Politics

23 Mar 2020, 21:50 PM

All our stories on coronavirus are here, while those covering covid-19 and Croatia are here. We'll have an update at the end of the day, and if you want newsflashes then we'll post those on Facebook

We can’t have pictures of COVID-19 every day. So instead we’ll try and show the works of Slovenian artists. Today it’s Igor Andjelić . I recommend you follow him on Facebook for more beauty in your feed.


Contents

Slovenia receives fresh shipment of protective gear

Employers with new proposals to mitigate impact of epidemics

A thousand Slovenians still looking to be repatriated

Slovenia receives fresh shipment of protective gear

STA, 23 March 2020 - Slovenia received on Monday another shipment of protective gear to be used during the coronavirus epidemic, according to a tweet by Defence Minister Matej Tonin.

The civil protection today received 125,000 surgical masks, 93,000 pairs of gloves, 856 Tyvek suits, 20,000 head covers and 2,550 shoe covers, Tonin said on Twitter, adding that another 1,000 FFP2 masks were on the way.

Tonin, whose ministry is in charge of distribution, did not say where the protective equipment had come from.

Jelko Kacin, the spokesman for the government crisis unit, refused to say at today' conference how much protective gear was still needed in Slovenia but he did note that the country was in need of many pieces of protective gear.

"The main problem continues to be logistics, or how to get this protective gear that is mainly produced in China to Europe, and from here to the end user," he said.

He said the public would be informed of any shipments once they reached the country.

Kacin also said that plans were being made for Slovenia to transport protective gear by air, at least around Europe.

He thanked all donors that are helping out in this crisis and called on all those who want to help to contact local civil protection units, reiterating that hospitals, community health centres and retirement homes would be the first to be supplied with protective gear.

Some 800,000 protective face masks arrived in Slovenia on Thursday and Friday, while all trace seems to be lost of the 1.5 million ordered masks which were supposed to arrive at Hamburg airport on Wednesday.

Like many other countries, Slovenia is also launching its own mask production. Boxmark Leather, the Kidričevo-based maker of car upholstery, intends to produce between 40,000 and 45,000 masks per week or some 5,000 to 8,000 per day, and the Celje-based Prevent&Deloza plans to soon make between 30,000 and 40,000 washable masks, first supplying critical services and then also selling them in shops.

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Employers with new proposals to mitigate impact of epidemics

STA, 23 March 2020 - Employer representatives proposed to the government further measures to mitigate the impact of the lockdown imposed to contain the coronavirus epidemic, including full coverage of sick leave in relation to the virus, partial pay compensation for workers who currently do not have work and financial injections for companies.

The Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GZS) has proposed that, in order to secure financial stability and liquidity, the obligation to pay taxes and social security contributions for March and April be written off.

The write-off rate would be 50% for companies who saw their turnover drop by more than 10%, and 100% for companies whose revenue dropped by more than 30%.

A 12-month moratorium would be in force for the payment of taxes and social security contributions for May, with the option of a 5% discount in case of immediate payment.

The chamber also proposes a EUR 1 billion capital injection in the SID Banka investment and development bank for loans to companies in 2020 and a guarantee scheme for all claims by small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

On the labour market, the GZS proposes lay-offs without severance pay for the maximum of six months. These workers would get 80% of their wage, but not less than the minimum amount of the unemployment benefit.

The employer would commit to hiring back at least two-thirds of employees temporarily laid off in such a way under the same conditions, not later than six months after the lay-off.

The chamber furthermore proposes the option of a lay-off for the maximum of four months - employees would get 80% of their net wage, 20% of which would be covered by the employer, and the rest by the state.

During the temporary lay-off, the employee would have to be available to return to work for up to 16 hours a week.

Also proposed is that workers who are not able to work because they need to tend to small children get full compensation of their wages and that sick leave caused by the epidemic (including preventive self-isolation) is paid by the state.

In order to kick-start the economy when the time is right, the GZS proposes major public investment projects, preferably implemented by domestic companies, and a special programme for modernisation of public infrastructure.

Also proposed are incentives for private investments and a special programme for start-ups, promotion of venture capital funds, other measures for the financial market, and tax breaks for R&D and new investments, the chamber said in a release.

Additional proposals from the Chamber of Craft and Small Business (OZS) include full coverage by the state of the wage bill in companies for sole proprietors who have been banned from working or have no work due to the crisis situation.

Sole proprietors should also be exempt from paying taxes and social security contributions and get compensation for the period in which they are not able to perform their activity, it added.

The OZS said that employers should be allowed to unilaterally order part-time work or use of annual leave for 2020, and that if a worker is dismissed because of a drop in sales or orders, the state should cover severance pay.

Employers should also be allowed to retire workers who meet the conditions for retirement for the duration of the emergency situation.

While welcoming the financial measures prepared by the state bodies, the chamber said that the possibility of a 12-month deferral of credit obligations should also apply to leasing companies.

The OZS also said that the state should follow the German example and earmark one-off financial aid to micro and small companies.

The opposition Left meanwhile proposed today that wages of the lowest-paid workers "who have remained on the front line" - shop assistants, delivery personnel, and workers in manufacturing - should be doubled, with half of the increase to be covered by the state.

Left coordinator Luka Mesec told the STA the government had adopted last week "completely insufficient measures, missing out on a bunch of people who will be affected as the economy has slowed down."

These are, for example, precarious workers and self-employed, he said, adding that Slovenia would soon be able to use up to EUR 3 billion in aid from the European Central Bank (ECB) and that the state should help all.

"We will propose that all self-employed are exempt from paying social security contributions, that all who have been left without income and work get easier access to all forms of aid," he added.

The Tourism and Hospitality Chamber said that, in order to avoid mass lay-offs, the state should provide EUR 1,000 per worker in the tourism industry a month, or adopt amendments increasing the state's share in wage compensation from 40% to 80%.

The chamber also proposes liquidity-boosting measures in the form of grants, subsidies for lost revenue, write-offs of all social security contributions and taxes for all employees for this year, and of corporate income tax for 2019 and 2020.

On the labour market, it wants to see shortened work hours, aid to self-employed, partial coverage of wages for six months, and red tape cuts.

Prime Minister Janez Janša has announced that the government will discuss thing evening guidelines for a new emergency package. The guidelines include pay bonuses for workers in critical sectors, and aid to the self-employed.

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A thousand Slovenians still looking to be repatriated

STA, 23 March 2020 - More than 1,000 Slovenians are still looking to get home from other EU member states or third countries amid travel restrictions across the globe as a result of the escalating coronavirus pandemic, Foreign Minister Anže Logar revealed following a videoconference with his EU counterparts.

The repatriation of more than 300,000 EU citizens who have expressed interest in returning home was one of the major topics of the first videoconference of EU foreign ministers on Monday.

Logar took the occasion to thank all the neighbouring countries with which Slovenia agreed joint corridors for transport of goods to destination markets across the borders despite restrictions in the past week. He also thanked fellow ministers of the countries helping with repatriation of Slovenian citizens.

Over the past week more than 300 Slovenians have been brought home safe and sound, and the ministry has been in touch with more than 400 helping them with information on their options to return to Slovenia.

More than 1,000 Slovenians who are still abroad have responded to the ministry's appeal to get in touch if they wished to return to their home country. About 500 are currently in the EU, most of them in the UK, with the rest dispersed across the globe, Logar said.

He repeated his call on all Slovenians abroad to get in touch with the consular service's crisis cell via the Foreign Ministry's website.

The ministry is organising repatriation from Warsaw, Prague, Brussels and Budapest, but Logar told reporters in Ljubljana that Slovenia would not organise additional flights from destinations where Slovenian citizens had declined to return on flights already organised.

Logar noted that EU member countries today had made a number of proposals to fight the consequences of coronavirus, including invoking the European solidarity clause. He said the idea shared was the need to tackle the shortage of needed medical and other equipment to combat the virus.

He said member countries were generally moving from measures to restrict movement in public spaces to measures to stimulate the economy and help the hardest-hit, a direction also taken by the Slovenian government, which is to have a preliminary discussion today on measures to contain the fallout from the pandemic.

Logar said the pandemic had shown the importance of defining critical infrastructure and services needed for a community to function in such a crisis. The EU will have to act fast to ensure urgent production and infrastructure so as not to depend again on certain markets or even a single market in the future.

EU foreign ministers have not taken any formal decisions as these cannot be taken in a non-formal videoconference but can only be taken in a written procedure.

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23 Mar 2020, 16:22 PM

All our stories on coronavirus are here, while those covering covid-19 and Croatia are here. We'll have an update at the end of the day, and if you want newsflashes then we'll post those on Facebook

We can’t have pictures of COVID-19 every day. So instead we’ll try and show the works of Slovenian artists. Today it’s Xenia Guzej. You can see more of her work here.

Contents

Number of coronavirus cases up by 28 in a day to 442

New Covid-19 testing rules in place

Ban on movement and gatherings largely successful

Pahor supports giving army police powers

Homeless stay in streets as they fear infection in overcrowded shelters

Number of coronavirus cases up by 28 in a day to 442

STA, 23 March 2020 - A total of 442 coronavirus cases were confirmed in Slovenia by 2pm on Monday, an increase of 28 over the past 24 hours. The figure comes after 13,812 tests conducted, 714 more than by Sunday, fresh data posted by the National Public Health Institute show.

Currently, 32 patients are being treated at the UKC Ljubljana hospital, and eight of them are in intensive care, the government said on its Twitter profile.

Another 11 patients are at the Maribor UKC hospital, where two patients are in intensive care. Both have already been intubated, according to the hospital.

Coronavirus patients are also being treated at the Golnik Clinic of Respiratory and Allergic Diseases and yesterday the Celje general hospital admitted its first Covid-19 patient.

The number of coronavirus-related deaths in Slovenia rose to three today as a 67-year-old man with multiple underlying conditions died at UKC Ljubljana. The other two fatalities were patients in their 90s who had underlying conditions as well.

Coronavirus infections have been confirmed in 107 out of Slovenia's 212 municipalities with 57 of those recording two or more cases.

The biggest increase in cases over the past 24 hours was recorded in Ljubljana, increasing by seven to 99.

The second and third biggest outbreaks are in Šmarje pri Jelšah in the north-east and Metlika in the south-east. The former saw its case count increase by one to 46 and the latter did not register new cases in the past day so the number remains at 25.

Most patients are between 30 and 49 years old, 71 of them women and 74 men. A hundred and four patients fall in the 60+ category, the most at risk group, half of them are women and half of them men.

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Ban on movement and gatherings largely successful

STA, 23 March 2020 - Slovenians have mostly complied with government directives aimed at containing the coronavirus epidemic and are abiding by a ban on gatherings and socialising, suggest reports from several municipalities. Nor have people flocked to the coast or lakeside resorts over the weekend.

While the vast majority of the people appear to have complied with the ban, in the seaside town of Izola the locals did spot a few surfers on Sunday who were trying to capitalise on strong winds. The town will thus ban any sports activities on the local beaches and fine any violators.

Izola has reported though that people were mostly staying at home over the weekend. A stiff bora wind that pushed through the western Primorska region on Sunday probably played a role in this situation as well.

Piran, otherwise the most visited Slovenian municipality, reported that people were mostly complying with the lockdown as well. The town authorities are not planning to ban the use of beaches for now.

Koper has also recorded a drop in visitors, however the city has received a few reports from locals of gatherings taking place despite the ban. Mostly, the cases transpired to be individuals or small groups of up to three people.

Meanwhile, lakeside resorts in the Slovenian Alps, another tourism hotspot in the country, were mostly empty as well, apart from the locals. Colder weather might have been a factor.

In the Bohinj area, people were generally acting in line with instructions. The number of residents has increased by up to 2,000 since the start of the crisis due to locals living and working elsewhere returning home. The area has also seen an influx of those who own holiday homes there.

The municipality authorities have pointed to the issue of those returning home from abroad, saying that they should act responsibly and self-isolate.

Generally speaking, police officers from the northern Gorenjska region have reported that people have been taking the situation increasingly more seriously by the day, having recorded only a few actual violations of the ban so far.

One of them was a gathering of people on a motocross track near Brnik on Saturday who dispersed immediately and without a protest after a police officer with a guide dog reminded them of the decree.

Since the implementation of the ban, the police have been receiving numerous reports of violations, but mostly such reports turn out to be unwarranted.

The General Police Administration has reported that most people have been complying with the ban or heeding police warnings, reminding potential violators that they would be putting at risk themselves as well as others.

Jelko Kacin, the spokesman for the government coronavirus crisis unit, said on Saturday that the government was planning to ban movement out of one's municipality of residence to step up its efforts to curb the epidemic. He also urged people not to travel to popular touristy places in Slovenia, a trend that had been detected earlier despite the epidemic.

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Pahor supports giving army police powers

STA, 23 March 2020 - Responding to an initiative by the new government to activate legislation giving the army police powers, President Borut Pahor said in his capacity of commander-in-chief of the Slovenian Armed Forces that he understood the need to give the military additional powers within the bounds of law.

The response comes after Interior Minister Aleš Hojs recently said he was considering proposing the activation of article 37.a of the defence act, which allows the Slovenian Armed Forces to help the police in "broader protection of the state border".

Activated only if endorsed by a two-thirds majority vote in parliament, it allows soldiers to carry out tasks such as temporarily restricting the movement of persons and taking part in crowd control.

The president's office said on Monday that Pahor believed that such decision of the National Assembly would be sensible in the given situation, "but must be implemented strictly within the legal framework, for thee months at the most."

The president separately met with Hojs and Defence Minister Matej Tonin today over the matter, and decided that this is acceptable in circumstances when the country is facing an increase in illegal migration and the coronavirus outbreak.

Pahor noted that all relevant authorities and services, including the police, were giving their best, but that the situation required additional assistance in the protection of the Schengen border.

The president meanwhile believes that there are no reasons for the military to participate in other tasks performed by the police.

Some parties on the left have criticised the idea to give the army limited police powers, as they fear it could be abused.

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Homeless stay in streets as they fear infection in overcrowded shelters

STA, 23 March 2020 - One of the population groups in Slovenia that has it hardest during the lockdown imposed due to the coronavirus outbreak are the homeless. The situation is becoming paradoxical as many of them opt to stay in the street in the cold as they fear they could get infected in overcrowded shelters.

Many of the homeless have nowhere to go to self-isolate and many of them have chronic conditions which could be fatal in combination with coronavirus, the Kralji Ulice association for assistance and self-help for the homeless said on Monday.

The association has closed its daily centre, and other activities are also on hold, while the expert service is still operational.

"People come mostly individually, as their documents or money is kept in the centre, and they also need clothes and personal hygiene items," Hana Košan of Kralji Ulice told the STA.

The situation for rough sleepers is worsening, as certain public toilets and duty outpatient clinics are closed. Shelters meanwhile remain open and the programme of accommodation in apartments is also functioning.

While the operation of shelters has been adjusted to the restrictive and safety measures, both the homeless and the staff lack personal protective equipment.

Košan said that the epidemic had additionally exposed the shortage of staff in shelters. "All of us will probably continue working even if we get infected and fall ill."

The association has called on the relevant institutions not to forget people on the margins. It needs more rooms which would accommodate a lower number of persons and wants to provide the homeless with constant care so that they do not need to leave shelter.

The existing shelters are overcrowded. "People are leaving some shelters. They say that there are too many people there and that they are afraid of getting infected. They think they are better off in the streets, although the situation is not rosy out there either."

Košan said that the government decree banning public gatherings was an additional problem, but none of the homeless in Slovenia has so far reported being fined by the police.

"Where could they retreat to if they live in public areas, if they do not have a home," she said, nevertheless calling on the homeless to stay in their shelters, if possible, to be in small groups and to take care of personal hygiene.

Solitude is another problem as the public life has ground to a halt. "People say that, after the closure of daily centres and other activities, they are very lonely," Košan said, adding that this was also one of the reasons they were returning to the street.

The association is concerned about the scenario in which the homeless get seriously ill due to complications brought by coronavirus. Many of them are old and many have chronic conditions, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or diabetes.

"In foreign countries, when they started running out of beds in hospitals, there was no room any more for the homeless, drug addicts and others from the margins of the society. We fear that these people will be left in the street."

The distribution of the association's magazine, which was a source of income for many of the homeless, has been suspended.

The association has thus called on the readers and supporters to donate money, which would be distributed among the regular sellers of the magazine, whose number is between 170 and 200. Around EUR 2,000 has so far been donated.

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23 Mar 2020, 09:02 AM

STA, 22 March - The Krško Nuclear Power Station (NEK) said on Sunday that a preventive examination of systems and equipment had not detected any damage or impact on operations caused by a severe earthquake in Zagreb that was felt in Slovenia as well. However, Austrian politicians reiterated their calls for the closure of Slovenia's sole nuclear power plant.

The power station, situated roughly 50 kilometres north-west of Zagreb and hence close to the earthquake's epicentre, is operating normally, said the Nuclear Security Administration, adding that no safety alarm had gone off either.

NEK spokeswoman Ida Novak Jerele told the STA that the nuclear plant had various and specific protocols prepared in case of potential natural or other disasters. Nuclear experts performed their tasks and analyses in line with them today as well, she added.

Meanwhile, the Austrian press agency APA reported that cross-partisan calls for the NEK shutdown followed the 5.3 magnitude quake. A number of Austrian politicians said that the plant posed a great risk to the region's security and that its lifespan was coming to an end.

"It all turned out well this time, but what about next time," the governor of the Austrian state of Carinthia, Peter Kaiser, told the media. He said that a transition to alternative energy resources did not have an alternative in the medium-term and long-term.

The Austrian politicians highlighted that NEK had a limited lifespan and would have to be closed by 2023, saying that today's earthquake should be a wake-up call reminding Slovenia to shut down its sole nuclear power plant.

They all agreed that plans to build a new reactor at the power station would have to be dropped. The last time Austria protested over this issue was last year in August when the then Prime Minister Marjan Šarec said that all the efforts had to go into the construction of another reactor.

Slovenia sending quake aid to Croatia

STA, 22 March 2020 - Slovenia has dispatched emergency relief aid to Croatia in response to the neighbouring country's appeal for help via the European civil protection mechanism after a magnitude 5.3 earthquake hit the capital Zagreb on Sunday morning.

In line with a decision taken by the government earlier in the day, Slovenia dispatched ten tents equipped to accommodate up to 80 people with 60 beds and 60 sleeping bags and 20 heating devices.

The lorry carrying EUR 107,000 worth of material aid was sent off from the civil protection facility on the northern outskirts of Ljubljana by Defence Minister Matej Tonin, who called for continued solidarity in Europe in the face of the coronavirus outbreak and natural disasters such as the latest quake.

"That's the least we can do to help our neighbours in these moments of crisis," he said. "If ever, Europe needs solidarity today and this aid is Slovenia's expression of that solidarity."

Prime Minister Janez Janša offered Croatia help in a phone call with his counterpart Andrej Plenković in the morning, as did Foreign Minister Anže Logar in a phone call with his counterpart Gordan Grlić Radman.

Solidarity with Croatia has also been expressed by President Borut Pahor in a longer telephone call with his Croatian opposite number Zoran Milanović.

The quake, which was also felt by people throughout Slovenia, left at least 15 people with injuries, including a gravelly injured 15-year-old girl. It also caused considerable damage to buildings and cars.

Janša tweeted that the quake did not cause any significant damage in Slovenia and the Krško Nuclear Power Station on the border with Croatia has not been affected.

22 Mar 2020, 19:42 PM

All our stories on coronavirus are here, while those covering covid-19 and Croatia are here. We'll have an update at the end of the day, and if you want newsflashes then we'll post those on Facebook

We can’t have pictures of COVID-19 every day. So instead we’ll try and show the works of Slovenian artists. Today it’s Aleksander Sandi. You can see more of their work here.

Contents

Second Covid-19 patient dies in Slovenia

PM drawing links between epidemic and independence war

Stranded Slovenians returning home from Paris

Second Covid-19 patient dies in Slovenia

STA, 22 March 2020 - A second coronavirus patient in Slovenia has died, Health Minister Tomaž Gantar announced on Sunday with unofficial information available to the STA indicating the victim was an elderly woman from the Metlika nursing home with several underlying conditions with the infection not seen as the cause of death.

Gantar told reporters that both patients who had died were in their 90s and had underlying conditions.

"It's hard to say at the moment that anyone has died only because of being infected with Covid-19. Both persons to have died in Slovenia so far were around 90 years old and had other accompanying illnesses," said Gantar.

This would be a second fatality of the Metlika outbreak, which erupted after a doctor at the community health centre there tested positive at the beginning of March. It had been reported that he had also seen patients at the nursing home. Later several residents and staff tested positive.

Prime Minister Janez Janša paid a visit to the Metlika nursing home today to get acquainted with the situation first hand and thank those responsible for their response and cooperation.

Quoted by the Government Communication Office, Janša said the government was doing everything in its power to curb the epidemic and to provide enough protective equipment to health institutions, nursing homes and other critical services.

The nursing home director Iva Lozar said that a pair of Health Ministry representatives were volunteering at the home, with more volunteers and nurses due to arrive tomorrow to alleviate the burden on the staff.

Slovenia recorded 414 confirmed coronavirus cases until 2pm today, an increase of 31 over the past 24 hours. A total of 13,098 tests had been taken with Gantar noting that Slovenia was among the countries with the highest testing rates.

Minister Gantar said that 55 Covid-19 patients were being treated at hospitals, one fewer than on Saturday. Ten of the patients are in intensive treatment units, one more than on Saturday.

He highlighted that securing enough personal protective equipment was key at the moment, with the Economy Ministry being in charge of purchasing the supplies and the Health Ministry coordinating the allocation.

Another top priority was protecting at risk groups, such as the elderly, people with chronic diseases and those with a weakened immune system.

Labour Minister Janez Cigler Kralj announced today that mobile medical teams would be conducting coronavirus testing at nursing homes to make it easier for the residents as well as to reduce the workload of certain emergency services.

Asked about the planned crisis bonus for pensioners and other vulnerable groups, he said that any such measure would be fair in addressing the needs of those people.

The Pensioners' Association Union called on the government today to clearly specify who would be entitled to the bonus, for how long and what would be its actual impact.

Apart from the Metlika nursing home, another coronavirus hotspot in Slovenia is a nursing home at Šmarje pri Jelšah near Celje in eastern Slovenia, the second biggest outbreak in the country, only preceded by the capital.

A total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases at the nursing home there is 18 so far, four more compared to Saturday.

Overall, Šmarje pri Jelšah has 45 confirmed cases, four more than the day before. The outbreak erupted after a primary school teacher tested positive for the virus in mid March. Both she and the doctor from Metlika reportedly got infected while on holidays in northern Italy.

Janša visited Šmarje pri Jelšah yesterday.

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PM drawing links between epidemic and independence war

STA, 22 March 2020 - Ten days since Slovenia declared a coronavirus epidemic, Prime Minister Janez Janša urged the country to persevere in these challenging times as well as illustrated the severity and significance of the situation by drawing parallels between the current crisis and Slovenia's independence war.

"Today Europe looks as it did in the middle ages, cities filled with fear of the plague, with defensive walls and checkpoints at every corner. Only the internet was missing. Currently, we can only depend on ourselves and what we ourselves produce, grow and collect from our own supplies," the prime minister described the current situation.

He said that the government was making efforts to tackle transport and sales hold-ups as well as repatriation of Slovenian citizens stranded abroad, including in EU countries.

"But we will manage. At the end of the day, during Yugoslavia's collapse we had a war, closed borders, lost 80% of the market. But we bounced back quickly and started picking up speed and catching up with the developed world," Janša said, attributing Slovenia's success in the independence struggle to patience, unity, knowledge and bravery.

Meanwhile, Archbishop of Ljubljana Stanislav Zore also encouraged the citizens to persevere and show solidarity during the crisis, saying that the times were challenging but also showed signs of hope.

"The virus infects anybody who comes in contact with it, thus erasing differences between us and turning us into brothers and sisters," he added.

After carrying out the key measures to slow down the spread and curb the epidemic, the government is preparing the first wider legislation package to help the population and economy.

The government announced today that it would discuss on Monday a proposal on pay reimbursement for companies that had to close shop or reduce production due to the epidemic.

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Stranded Slovenians returning home from Paris

STA, 22 March 2020 - A group of Slovenians stranded abroad due to air traffic cancellations and restrictions amid the coronavirus pandemic is to return home on Sunday. A repatriation commercial Air France flight from Paris will then head back to France with French citizens who have found themselves in a similar predicament.

The repatriation flight is carrying 22 Slovenian citizens and two people with permanent residence in Slovenia, and is expected to land at Ljubljana airport at 5:25pm, the Foreign Ministry told the STA.

The flight is one of the few commercial flights landing at or taking off from Ljubljana airport. The flight tickets allegedly cost some 300 euro, according to the ministry.

In the coming days, the Slovenian citizens stuck abroad can count on a few other repatriation flights. Related discussions with other countries are focussing on evacuating EU citizens, most notably from Asian countries.

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22 Mar 2020, 15:04 PM

STA, 22 March 2020 - The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Slovenia rose to 414 by 2pm on Sunday, an increase of 31 over the past 24 hours, data from the National Public Health Institute show. The number of tests conducted rose to 13,098, up from 12,162 the day before.

Health authorities estimate that the actual number of cases is several times the confirmed number as not everyone is being tested.

Data as of 10am show the biggest outbreak remains in Ljubljana with 92 confirmed cases, seven more than the day before.

The second biggest is Šmarje pri Jelšah near Celje (NE) with 45 confirmed cases, four more than the day before, followed by Metlika in the south-east with 25 cases.

Six of the infected are foreigners.

Slovenia has recorded one Covid-19 death as an elderly resident of the Metlika nursing home died just over a week ago.

21 Mar 2020, 21:59 PM

All our stories on coronavirus are here, while those covering covid-19 and Croatia are here. We'll have an update at the end of the day, and if you want newsflashes then we'll post those on Facebook

We can’t have pictures of COVID-19 every day. So instead we’ll try and show the works of Slovenian artists. Today it’s Aleksander Sandi. You can see more of their work here.

Contents

Number of covid-19 cases reaches 383

Shoppers getting anxious in face of limitations

Education Ministry happy with home schooling during covid-19 epidemic

Govt preparing measures to help households, companies cope

Number of covid-19 cases reaches 383

STA, 21 March 2020 - The number of confirmed covid-19 cases in Slovenia increased by 42 to 383 on Saturday, the National Public Health Institute (NIJZ) said. A total of 12,162 tests have so far been performed.

The highest number of covid-19 cases has been recorded in Ljubljana, 85. 186 women have been infected and 193 men. There has been one fatality, an elderly man with several underlying illnesses.

By age group, the highest number of confirmed cases, 126, has been detected among those between 30 and 46. There are 85 confirmed cases in people over the age of 60.

The Health Ministry issued 180 quarantine orders by Friday. These are issued to people who have been in close contact with infected individuals.

Prime Minister Janez Janša visited the town of Šmarje pri Jelšah, one of the hotspots of the epidemic, on Saturday. 41 cases of covid-19 have been confirmed in this municipality of just over 10,000. The number of patients is second only to the 85 cases confirmed in Ljubljana.

Janša congratulated mayor Matija Čakš for closing the local primary school before the nation-wide school closure was ordered and asked his team to share their experience with other Slovenian municipalities.

Meanwhile, the Civil Protection said that it distributed 1.2 million pieces of protective equipment to medical and care institutions around the country. This included surgical masks, gloves, overalls, glasses and sanitisers.

Some 570,000 items were delivered to hospitals, 186,000 to retirement homes, 356,000 to state bodies, 69,000 to safety and rescue forces, and 18,000 to others.

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Shoppers getting anxious in face of limitations

STA, 21 March 2020 - Retailer Mercator called on shoppers to show patience, keep the recommended safety distance and respect the shopper number limitations on Saturday, after several cases of people shoving and yelling at each other and employees have been reported. In some cases the situation escalated to the point that the police had to be called.

There is enough food for everybody, the retailer said in a press release, adding that vulnerable groups take priority in the time of covid-19 epidemic.

There has been cases of "inadmissible pressure, threats and even physical violence" perpetrated by some shoppers against Mercator employees.

Virtually all grocery stores have remained open after the government declared covid-19 epidemic a week ago. Shops have limited the number of people that can be in a shop at any given time and vulnerable groups are served with priority in the first hours after opening.

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Education Ministry happy with home schooling during covid-19 epidemic

STA, 21 March 2020 - A week after all schools in Slovenia were closed due to the covid-19 epidemic, remote schooling is going very well, Education Minister Simona Kustec said in a statement on Saturday. 380 primary schools, out of a total of 455, are taking part, while others are encouraged do so as well.

There were some toothing problems on Monday, much of which had been addressed by the next day. Kustec said the process was going better than expected.

Some 122,500 primary school students took part this week, as well as 14,000 teachers, while figures for secondary schools, of which there are fewer, are even better: 40,000 students and 4,000 teachers.

Kustec said that some 700 students faced problems because they either do not have a computer or internet access, or there are too few computers for all the children in the household.

This is being addressed with the help of schools, which lend their computers to students, while computers are also being donated. Moreover, operators Telekom and A1 are working with the ministry to provide internet where there is no access.

Kustec also said today that the enrolment deadline will be extended, while the dates for school-leaving exams remain unchanged for now.

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Govt preparing measures to help households, companies cope

STA, 21 March 2020 - Prime Minister Janez Janša has announced that the government would send by Friday to parliament a new legislative package focusing on rapid financial assistance to the population to mitigate the effects of the novel coronavirus epidemic. The government will also cut the salaries of all state officials by 30%.

The government will propose legislative changes to compensate companies that had to close shop because of the epidemic, Janša said, among other things, in several tweets on Saturday.

For the duration of the epidemic, pensioners and other most vulnerable groups will receive a crisis bonus. The pay cuts are also to be in place until the end of the epidemic. The announcement comes after the government classified the salaries of ministers and state secretaries as top salary bracket.

The legislative changes will introduce higher payment to those working in sectors that are key to overcome the epidemic, such as health care, civil protection, security and critical infrastructure. The employees' superiors will be able to increase their basic salary by between 10% and 200%. The government will advise employers to do the same.

The measures will be coordinated with with all the key players, Janša said, with the government Communications Office adding that coalition partners have already agreed on guidelines for the package, which are to be adopted by the government on Monday.

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21 Mar 2020, 14:30 PM

All our stories on coronavirus are here, while those covering covid-19 and Croatia are here. We'll have an update at the end of the day, and if you want newsflashes then we'll post those on Facebook

We can’t have pictures of COVID-19 every day. So instead we’ll try and show the works of Slovenian artists. Today it’sXenia Guzej, with a picture from Izola. You can see more of her work here.

Contents

Slovenia to restrict movement of people to municipal limits

Crisis response unit established to assist hauliers

Slovenians most worried about when covid-19 crisis will end

Slovenia to restrict movement of people to municipal limits

STA, 21 March 2020 - Slovenia will impose a ban on exiting one's municipality of residence in the coming days, Jelko Kacin, the spokesman for the government coronavirus crisis unit, said in a televised statement on Saturday. "We are trying to make it as friendly as possible, so as not to cause problems in the flow of people performing urgent tasks and jobs."

He also advised Slovenians against flooding tourist spots this weekend. "People are still flooding to the coast from all over. Let's be considerate to those who live there and help stop the spreading of the virus," Kacin said, before Infrastructure Minister Jernej Vrtovec made a statement and answered a few questions the government received by email.

Vrtovec said that the measures the government is taking to limit the spread of covid-19 would be lifted once the virus is limited or the country has enough protective equipment to restore public transport, which was suspended on Monday.

He assured the public that electricity supply is without disruptions and that this will remain so in the future. He said that the decision to lower the price of electricity will affect 850,000 households and 90,000 SMEs. Their electricity bills will be some 27% lower, due to reduced price of power and network charges, for the next three months.

Vrtovec also said that cargo corridors have been established and that cargo air transport is going as usual. Moreover, despite the ban of passenger air traffic, flights with Slovenians who have been stranded abroad are able to land.

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Crisis response unit established to assist hauliers

STA, 21 March 2020 - The government has established a crisis response unit to deal with issues faced by hauliers as the nation fights to contain the spread of the new coronavirus, Infrastructure Minister Tadej Vrtovec said on Saturday. Among other tasks, the unit will help hauliers manage paperwork and resolve complications in foreign countries.

Trucks with perishable goods cannot be held up on borders for 15 hours, he said a televised statements, a format that has replaced government press conferences as the country is mounting an effort to fight the spread of covid-19.

Vrtovec said that each country was looking after its own interests in the face of the Europe-wide covid-19 threat. He said that Slovenia will allow passage of trucks from Italy if Croatia will grant them entry.

The hauliers crisis response unit was initiated by the Chamber of Craft and Small Business (OZS). The unit features representatives of the foreign and defence ministries and the Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GZS).

OZS transport section president Peter Pišek said earlier this week that, as countries were closing their borders due to the pandemic, the unit would deal with various issues, including visas for drivers, creation of corridors and transport policy.

Pišek noted that Vrtovec had contacted Foreign Minister Anže Logar on Wednesday to talk about permits for drivers, adding that a diplomatic cable would be sent to the countries where hauliers faced the biggest problems already that day.

He added that Slovenian cargo transport companies faced many difficulties due to the restrictive measures, including quarantining of drivers. Numerous lorries with medications, meat and other "urgent cargo" headed for Slovenia remain stranded.

As drivers' body temperature is being measured in Germany and other countries, it is expected that "entire fleets will be waiting", said Pišek, who fears up to 50 lorries could end up in quarantine, with replacement drivers hard to find.

All this puts the supply of goods to the country at risk, he said, adding that the country needed to be well prepared for what would come in two or three weeks. Corridors need to be ready, all paperwork needs to be prepared and enough drivers on secured.

One of the problems is how to extend work permits to foreign drivers who work for Slovenian companies as administrative units deal only with the most urgent matters.

Pišek noted that Germany, Slovakia and the Czech Republic last night released cargo traffic, while the situation was worse in Serbia, as drivers needed to fill various forms and wait to be tested.

Meanwhile, there are no more complications in Croatia, and the neighbouring country is thinking about securing corridors to bring lorries through its territory.

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Slovenians most worried about when covid-19 crisis will end

STA, 21 March 2020 - A poll published by the daily Delo on Saturday suggests that Slovenians' biggest worry in the face of the novel coronavirus epidemic is the duration of the crisis. This was listed as concern by 54.1% respondents. Meanwhile, more than two thirds of respondents said that they were following instructions and staying home.

The poll included 536 people and was conducted by the pollster Mediana on 17 and 18 March, before Slovenia imposed bans on public gathering and movement.

Some 58% of the respondents said they thought the measures in place were too mild, some 40% said they were appropriate and 12.5% said they were too strict. Meanwhile, 2.6% said they did not follow the instructions, finding them exaggerated.

Just over 21% said they could not stay at home because of work obligations. About a half of the respondents said they were in employment. Of them nearly 30% said they worked from home, more than 55% said they could not work from home because of the nature of their work, while more than 14% said the employer did not allow this option.

Apart from worrying when the epidemic will end, people are most worried about infections in vulnerable groups (46.4%), about becoming infected themselves (43.6%), about being powerless (33.1%), about not being able to socialise (23.3%) and about losing income (19.5%), while 6.2% fear for their jobs.

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20 Mar 2020, 21:22 PM

We can’t have pictures of COVID-19 every day. So instead we’ll try and show the works of Slovenian artists. Today it’s Igor Andjelić, taking a break from the city. I recommend you follow him on Facebook for more beauty in your feed.

All our stories on coronavirus are here, while those covering covid-19 and Croatia are here. We'll have an update at the end of the day, and if you want newsflashes then we'll post those on Facebook

Contents

Govt shortens opening hours of grocery stores

Companies responding to coronavirus crisis differently

Power prices for households and SMEs cut by 20%

Banks say liabilities deferral act flawed and unclear

Armed Forces inviting volunteers to join

Govt shortens opening hours of grocery stores

STA, 20 March 2020 - The government adopted changes to a decree on shops on Friday shortening the opening hours of grocery stores by pushing the closing time from 8pm to 6pm, as demanded by the trade union of shop assistants. The restrictions do not apply for smaller retailers.

Under the changed decree with which the government closed all other shops bar grocery stores, shops will be open at least from 8am to 6pm.

Exempt from this rule are micro and small companies, the self-employed and cooperatives. These will be able to set their opening hours themselves based on their resources.

The government said after today's correspondence session that the purpose of the legal restrictions on opening hours was to minimise contacts among buyers.

The new rules will apply as of midnight.

In line with the government decree, grocery stores, but not pharmacies and petrol stations, are closed on Sundays and bank holidays during the coronavirus outbreak. The time slot between 8am and 10am is reserved for vulnerable groups such as the disabled, pensioners and pregnant women.

The trade union of shop assistants was critical of the original opening hours for shops yesterday, demanding the closing time be pushed to 6pm. It threatened with a strike unless its demand is met within 24 hours.

Longer opening hours mean that shop assistants are exposed to the risk of a coronavirus infection for longer, and work overtime, the union said, adding that many shops, especially the small ones, also struggle with the lack of staff.

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Companies responding to coronavirus crisis differently

STA, 20 March 2020 - Slovenian companies are dealing with the ramifications of the coronavirus epidemic in various ways. Some are closing shop temporarily, while others, mostly part of global production networks, try to persevere amid supply disruption and ramped up safety measures.

 The Chinese-owned household appliances maker Hisense Gorenje announced on Friday it would close all its European plants between 23 March and 5 April in the light of the coronavirus spread worsening across Europe, quoting preventive reasons.

The company said that the measure would be imposed despite sufficient amounts of protective gear as well as raw materials to help curb the spread and protect its employees' health.

The management and in-house trade union have agreed that the production would be re-launched on 6 April, unless the situation and measures escalate and limit operations in the meantime.

The step was announced only two days after Economy Minister Zdravko Počivalšek offered Hisense Gorenje as a good example in organising work in such a way as to protect their staff's health and remain operative despite the epidemic.

Prior to the Gorenje announcement, several other large companies decided to close shop, including household appliance maker BSH Hišni Aparati, sports equipment manufacturer Elan, footwear manufacturer Alpina, the Magna Steyr paint shop and car maker Revoz.

Meanwhile, some Slovenian companies that are part of global production networks cannot suspend production without the implementation of national or EU measures. All of them have reported they have stepped up preventive measures though to protect their staff.

"Despite the pandemic the company is obliged to meet contractual obligations to our customers," said the TPV group, adding that the company would be otherwise faced with contractual penalties and loss of future business.

The car industry supplier employs some 1,200 workers and is present in Slovenia, Serbia, the US and China.

Meanwhile, Dewesoft, a provider of data acquisition systems, testing and measuring instruments used in satellite and rocket development, continues with operations and has introduced boosted safety measures drawn up on the basis of China's experience and insight in dealing with the epidemic.

Dewesoft employs more than 200 people and has subsidiaries in 16 countries, including China.

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Power prices for households and SMEs cut by 20%

STA, 20 March 2020 - To ease the impact of the coronavirus fallout, the government issued a decree reducing electricity prices for households and small businesses by about 20% for the next three months.

"We've joined forces to come up with a solution that will alleviate concerns at least a bit at these difficult times," Infrastructure Minister Jernej Vrtovec said as he announced the decision on Twitter.

In a release posted on its website following a correspondence session on Friday, the government said it had issued a decree suspending payment of contributions for subsidies for high-efficiency cogeneration and renewables for small business consumers and households.

The suspension, valid between 1 March and 31 May, is estimated to reduce electricity bills for the two types of consumers by about 20%.

The decision comes after parliament passed in the wee hours on Friday the first legislative package to mitigate the impact of the coronavirus epidemic on the economy.

Apart from subsidised pay for temporarily laid-off workers, business will also benefit from a lifting of some administrative burdens, and a deferral of debt and tax payments.

One act gives the government complete discretion in the use of budget funds approved for purposes not deemed part of legally binding tasks, and another allows it to intervene in food markets.

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Banks say liabilities deferral act flawed and unclear

STA, 20 March 2020 - Banks have responded to the emergency act that allows companies to ask for a deferral of their liabilities by 12 months by arguing the legislation, which is not yet in force, is poorly thought out.

The banks and savings banks said they had already started adjusting their arrangements with affected clients in the face of the coronavirus crisis prior to the act's adoption last night and that they welcomed efforts to reduce the pressure on companies.

The banks for instance redirected as much operations as possible to web or mobile platforms. The act would thus need to provide for bank procedures to be executed fully electronically and without the physical presence of the client, the Bank Association of Slovenia wrote.

Moreover, the act fails to provide for the deferred loans being factored out of the presently strict capital requirements for banks, which means the ability of banks to fulfil their basic task - securing fresh financing - can be compromised, since new provisions will have to be formed.

The association also believes that the manner in which the act is to be implemented is unclear and expects explanations before it enters into force.

It called on all key stakeholders to engage in dialogue and for changes to systemic provisions, noting it was worth keeping in mind that companies and individuals would also need new loans.

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Armed Forces inviting volunteers to join

STA, 20 March 2020 - Following Thursday's announcement by Prime Minister Janez Janša that the Slovenian army would be expanded with volunteers, the government issued on Friday a call that says the Armed Forces are inviting all who wish to help in these difficult times to sign up as volunteers or for temporary military service.

The call, published on the government's website, says the Armed Forces are asking citizens to help reduce the heavy burden the security system is carrying in the face of coronavirus. It is urgent that the contract reserve be expanded, it reads.

Citizens aged between 18 and 50 or up to 60 are eligible. They must not have a criminal record and must consent to a security screening.

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20 Mar 2020, 15:25 PM

We can’t have pictures of COVID-19 every day. So instead we’ll try and show the works of Slovenian artists. Today it’s Marusa Stibelj. You can see more of her work here and on Instagram

All our stories on coronavirus are here, while those covering covid-19 and Croatia are here. We'll have an update at the end of the day, and if you want newsflashes then we'll post those on Facebook

Slovenia registered 341 confirmed coronavirus cases by 2pm on Friday, up by 22 in the last 24 hours. Almost 11,000 tests have so far been carried out, an increase of more than a thousand compared to the day before, show figures released by the National Institute of Public Health.

Contents

Slovenia enters lockdown mode

Minister assures public there is enough food for months

Parliament passes package of laws to mitigate fallout of coronavirus crisis

Slovenia enters lockdown mode

STA, 20 March 2020 - Slovenia entered lockdown mode at midnight as the government issued decree temporarily prohibiting public gatherings in public places to contain the coronavirus epidemic. The decree prohibits the movement and gathering of people in public places until further notice, but there are exemptions to ensure that society can function.

Individuals may leave their homes for a public place mindful of keeping a safe distance and only for work-related activities, to eliminate immediate threats to health, life and property, to care for people in need of support, and to access shops that remain open (grocery stores, pharmacies, petrol stations, banks, post offices, cleaning services, car repair shops and the like).

Importantly, people may access public parks and other areas for walking, again mindful of the safety distance. But they are not allowed to go for a stroll in the city. Cycling is allowed.

The lockdown has also opened some dilemmas, as a person is for example allowed to take a dog for a walk to a near-by park but not go for a walk with a partner they do not live in the same household with.

At present there also seems to be no restrictions for family trips to secluded places, even if they are on the other side of the country, but Interior Minister Aleš Hojs indicated today that in the future the government decree could be amended.

"Whatever will be changed will be changed with the sole purpose of guaranteeing additional safety," he said, announcing it may be necessary to restrict people to their municipality.

Local communities may make more detailed rules depending on the needs of the community. In that case, mayors must post public notices.

Hojs said that individual municipalities might need to introduce further restrictions to the movement of people, to for example keep people within the municipality, but that would depend on how the lockdown would be respected in its present form.

For now movement, access to and stay in a public place is also allowed for groups of persons who are close family members or share the same household, provided they keep a safe distance from other similar groups.

Groups of up to five co-workers who share the same personal vehicle to get to work or who have been called up to perform tasks within the Civil Protection Service are also exempted.

The lockdown is being policed and the fines for violations are around 400 euro.

The lockdown was also announced via an SMS sent to all phones in the country notifying the people of the prohibition of public gatherings.

Police have told the STA that they are already patrolling public spaces, warning potential violators and ordering them to abide by law such as by urging them to stand apart and keep a safe distance.

Those who do not follow the officers' instructions face a notice for violating the protection of public order act, or referral to the health inspectorate, which issues fines for lockdown violations.

The police force does not have data on measures taken against potential violators, but it says that people are mostly following officers' warnings and instructions.

"Police are implementing measures to prevent the spread of infectious diseases as a priority through joint tightened checks with health inspectors or independently," said the police.

In Ljubljana and many other cities around the country, traffic wardens have been deployed to check whether residents are observing lockdown measures.

Mayor Zoran Janković urged residents to follow the instructions for the sake of their health and the health of their loved ones. He is not planning to propose any additional measures because he believes most of the 292,000 Ljubljana residents behave in a very responsible way.

Meanwhile, Kranj Mayor Matjaž Rakovec was much more critical of the situation in Slovenia's fourth city where groups of people had been spotted in recent days acting irresponsibly.

To illustrate just one example he said that a shop assistant reported being jeered and sworn at for trying to keep shoppers apart.

"It's hard to believe my colleagues having to deal with those who don't understand or won't understand how serious the epidemic is," said Rakovec, who hopes the latest decree will improve the situation.

Many towns had locked or cordoned off playgrounds and sport grounds and facilities even before the decree stepped into force, while traffic wardens are patrolling areas that could not have been physically restricted.

Officials in Novo Mesto in the south-east and Nova Gorica on the border with Italy say that the residents were obeying the ban on gatherings.

Some towns, such as Nova Gorica and Izola have disinfected public spaces where there has been a large concentration of people, while Janković said Ljubljana would not do that because health authorities deemed the measure ineffective.

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Minister assures public there is enough food for months

STA, 20 March 2020 - Agriculture Minister Aleksandra Pivec assured the public that there is enough basic foodstuffs in Slovenia for a few months, assuaging fears that the country might run out of food as the measures are imposed world-wide to contain the spread of the new coronavirus. Food producers also said that operations ran without disruption for the time being.

 Pivec, who is also in charge of food, told the press on Friday that the situation was constantly monitored, and that backup plans were in place in case of disruption in the food supply channels.

Procedures have also been launched to supply products from other countries, if necessary, the minister said, adding that problems could first start in the supply of fresh fruit, such as citrus and tropical fruit, and certain vegetables.

Italy is a major supplier of these products to Slovenia and, if the supply of goods from there gets disrupted, Hungary could serve as a backup for the supply of fruit and vegetables.

Pivec also summarised the government measures in agriculture, including the option that a temporary manager of a farm is appointed if the owners or workers at the farm are incapacitated due to coronavirus.

The temporary manager would have the same rights and obligations as the owner, including the right to monthly pay, but will not hold the ownership right. Farm management and sales need to be conducted with the owner's consent.

No measures to prevent potential dumping have been adopted, but Pivec said that it was possible to restrict or ban the sale of a certain groups of products, individual products, foodstuffs or animals to other EU member states or third countries.

The minister added that the decree on the conditions for the entry to Slovenia from Italy did not apply to owners whose land used for agricultural work laid on both sides of the border.

Pivec noted that the good news was that the European Commission had approved an increase in de minimis aid to companies in the fisheries from EUR 15,000 to EUR 120,000 and in agriculture from EUR 20,000 to 100,000.

The ministry has also stepped up the promotion of Slovenian products and established a 24/7 call centre for questions related to the access to food.

Pivec stressed that the sale of food at produce markets and farms had not been prohibited, and that the ministry was in talks with the Economy Ministry about the possibility to re-open shops with pet food.

For the time being, there are no indications that the country may run out of pesticides, she added.

Companies in the food production and processing industry are coping with the increased demand, with production being either increased or reduced in different segments due to the changed circumstances.

The country's largest bread and pasta maker Žito said that the operations ran without disruptions, with employees regularly coming to work in production plants, bakeries and shops.

Demand for basic and durable foodstuffs, such as flour, pasta, rice, yeast, cornmeal and canned and baby food, has increased, but this is not problematic for the time being, the company added.

The dairy Mlekarna Celeia said that milk continued to be purchased from more than 900 Slovenian farms, with the daily quantity reaching 270,000 litres.

"In recent days we have noticed an increase in orders of fresh and long-life milk, cheese and yoghurt in large packages, and we have adjusted the production to the situation," director Vinko But said.

The company currently supplies around 1,000 outlets in the country, and the production and delivery of products is not disrupted despite the strict safety measures, the company added in a press release.

The Pekarna Grosuplje bakery has meanwhile reduced the workload in production for safety reasons, but said that the supply was not a problem because the raw material used was mostly of Slovenian origin.

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Parliament passes package of laws to mitigate fallout of coronavirus crisis

STA, 20 March 2020 - Parliament passed on Thursday a package of laws aimed at mitigating the impact of the coronavirus crisis. Measures include pay compensation for temporary lay-offs, credit payment and tax duty deferrals for companies, as well as trade restrictions for agriculture and food products. One act also gives the government direct control over the budget.

A major part of the package is the act providing state aid in pay compensation for temporary lay-offs at companies that will need to temporarily lay off at least 30% of their workforce due to disruptions in supply or a drop in demand.

The act, whose costs are estimated at EUR 50 million, stipulates temporarily laid-off workers will be entitled to 80% of their wage average from the past three months, with the employers having to cover 60% of this sum and the state 40%.

The maximum temporary lay-off period will be three months and employers using the aid will have to commit to having the temporarily redundant workers employed for at least six month after sending them home.

Aid will also be provided in cases of workers unable to work as a result of self-isolation, but the state will cover the full 80% for such instances.

In line with amendments adopted at the committee level, the scheme was extended to self-employed workers, however the only aid will be the possibility to defer social contribution payments for the coming three months by up to two years.

While government representatives stressed the measure was about preserving jobs and avoiding people ending up on the shoulders of the Employment Service, the left-leaning opposition parties argued too little was being done for the self-employed, actually the most vulnerable group.

"100,000 sole proprietors is a number we should not ignore," said Soniboj Knežak of the SocDems, but an amendment by the Left to write off these social contribution payments was rejected.

The pressure on business will meanwhile also be mitigated with an act that reduces the administrative and tax burdens on companies, pushing back the deadlines for tax documentation filings and allowing companies to ask for a tax deferral of up to two years or for paying tax in up to 24 instalments.

The same law notably gives the government full discretion in the use of budget funds approved for purposes not deemed part of legally binding tasks.

The government will be able to reallocate funds without a supplementary budget, or more precisely on the basis of a supplementary budget that need not be submitted to parliament until up to 90 days after the crisis ends.

"The situation will not occur in this country where funding would not be available for equipment to save lies," Finance Minister Andrej Šircelj defended the measure as a number of MPs expressed misgivings about it, including from the ranks of the coalition.

"The government is getting powers that are unmatched in Slovenia's independence era and by far exceed those the government had during the financial crisis," noted Robert Polnar of the coalition Pensioners' Party (DeSUS).

The opposition Left's Luka Mesec expressed "fear these measure will be used for an illegitimate consolidation of power" and argued it could be unconstitutional, given that parliament's role as the guardian of the budget is being suspended even though a state of emergency had not been declared.

Šircelj responded by saying the government would report to parliament about the reallocations regularly, a provision inserted in the bill in an amendment.

Meanwhile, another emergency act adopted will allow banks to defer liabilities of companies, co-operatives, self-employed and farmers by 12 months. Banks will be compelled to do so for those whose operation has been thwarted under government measures to contain the coronavirus outbreak. The act will also apply for loans taken out during the epidemic.

Also passed were emergency measures that restrict trade with agricultural produce, food products and livestock and poultry to ensure sufficient food supplies in the country.

The act allows the minister, in consent with the economy minister, to impose restrictions or bans on exports or imports of individual products or groups of products to or from other countries. It also gives the minister the power to cap prices of certain foodstuffs.

Meanwhile, one of the measures also involves a one-month suspension of prison sentences in cases without safety risks as well the option of early release from prison.

20 Mar 2020, 13:37 PM

The covers and editorials from leading weeklies of the Left and Right for the work-week ending Friday, 20 March 2020

Mladina: Populists will abuse COVID-19

STA, 20 March 2020 - In its latest commentary, the left-wing weekly Mladina labels as very unusual several moves made by the new government in order to contain the coronavirus outbreak, and notes that some of them are actually about populists wanting to consolidate their power by abusing the crisis situation.

In the commentary headlined Unusual, editor-in-chief Grega Repovž says that some things done in recent days have remained unexplained, including the formation of a crisis management team which does not belong under the auspices of the Health Ministry.

In all comparable countries, the coronavirus is being fought within the civilian sphere, under civilian legislation, while the military performs only support activities.

"In Slovenia, as the government is being taken over by the Democrats (SDS), the management and communication of the situation has been stripped away from public health experts," with the matters being formally transferred to the defence department.

"It is a different way of governance, of thinking. The civilian sphere, the healthcare sector in this case, has been formally subjugated to the defence sector."

What is even more unusual is that all healthcare institutions have been instructed not to communicate with the public about the epidemic without permission. "There is no good reason for this whatsoever," Repovž says.

"Basically all key people appearing in the public on behalf of the government are party members first and foremost, even the only health expert. This is very strange for a European country in 2020."

Repovž notes that the Guardian had already written about European populists trying to abuse the coronavirus, and that they can be stopped. He points to the "latest attempt to abuse the crisis situation to make social changes" not so long ago.

This was done by the Janša government in 2012, which faced protests because he tried to use people's distress because of a difficult financial situation to carry out social subversion.

"The committed behaviour and solidarity expressed by people at the time when an invisible virus is roaming the country shows us very clearly how people love this country - but only as a free, fair and open society."

Demokracija: No time for ideological, political disputes

STA, 19 March 2020 - The coronavirus epidemic is a war-like situation and this is no time to engage in ideological or political settling of scores, the right-wing weekly Demokracija comments in its editorial on Thursday.

"We must all act as if we are infected. Only responsible individuals can contain the spread of the virus. No decree can stop the virus, no government can abolish it, all it can do is take some unpopular measures that (temporarily) restrict personal and economic freedom," editor-in-chief Jože Biščak writes in the commentary Covid-19, Liberty and the Free Market.

"Believe me, it pains me (as a sworn classical liberal of the Hayek Café mould in the economic sense) to see the restrictions. But the arrival of Covid-19 is like war, where logic often fails and drastic measures must be resorted to.

"Notwithstanding the political and economic situation in Slovenia (and the world), it will therefore take a lot to get through this challenge. And the fear (or ruthless insinuations by the political opponents of the new government) that Janša may exploit this difficult time to revive old methods of operation of leftist governments at the expense of liberties is unfounded."

All our posts in this series are here

19 Mar 2020, 22:13 PM

We can’t have pictures of COVID-19 every day. So instead we’ll try and show the works of Slovenian artists. Today it’s Sašo Vrabič, in front of Raj-a-nje (work in progress), 2020, oil on convas, 100 x 150 cm. You can see more of his work here.

All our stories on coronavirus are here, while those covering covid-19 and Croatia are here. We'll have an update at the end of the day, and if you want newsflashes then we'll post those on Facebook

Contents

Number of confirmed coronavirus cases at 319 by 2pm, up by 33 in a day

Govt announces lockdown, starts at midnight

Police and border officials from region discuss emergency supply

Calls to suspend construction work, hop growers face staff shortage

Number of confirmed coronavirus cases at 319 by 2pm, up by 33 in a day

STA, 19 March 2020 - The number of confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Slovenia stood at 319 at 2pm on Thursday, up by 33 in the last 24 hours. A total of 9,860 persons have been tested so far, up by 1,130 from Wednesday, meaning the number of people tested daily remains at slightly above 1,000. Hospitals are reportedly presently looking after around 40 Covid-19 patients.

While no new deaths have been reported since the first confirmed casualty on the weekend, the latest increase is slightly higher than on Tuesday and Wednesday, when it stood at 20 and 13 respectively.

With testing restricted to health and emergency workers, the elderly, those in hospital and people exhibiting more severe symptoms, the government has warned that the number of actually infected people is probably several times higher and strict social distancing measures remain in place.

Bojana Beović, the infectious disease expert affiliated with the government coronavirus crisis response team, told Radio Slovenija today that reports about infections were coming from around the country. The number of patients in hospital care was at around 40 today, an increase compared to previous days, as people whose symptoms have gotten worse are seeking hospitalisation.

Beović said "this is the start of something we will need to control with all our forces and we're getting ready for this very intensively now".

The country's leading hospital UKC Ljubljana told the STA today that it was looking after 21 Covid-19 patients this morning, five of which in intensive care. UKC Maribor has 14, two of which in intensive care.

Beović said hospitals were ready, but some had not yet been admitting patients. The plan is to first fill the capacities at UKC Ljubljana, UKC Maribor and Klinika Golnik to only then gradually include other hospitals.

"Special isolated rooms, equipment and some experience is needed to work with such patients and it would not be wise to disperse this too much," she explained.

Beović again defended the testing policy, saying Slovenia was among countries with the highest number of tests conducted per capita. "Our recommendations are entirely in line with those of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and the draft recommendations of the European Commission," she said.

"We are of course testing, but not those with the mildest symptoms, who can stay home, bar specific situations when we expect an aggravation," she explained. She added the disease can also run its course feeling like a common cold and it was not feasible and even risky for everybody to immediately go to the doctor.

"We are actually testing more, but we've changed the focus of the testing," Beović concluded.

Meanwhile, a group dubbed Young Doctors of Slovenia issued today a warning that the present measures for containing the virus in Slovenia were possibly not effective enough.

Presenting a simulation model that projects the potential spread of the virus in line with two scenarios, the group said around 500 hospital beds, of which 120 in intensive care, would be needed at what would be the peak of the outbreak in the first week of April if the current measures work.

If they don't but are upgraded at the end of March to produce successful results, 18,000 patients would need hospitalisation in mid-April, of which almost 500 in intensive care, suggests the simulation, made by physicist Luka Medic in cooperation with medical doctor Sanja Zupanič.

The young doctors, who published the call on Facebook to stress every day matters, said that according to their knowledge Slovenian has 200 intensive care beds, with most already occupied without crisis conditions.

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Govt announces lockdown, starts at midnight

STA, 19 March 2020 - The government adopted a decree on Thursday banning gatherings and movement of people in public areas, albeit with a number of exceptions. The measure enters into force at midnight.

Despite the stepped up restrictions, people will be allowed to leave home to go to work, the pharmacy and to buy groceries at their closest shop, Interior Minister Aleš Hojs told the public broadcaster RTV Slovenija.

In line with the government decree, people will also be allowed to go outdoors and to parks, but only alone or with people living in the same household. They will also be able to run errants related to their household or agricultural activities.

Local communities will be able to determine exemptions to the ban in more detail with a public municipal decree.

Fines for violations will be about EUR 400, according to Hojs.

Addressing the citizens via a videoconference tonight, Prime Minister Janez Janša said people must become aware that even the strictest measures would have no effect unless "we realise that every one of us is a part of both the problem and solution".

The period of this crisis cannot be assessed yet, he said, noting that "we are definitely not talking about days but rather of at least weeks and months".

He said that Slovenia had never been in a more difficult situation and that the danger was worse than in a typical war except in those that involve the use of biological weapons.

He also announced an expansion of the military reserve force, calling all those with military skills to join in.

Janša added that certain measures such as the ban of passenger flights and restrictions for some other activities would be toned down in the coming weeks when additional protective equipment arrived and safety procedures were laid down.

He asserted additional protective gear would arrive in Europe and Slovenia shortly, and that food reserves were sufficient and would be further supplemented.

Hojs also commented today on calls by the trade union of shop assistants to change a government decree saying that grocery stores must be open from 8am to at least 8pm. The union demands the closing time at 6pm.

It demands the change within 24 hours, and is threatening with a strike.

Hojs said now was not the time to threaten with strike, adding that Economy Minister Zdravko Počivalšek would check the decree again to determine if the working time should be cut any further.

According to the minister, the government would like to set a time frame for individual groups of population to go to shops so as to prevent the most vulnerable groups from being exposed to a potential infection.

Commenting on the proposal to give the army police powers, he said this would not mean that the army would have unlimited powers within the country but that the army could be activated to exercise additional control of the EU's external borders, as police would be required inland.

Until 2pm today, 319 cases of coronavirus infection were recorded in Slovenia, while 9,860 tests were conducted.

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Police and border officials from region discuss emergency supply

STA, 19 March 2020 - Top police and border services officials from Slovenia, Austria, Hungary, Italy, Croatia and Serbia highlighted in a videoconference on Thursday the importance of uninterrupted supply of essential goods in the region and agreed that providing medical supply without any difficulties must be top priority.

The discussion, held at the initiative of the Slovenian police, aimed to coordinate a supply of emergency commodities to avoid disruptions amid the coronavirus epidemic, said the General Police Administration.

Measures could include cargo convoys or special routes.

Medical supply should take priority, they all agreed, adding that police could escort such precious cargo if need be.

The police officials also concurred that cracking down on profiteering from the coronavirus crisis must be top priority as well and highlighted the role of international cooperation in such cases.

They agreed to exchange information on measures and their coordination and stressed the importance of rapid responses and collaboration to mitigate the crisis and protect public health. The next videoconference is scheduled for Monday.

The epidemic has not halted the Western Balkan migration flows and efforts to deal with the migration issue must continue as usual, the officials also said.

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Calls to suspend construction work, hop growers face staff shortage

STA, 19 March 2020 - Employers in the construction sector and related industries were called by the relevant trade union to suspend work on construction sites and production of building materials for the duration of the new coronavirus epidemic. Hop growers meanwhile pointed to the shortage of seasonal workers as borders are being closed.

The Trade Union of Construction Workers of Slovenia said in Thursday's statement that workers on construction sites mostly had no appropriate protective equipment.

There are difficulties in organising the arrival of workers at construction sites, and for those who are coming in a group. It is not ensured that there is a safety distance between them and they are not protected, it added.

The union also said that sanitary conditions at construction sites did not allow for proper hygiene to be maintained, and added that construction work was not essential for the functioning of the state during the crisis.

"What we would like to stress in particular is that migrant workers, whose share is the highest in construction, usually have no accommodation which would enable self-isolation in case a worker gets infected."

The union thus called for measures to be adopted to secure organised self-isolation for workers who get sick but do not need hospitalisation.

While the public life and most of commercial activities have ground to a halt in recent days, the construction sector is facing criticism as many construction sites remain open and work is conducted as usual.

The Economy Ministry said that the temporary ban on the direct provision and sales of goods and services did not apply to construction sites.

"The decree does not encroach upon employment relationships, and workers may continue with works on an unfinished building under the condition that other persons are not present at the site," the ministry said.

As the decree does not regulate transactions between companies, construction material shops are allowed to sell their products, while it does temporarily ban the sale of construction material to individual consumers.

Hop growers, who mostly hire foreign seasonal workers and who have already started with work on hop fields, meanwhile noted that the arrivals of foreigners have stopped and said they expected assistance from the state.

They need between 800 and 1,000 seasonal workers in the spring, and most of them come from Romania, while only around 250 have arrived in Slovenia so far, Janez Oset, the head of the relevant association, told the STA.

"We are in touch with the Agriculture Ministry," he said, adding that the state was expected to make sure that workers got tested before their arrival in Slovenia and that they got documents which would enable them to cross the border.

Oset is worried because work on hop fields needs to be done in the coming weeks, otherwise the crop will be in peril.

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