na Koroškem, said she had mixed feelings about school reopening. "On the one hand we are looking forward to it, as it is high time, but on the other we are afraid of special restrictions and recommendations, as some of them cannot be implemented at the moment," she said.

In line with yesterday's government decision, all regions bar Posavska, Southeast Slovenia and Goriška will enter the red tier after a steady improvement over the last ten days that brought the number of Covid-19 patients in hospital below 1,200 and the seven-day rolling average of new daily cases below 1,350.

22 Jan 2021, 09:41 AM

STA, 21 January 2021 - The government has allowed galleries, museums and libraries to reopen starting from Saturday in the nine out of 12 Slovenian statistical regions with lower coronavirus infection rates.

The government adopted a decree on Thursday to extend a temporary ban on cultural and cinematographic services while adding galleries, museums and libraries as exceptions to the rule in the nine regions.

The new decree will be in force from 23 to 29 January. The exceptions apply to Gorenjska, Koroška, Obalno-Kraška, Osrednjeslovenska, Podravska, Pomurska, Primorsko-notranjska, Savinjska and Zasavska.

According to a press release issued after the government session, the existing exceptions that allow access to fenced outdoor cultural heritage sites without guided tours and contactless borrowing from libraries continue to apply in all regions.

All the institutions that are allowed to open need to ensure minimum contact with the visitors, social distancing rules and precautionary measures and instructions from the National Institute of Public Health pertaining to hand sanitising and airing or ventilation of premises.

Visitors are limited to one person per 30 square metres, or a single visitor when the premises are smaller.

Galleries, museums and libraries have been most recently closed since 9 January.

21 Jan 2021, 14:01 PM

STA, 21 January 2021 - A new decree banning non-essential services will take effect on Saturday, expanding the list of exceptions to the ban in nine Slovenian regions with the best epidemiological status. Stalls selling farmers' produce, workshops and shops offering children's products will be allowed to reopen there.

The government adopted the decree at Wednesday's session. The relaxations apply to Central Slovenia, Pomurska, Savinjska, Podravska, Gorenjska, Obalno-Kraška, Koroška, Zasavska and Primorsko-Notranjska regions.

Movable stalls selling farmers' produce, workshops providing repair and maintenance works for motor vehicles and bikes and specialised stores with a children's segment are permitted to reopen in these regions as of Saturday.

In the remaining three regions, the Goriška, Posavska and Southeast Slovenia, the current restrictions and exceptions remain in place, meaning only essential stores are allowed to be open along with the exceptions.

These include newsagents, hairdressers, cleaning services, medical pedicure, surveying services, individual counselling, chimney-sweep services and construction works with zero contact with clients.

Delivery services and in-person pick up are also exempted from the ban, however consuming food or beverages in public spaces is not allowed.

Economy Ministry State Secretary Simon Zajc told today's government briefing that the latest decree would be effective from Saturday to next Friday.

He also noted that the current cap on the number of customers remained in place. Only specialised stores, and not supermarkets, will be permitted to sell children's products from Saturday, he added.

If the current epidemiological trends continue, so will the relaxations, the state secretary said, expressing satisfaction that a recent drop in case and hospitalisation figures enabled certain activities to reopen.

Zajc also pointed out that efforts to monitor compliance with Covid rules in shops and other services had been intense and would continue to be so.

20 Jan 2021, 22:14 PM

STA, 20 January 2021 - Nine of Slovenia's twelve statistical regions will enter the red tier of coronavirus restrictions on Monday after new cases and hospital figures dropped below thresholds set in the exit strategy, the government decided on Wednesday.

This means kindergartens and first three grades of primary school will reopen, with schools starting with an adjusted system that involves shorter school hours, smaller classes and strict adherence to restrictions.

All teachers who will return to teaching in person will be tested on Monday so that schools will actually open on Tuesday, Prime Minister Janez Janša said, adding that there was plenty of time to sort out the logistics.

The red tier also involves the reopening of museums, libraries and galleries in these regions as well as businesses including car mechanics, technical goods stores, sports stores, florists and book shops.

The details of which businesses will reopen will be hashed out by individual ministries tomorrow.

All regions bar Posavska, South-Eastern Slovenia and Goriška will enter the red tier after a steady improvement over the last ten days that brought the number of Covid-19 patients in hospital below 1,200 and the seven-day rolling average of new daily cases below 1,350.

Janša said it was important to follow the rules strictly and that inspections will be stepped up. If the positive trends continue, the remaining three regions will be able enter the red tier shortly, he said.

Calls for the reopening of schools and full opening of kindergartens have been getting louder in recent days since most kids have been schooled remotely for nearly three months and kindergartens were only open for the children of parents who could not work from home.

Businesses have likewise urged the government to relax measures, arguing that despite generous stimulus measures, many were running out of reserves and would have to shut down permanently if they are not allowed to open soon.

Janša however warned today that the situation remained serious. "We don't want to tighten the measures that we are relaxing now... Our joint efforts will determine whether the risk we are taking with the relaxation was prudent," he said.

19 Jan 2021, 11:48 AM

STA, 18 January 2021 - The new Gault & Millau culinary guide has further cemented the position of three restaurants, Hiša Denk, Hiša Franko and Pri Lojzetu, as top culinary destinations in Slovenia, after the three had already received excellent scores in the country's first Michelin guide in 2020.

Gregor Vračko of Hiša Denk in Zgornja Kungota was named chef of the year 2021 by Gault & Millau, while his restaurant received four toques, the highest possible score in the Gault & Milau guide.

Five other restaurants also received the four toques rating: Hiša Franko in Kobarid and Gostila pri Lojzetu in Vipava, as well as Ošterija Debeluh in Brežice, Restavracija Mak in Maribor and Restavracija Strelec in Ljubljana.

Hiša Denk and Pri Lojzetu each have one Michelin star, while Hiša Franko became the first and only restaurant in Slovenia to have two Michelin three stars in June.

Grega Repovž of Gostilna Repovž in Šentjanž was named the best sommelier of 2021. The restaurant also received the Bib Gourmand designation by from Michelin for exceptionally good food at modest prices.

The best patisserie award went to Fetiche Patisserie in Ljubljana. The popularity award went to Wine Bar Šuklje in Ljubljana.

Mojca Trnovec of Gostilna Mihovec in Zgornje Pirniče was named the best traditional cuisine chef, while Luka Košir of Gostilna Grič in Šentjošt nad Horjulom was named the best chef of the future. His establishment also received the Bib Gourmand.

The best young talent title went to Leon Pintarič of Rajh in Murska Sobota, which also received the Bib Gourmand from Michelin.

Gault & Millau Slovenija director Mira Šemić said as the guide was launched that 2020 had been a hard year, but the guide nevertheless managed to find a number of great culinary stories. "Awards are an inspiration to other restaurateurs and proof that we recognise creativity."

The head of the Slovenian Tourism Board (STO) Maja Pak said that the awards were a great recognition for gastronomy in Slovenia at a time when tourism and gastronomy faced the worst crisis in history due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Today is a day to celebrate, as Slovenia bears the title European Region of Gastronomy 2021, said Pak. "These awards are a great introduction to a gastronomically themed year."

15 Jan 2021, 12:36 PM

STA, 15 January 2020 - A 6am-6pm ban on overtaking for lorries on the A1 motorway between Šentilj and Koper entered into force on Friday. Police controls will be beefed up.

The new regime will be in place for lorries weighing more than 7.5 tonnes. Overtaking will still be allowed for these vehicles during the day in three-lane sections, and on the entire motorway at night.

A ban on overtaking for lorries is already in place during the morning and afternoon rush hours in some motorway sections, in tunnels, at intersections and on some ring roads.

The sections where overtaking is banned during rush hours are marked and a fine for violations amounts to EUR 300.

Last year, more than 1,500 violations were recorded, up from 1,100 in 2019, 775 in 2008 and little more than 1,000 in 2017.

The ban on the A1 motorway, which has the most heavy traffic, was announced by Infrastructure Minister Jernej Vrtovec in early November 2020.

He said this would make traffic run more smoothly and improve safety. The government also plans to introduce motorway police as another way to boost safety.

In the first phase, one unit will be set up in the Ljubljana area, presumably in the first months of this year.

A total of 15 patrol cars are to monitor the motorway network eventually.

14 Jan 2021, 18:25 PM

STA, 14 January 2020 - In light of an expected rise in the number of Covid-19 hospitalisations, hospitals are taking the necessary steps to boost the number of Covid beds. Staff shortages, particularly a lack of intensive care staff, are the crux of the problem, Robert Carotta, the coordinator for Covid beds at the Health Ministry, said on Thursday.

Hospitalisation data show that there has not been any progress for a while, he told the government daily briefing.

"For practically the second month in a row we've been stuck on a plateau of between 1,200 and 1,300 hospitalisations."

The epidemic projections show that Slovenia will need around 1,500 Covid beds during the third wave, up by 10% on the maximum level of bed capacities in mid-December.

Carotta announced the total of beds would be increased according to the needs. He warned that the main problem was providing enough staff not just beds and equipment, particularly specialist staff to work in intensive care units.

"Not only is there not enough of them, but they are also tired with many on sick leave due to coronavirus infections."

Carotta added that a system of patient transfer to other hospitals that was set up in autumn was working fine with the Maribor dispatch centre playing a key role.

The situation in hospitals varies mostly according to epidemiological status in individual regions. Since mid-December, the Murska Sobota hospital in the north-east has been worst hit with 36% of its bed capacities used for Covid-19 patients.

The hospital had it worst already in autumn. In recent days, the number of hospitalisations has been on the rise again, the hospital's director Bojan Korošec said.

Moreover, the Covid-related mortality rate is most alarming in the Pomurje region - 269 Covid-19 patients per 100,000 residents died last year.

On the other hand, in the Izola and Valdoltra hospitals in the western Primorska region, which has been seeing one of the best epidemiological situations in the country, the numbers of Covid beds are near 10% of total capacities.

In the run-up to the third wave, efforts to lessen the burden on the Murska Sobota hospital began this week with its patients being transferred to the Izola and Slovenj Gradec hospitals.

The Nova Gorica hospital in the west is also struggling. Wednesday's rapid testing of staff and patients at its internal medicine departments, an emerging coronavirus hotspot, confirmed twelve new infections, the regional Civil Protection unit said today.

So far, 26 patients being treated at the departments have been infected. The hospital's Covid unit is currently recording peak figures or 61 patients, the hospital's medical director Dunja Savnik Winkler said. Moreover, more than 30 staff members have been infected so far.

In all the above-mentioned hospitals the share of Covid beds has increased compared to mid-December. Elsewhere, the situation has improved though, show data released by the ministry.

In the Jesenice hospital in the north, where Carotta is employed, the situation is currently the same as it was during the biggest strain on hospitals, kept under control due to help from UKC Ljubljana and the Golnik University Clinic of Respiratory and Allergic Diseases.

Carotta said that one of the future projects would be to ensure additional capacities for patients who have recovered from Covid-19 and suffer from lasting damage from the disease.

All the latest data on COVID and Slovenia

14 Jan 2021, 13:15 PM

STA, 14 January 2020 - A ban on travel between municipalities has not reduced people's mobility, which makes its efficacy questionable, shows a study that analysed mobility and contact tracing during epidemic waves. Mobility is a major factor in the epidemic's development, researchers said, adding that the current situation was mostly a result of belated measures.

The study, conducted by the Institute for Biostatistics and Medical Informatics of the Ljubljana Faculty of Medicine, focused on mobility in the first and second epidemic waves to establish why the epidemiological situation was so strikingly different in the autumn compared to the spring.

Major changes in population mobility coincide with the timeline of adopting certain measures, such as restricting gatherings, declaring epidemic, closing schools, suspending public transportation and closing bars, restaurant and hotels, the study shows.

During both waves, movement in residential neighbourhoods increased, whereas there has been a downward trend regarding movement in workplaces or other venues.

The biggest drop was recorded in the spring when workplace mobility was halved and movement caused by other activities dropped by 60%, coinciding with the adoption of Covid measures.

In November, workplace mobility decreased by 30% and movement prompted by other errands by 50%. Such mobility was down also during summer months but it reached pre-Covid levels in September.

The institute drew up three scenarios of possible epidemic developments, taking into account various mobility levels from March through November and deeming neighbourhood mobility less key than other movements.

If Slovenians had been as mobile in early November as they were in the spring, there would have been up to 30% reduction in the death toll until early December.

The researchers also note that the second lockdown began too late since the theoretical possibility of a death toll that would be lower by more than 30% was not realisable any more due to the rapid coronavirus spread.

If the lockdown, which was imposed on 26 October, had already started in mid-September and would trigger the same response regarding mobility levels, the number of deaths could have been reduced up to 80%, meaning some 1,000 deaths fewer between March and December.

If mobility restrictions had been imposed at the start of October, the death toll could have still been reduced by 80%, however the measures would have to be stricter, at least as strict as during the first wave.

The institute also prepared a model of what the situation would have looked like if contact tracing and quarantine measures had been consistently effective throughout the epidemic.

Taking into account the actual timeline of imposing measures and their efficacy, the mortality rate would have then been reduced by 75%, the researchers said, noting that the figure was hypothetical as contact tracing is unlikely to be equally effective amid such high case numbers.

"The current epidemiological situation is thus mostly a result of belated and disproportionate measures in the autumn. Hence, the growing number of new cases reached such a level that the spread of the epidemic no longer allowed active contact tracing."

If contact tracing and quarantine regime had remained operational, 15%-20% reduction in mobility compared to pre-Covid levels would have been enough to contain the epidemic, the institute said.

"Oscillating between extreme measures and complete relaxations could be replaced by somewhat more moderate but constant contact restrictions and active contact tracing. The goal should be to come up with measures that reach an appropriate level of restrictions in a sustainable way."

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