Politics

19 Mar 2020, 21:17 PM

STA, 19 March 2020 - Public Administration Minister Boštjan Koritnik announced on Thursday what amounts to a raise of the pay for the ministers and state secretaries of the new government to the highest possible allowed for these posts in the public sector pay system.

Koritnik, who argued this was not a pay increase but the determining of wage brackets, said the 61st wage bracket will be used for all state secretaries at ministries and the 64th for all ministers.

Prime Minister Janez Janša defended the decision on Twitter: "Nobody raised wages. For the duration of the crisis I placed the ministers, state secretaries and their closest teams into the highest possible wage brackets, and I recommend leaderships do the same everywhere where people are overburdened due to #COVID19. Those carrying a double burden will be additionally paid for this time. Everywhere."

In the previous government, led by Marjan Šarec, all ministers bar the finance minister were ranked in the lowest possible bracket for the post, meaning the 62nd bracket. The same applied for all state secretaries, which meant the 59th bracket.

The law stipulates that the wage bracket for ministers is determined - within a predefined scope - by the prime minister and for the state secretaries by the government upon the proposal of the public administration minister.

The highest, meaning the 65th wage bracket in the public sector, is reserved for posts that include that of the prime minister, the country's president and the speaker of parliament.

Meanwhile, the government agreed on a special wage provision for public servants working closely with officials in the office of the prime minister, of the government's secretary general, of ministers and heads of government services. The wage bracket determined for them can be five brackets above that reserved for their post.

19 Mar 2020, 12:03 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

Contents

New rules for shops in place

Only four crossings with Italy open as of midnight

Minister considering police powers for the army

Stranded Slovenians returning home

Half a million face masks delivered to civil defence today

New rules for shops in place

STA, 19 March 2020 - New rules for grocery shops took effect on Thursday. They must be open from 8am to 8pm, and for the first two hours, until 10am, groups particularly vulnerable to infections - the elderly, pregnant women and disabled persons - must be given priority. All shops bar petrol stations and pharmacies must be closed on Sunday and holidays.

This follows from a government decree adopted late on Wednesday as part of ongoing efforts to contain coronavirus by imposing strict social distancing rules.

The vast majority of shops, all bars and restaurants, hotels, and services establishments such as hair salons were shut down by decree on Sunday.

The establishments that remain open - groceries, pharmacies, service stations, shops for farmers, banks and post offices - had originally been unrestricted in how they restructured their opening hours and most had opted for shorter hours and stepped up online deliveries.

Public life in Slovenia has ground to a near halt since the start of this week due to the coronavirus measures and new rules are expected, including a ban on public gatherings of more than five people and police powers for the army.

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Only four crossings with Italy open as of midnight

STA, 18 March 2020 - Only four points along the border with Italy will be open as of midnight Wednesday, down from six so far, under a new decree that the Slovenian government adopted Wednesday evening.

The only points that will remain open at all times are the crossings Vrtojba, Fernetiči and Škofije, which are on the main transit routes to Italy. The smaller crossing Krvavi Potok will be open from 5am to 11pm.

On all other road connection with Italy, road-blocks will be erected. Train and bus transport remain suspended as well.

While reducing the number of entry points, the decree will nevertheless make life easier for farmers who have land on both sides of the border and have complained that the border closure is causing them serious difficulties since they had to take long detours.

Slovenian citizens who have land in Italy will be allowed passage on all roads for farm work.

Cargo traffic will remain restricted. Lorries bound for Slovenia will have free passage, as will lorries in transit which neighbouring countries agree to let cross.

All other cargo except mail, medicines, protective equipment, medical devices and humanitarian aid will be turned away at the border.

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Minister considering police powers for the army

STA, 19 March 2020 - Interior Minister Aleš Hojs is considering an activation of legislation that would give the army police powers, a move that would need to be endorsed by a two-thirds majority in parliament.

Speaking for public broadcaster TV Slovenija on Wednesday evening, Hojs said "I will propose the activation of article 37.a [of the defence act] as the competent minister." He did not specify when he may formally make the proposal.

The article in question was adopted at the peak of the migration crisis, in October 2015, and once activated by a two-thirds majority vote at the proposal of the government it allows the army to help the police in "broader protection of the state border".

It allows soldiers to carry out tasks such as temporarily restricting the movement of persons and taking part in crowd control.

The powers are granted for three months with the possibility of extension. The article has been invoked once before, in February 2016, to help police patrol the border.

The legislation faced heavy criticism when it was passed with leftist activist groups and NGOs concerned about its potential implications for civil rights.

Radio Študent, a student radio station, even initiated a referendum to stop the bill, but the National Assembly thwarted the attempt invoking constitutional provisions that ban referenda "on laws on urgent measures to ensure the defence of the state, security, or the elimination of the consequences of natural disasters".

The legislation was subsequently challenged at the Constitutional Court but it passed muster.

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Stranded Slovenians returning home

STA, 19 March 2020 - Slovenians are gradually returning to their homeland from Morocco, the Czech Republic and Serbia after being stranded abroad due to suspended flights and border restrictions in response to the coronavirus epidemic. Several groups of travellers are currently en route, the Foreign Ministry told the STA on Thursday.

A bus full of Slovenians left Prague this morning, while another one has recently headed towards Belgrade to pick up Slovenians there. A group of Slovenians are also on a repatriation flight from Marrakesh to Budapest.

A total of 16 Slovenians have asked for consular help in getting back home from Morocco. All of them are on today's flight to Budapest.

The ministry said that the group would then be transported to Slovenia. The repatriation mission was coordinated with the Hungarian Foreign Ministry, Slovenian embassy in Paris and Hungarian embassy in Morocco.

The bus from the Czech Republic left Prague airport early this morning carrying twelve Slovenian tourists who had experienced problems returning back home from the Canary Islands due to border closures. The ministry coordinated their return with their Czech colleagues as well as with the Slovenian embassies in Madrid and Prague.

Meanwhile, the bus headed to Serbia, carrying stranded Serbian citizens, is expected to return to Slovenia with twelve Slovenians and two Slovaks who have been stuck there after restrictive measures were imposed.

The ministry has pointed out that one of the few European airports that is still operating is the one in Croatia's Zagreb but Croatia Airlines might suspend their links at any moment due to the emergency situation. Passengers are thus advised to check their flight statuses directly with the airline.

Slovenians left abroad amid the epidemic were urged to contact the ministry earlier this week, particularly if they needed help with repatriation. More than 650 Slovenians have checked in: almost a half of them are stranded in EU countries and almost a third in Russia, Asian countries and in the Middle East.

So far, none of them have reported any issues, all of them are safe and have access to a special consular emergency unit at the ministry.

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Half a million face masks delivered to civil defence today

STA, 19 March 2020 - Around half a million face masks were delivered to the civil defence warehouse on Thursday morning, Economy Minister Zdravko Počivalšek said, adding that the most urgent needs for the protective equipment to contain the coronavirus outbreak were now covered.

A total of 400,000 disposable three-layer masks have been delivered by the medical equipment supplier Sanolabor, and the railway operator Slovenske Železnice delivered an additional 100,000 masks.

Speaking to the press at the civil defence warehouse in Roje on the outskirts of Ljubljana, Počivalšek said that the government would try to pull off the planned supply of 1.5 million type FFB2 masks by the end of the week.

The same quantity of the more effective type FFP3 masks is expected to be delivered at the beginning of next week, he added.

The minister said that the government was checking what had happened with a shipment of 1.5 million masks which had been expected to arrive at an airport in Germany's Hamburg on Wednesday.

Slovenia's diplomatic service in Berlin has been involved in the inquiry, Počivalšek said, adding that the efforts included Slovenian Ambassador Franc But.

Počivalšek expects that, despite some logistics problems, protective equipment will be provided to all healthcare workers and later to other public services whose employees are in contact with infected persons, and to companies.

The minister noted that the market was flooded with suppliers and that talks were under way to supply around 11 million three-layer masks. "I want ... everybody to get access to all the protective gear as they need."

Defence Minister Matej Tonin, whose ministry is in charge of distribution, said on Wednesday that the equipment would be distributed first to the healthcare sector and social institutions, and then to critical infrastructure and companies.

Slovenia is also awaiting another 300,000 face masks secured by the Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba via personal connections between Slovenian lawyer Aleksander Čeferin, the president of UEFA, and Alibaba owner Jack Ma.

The shipment arrived on Wednesday at the Liege airport in Belgium, and is expected to be in Slovenia this evening or on Friday morning.

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18 Mar 2020, 21:06 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

Contents

Number of confirmed coronavirus cases at 286 by 2pm, up by 13 in a day

More than 650 Slovenians still away abroad

Pahor urges Von der Leyen to facilitate purchase of medical equipment

Businesses urged to follow example of Chinese-owned Gorenje over coronavirus

UEFA boss and Alibaba founder secure face masks for Slovenia

Number of confirmed coronavirus cases at 286 by 2pm, up by 13 in a day

STA, 18 March 2020 - The number of confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Slovenia rose to 286 by 2pm on Wednesday, up by 13 in the last 24 hours. A total of 8,730 persons have so far been tested, up almost 1,200 compared to yesterday, the government said on Twitter. No new deaths have been reported since the first confirmed casualty on the weekend.

The rate of increase in the number of confirmed cases has been slowing down in recent days, probably due to the decision to restrict testing 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.

The Ljubljana UKC hospital is currently treating 18 Covid-19 patients, five of them in an intensive care unit. Two new patients were admitted and four discharged today, the hospital said on its Twitter account.

Central Slovenia has registered most of the coronavirus cases so far confirmed, 103.

Meanwhile, 13 coronavirus patients are hospitalised at UKC Maribor in Slovenia's second city (NE), one of them is in intensive care but no longer needs a ventilator, while one of the 12 others does.

In addition, 95 UKC Maribor employees are self-isolating. Preventive measures are in course after an office employee of the transfusion medicine centre has tested positive, although the person has not been in contact with patients or staff that have contacts with patients.

Government information shows that the highest infection rate has been in the age group of 30-49-year-olds, at 99, and the lowest among kids up to the age of 15, at 20. Forty-five are 60 or older.

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More than 650 Slovenians still away abroad

STA, 18 March 2020 - More than 650 Slovenians are still away abroad amid world-wide cancellations of flights and other public transport links due to the coronavirus crisis, Foreign Ministry data show.

The Foreign Ministry said that almost half of those who responded to its call to get in touch were currently in EU countries, and a third in the Middle East, Asia and Russia.

The figure includes both individuals and groups of tourists, so that the actual number of those still away abroad is likely higher than 650.

They are mostly tourists and travellers rather than those living, working or studying abroad, the ministry said.

Almost 300 of those who are still in some other EU country should not have major problems returning home.

Meanwhile, the ministry pledged to make its best effort to help get home some 200 Slovenians still in the Middle East, Asia or Russia.

None of those who have got in touch is in trouble for the time being and all are safe.

A special "consular crisis cell" comprising 15 to 20 employees is working daily to help anyone in need of assistance.

Talks have also been under way to evacuate Slovenian tourists in cooperation with other EU countries.

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Pahor urges Von der Leyen to facilitate purchase of medical equipment

STA, 18 March 2020 - President Borut Pahor spoke with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Wednesday, calling for procedures of public procurement of medical equipment for fighting the coronavirus pandemic to be facilitated. Pahor, who also spoke with EU High Representative Josep Borrell, said this was of extreme importance to Slovenia.

The talks had been planned to take place in person, but were instead held via videoconference, the president's office said, adding that Pahor had also spoken to European Parliament President David Sassoli over the phone.

Speaking with Von der Leyen, the president called for public procurement of medical equipment to be finalised as soon as possible. Von der Leyen said that the shortest deadline for applications was six days, adding that the problem was on the supply side.

Currently under way are three joint public orders for protective masks, ventilators and laboratory equipment, with Slovenia participating in all three. The procedures are in different phases, and the European Commission refuses to speak about the ordered quantities.

The president's office added that the officials had agreed that the new coronavirus pandemic would slow down economic growth, to which member states needed to be prepared.

Von der Leyen presented key measures regarding state aid and the Stability and Growth Pact with which member states can take measures of their own to protect small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in particular.

The officials agreed that other important issues must not be overlooked during the coronavirus crisis, including illegal migration, negotiations on the next multi-year EU budget, climate change, digitalisation and EU enlargement.

Pahor acquainted Von der Leyen with the joint letter of the countries of the Brdo-Brijuni Process of cooperation in the Western Balkans, signed by seven leaders.

The letter calls on the European Council to set a date for the start of accession talks with North Macedonia and Albania and continue talks with other candidate countries.

Pahor said that Kosovo President Hashim Thaci had informed him that while he supported the call, he would not sign it because the remaining leaders focused on North Macedonia and Albania, while Thaci had insisted that visa liberalisation for Kosovo was also added.

The president, who invited the European Commission president to take part in one of the future meetings of the initiative, also acquainted the EU foreign policy chief Borrell with the letter in a separate videoconference.

Borrell meanwhile acquainted Pahor with the measures at the EU level to contain the spread of coronavirus, including the efforts to return EU citizens from third countries home, the president's office said.

They also discussed the migration crisis, EU-Turkey relations in the wake of the developments on the Greek-Turkish border, and the situation in the Western Balkans.

Pahor and Borrell agreed that Turkey was facing a great challenge and that the EU should help. The EU is doing this based on the 2016 agreement, and it is unjustifiable to use migrants to exert pressure on the EU, they added.

Exchange of views on fighting the pandemic also topped the agenda as Pahor spoke with Sassoli, who told the Slovenian president that the next session of the European Parliament in Brussels would be almost fully dedicated to the topic.

Pahor and Sassoli also called for the most efficient and unified response from the EU, the president's office said.

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Businesses urged to follow example of Chinese-owned Gorenje over coronavirus

STA, 18 March 2020 - Economy Minister Zdravko Počivalšek has appealed to manufacturers to organise work in such a way as to protect their staff's health to the greatest possible extent in order to remain functioning despite the coronavirus epidemic, offering the Chinese-owned household appliances maker Hisense Gorenje as a good example to follow.

"Production processes must not stop, lest closure of production facilities should jeopardise the supply of the population," the minister said in the appeal, posted on the government web site.

The post also features a video showing how health safety measures were being applied in Hisense's Gorenje factory in Velenje, which employs 3,500 people.

The ministry says that the company introduced measures on time to protect the health of all its employees and prevent the spread of the virus.

The company introduced first preventive measures as early as end of January when the virus only started spreading out of China, including banning all business trips to or from China.

They upgraded the measures in February, stepping them up at the beginning of March. On top of earlier instructions to employees to follow self-protective measures and availability of sanitisers, the company reduced the number of entrances and has been temperature scanning all employees entering the building.

Inside the Gorenje complex everyone is required to wear face masks with special measures in place at the canteen and a special regime imposed on the lorry drivers and visitors entering, although they are advising against visits to the company premises.

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UEFA boss and Alibaba founder secure face masks for Slovenia

STA, 18 March 2020 - Slovenia is to receive 300,000 protective face masks from two foundations of the Chinese multinational technology company Alibaba and its founder Jack Ma. The donation, which is expected to arrive in Slovenia on Thursday evening or Friday morning, is reportedly a result of a friendship between Ma and UEFA boss Aleksander Čeferin.

According to the media, the Slovenian lawyer who heads the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) has been involved in this project since he is a friend of Ma and has thus contributed to the efforts to raise such an amount of coveted protective gear.

Čeferin has confirmed the reports for the newspaper Delo, saying that he had called his good friend Jack Ma and asked him for help. "Jack responded immediately and a donation of 300,000 protective masks is coming to Slovenia and is to be followed later by other gear."

The UEFA head expressed gratitude for this step, saying that world-wide solidarity was key for survival in such times.

The Defence Ministry communication office told the STA that the masks would be transported from Belgium, where they had already landed, by the Administration for Civil Protection and Disaster Relief.

The Jack Ma Foundation and the Alibaba Foundation have donated 1.5 million masks altogether to France, Belgium and Slovenia to help fight the coronavirus epidemic in these countries.

Meanwhile, another arrival of much needed masks is expected on Thursday - after a slight delay, Slovenia is to get 1.5 million masks, mostly intended for healthcare workers, social institutions, but also for workforce in infrastructure and industry.

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18 Mar 2020, 14:30 PM

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Contents

Slovenia to ban public gatherings of more than five persons

Hospitals making room for potential new coronavirus patients

PM says people's safety, health come first in fight against coronavirus

Slovenia to ban public gatherings of more than five persons

STA, 18 March 2020 - The Slovenian government will ban public gatherings of more than five persons in order to fight the coronavirus epidemic. The relevant decree is expected to be adopted on Wednesday, Defence Minister Aleš Hojs said after the government session.

He said the ban would be modelled on Austria's. It will be policed and fines will be put in place for violators.

Austria banned public gatherings of more than five persons starting on Monday.

People are allowed to leave home for work that cannot not be postponed, to buy groceries and to help others. They may go outdoors, but only alone or with people living in the same household.

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Hospitals making room for potential new coronavirus patients

STA, 18 March 2020 - Hospitals around Slovenia are preparing for an expected increase in the number of coronavirus patients who will need intensive treatment, with additional rooms being reserved and transitional units established for those suspected of being infected.

UKC Ljubljana, the country's largest hospital, where 14 coronavirus patients are hospitalised, and a further four undergoing intensive care, is gearing up to receive more patients as people around the country are being tested for the new virus.

The number of beds for intensive care has been increased, and the orthopaedic and dermatology wards are also ready to admit coronavirus patients.

UKC Ljubljana general manager Janez Poklukar has said that the two wards were expected to admit first patients in the coming days.

Transitional units have also been opened in the hospital for patients who are suspected of being infected with the new coronavirus, so that potential infection is not spread during the treatment.

In Ljubljana, the four patients in intensive care are in critical condition, while between five and 15 patients are hospitalised in the transitional units at any given moment, Poklukar said.

As the non-urgent programmes have been suspended, the hospital has around 30% of the total staff on hold, who are waiting to be called in in the case of an arrival of a large number of coronavirus patients.

Some employees have also been reassigned to wards where such patients are being treated, said Poklukar, adding that for the time being, there were no major problems with workload or burnout.

Community health centres are also restructuring.

The community health centre in Sevnica, for example, is gearing up to accept potential infected persons, director Vladimira Tomšič told the STA.

In addition to two isolation rooms, basement premises with a total of 12 "boxes" have been added to the mix.

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PM says people's safety, health come first in fight against coronavirus

STA, 18 March 2020 - Prime Minister Janez Janša has called on the EU to put people's safety and health first in its response to the coronavirus pandemic. "Measures for the economy are important of course, after all in the long term this is the flip side of the same coin, but for us the immediate priority is people's safety and health," he said.

Speaking at a videoconference Tuesday evening convened by EU Council president Charles Michel, Janša also said that the EU should immediately create stocks of emergency medical and protective equipment.

That way it could immediately help any member state which may soon find itself in a similar situation as Italy several weeks ago, Janša was quoted as saying by his office.

The EU Commission notified the leaders that several public procurement procedures were under way to secure emergency medical and protective equipment. Slovenia is involved in all of them.

Commission President Ursula von der Leyen endorsed a proposal to form a central EU registry on the emergency purchasing and distribution of emergency equipment and medicines. The Commission will draw up an appropriate legal framework by the end of the week.

The EU leaders also discussed the introduction of a "coronabond" to finance emergency measures and to address the consequences of the epidemic.

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17 Mar 2020, 18:55 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

Contents

Everybody should behave as if they are contagious

Govt will step up measures to contain coronavirus, PM says

Police overwhelmed by calls amid epidemic

Govt pushing back tax duties for companies, taking direct control of budget

Army field hospital erected in Ljubljana, ready to admit Covid-19 patients

Shops advised to secure enough room between customers

Everybody should behave as if they are contagious

STA, 17 March 2020 - Health Minister Tomaž Gantar warned Slovenians on Tuesday that everyone should behave as if they were contagious as he said that the number of those infected with the novel coronavirus was likely five-fold the official number of confirmed cases, at 275, including five in intensive care.

The minister, addressing reporters in Ljubljana, said that not everyone who had symptoms of respiratory ailments was being tested, as there was no point in doing that.

"The sensible thing is to follow expert advice in which cases this should be done. The population would not be any safer if we had everyone tested."

The minister said the health system was not adapted to the problems faced during this epidemic, but also said that the situation was still under control.

The authorities are hoping the rate of increase in those infected and ill with Covid-19 will stabilise so the system will be able to cope, as gravely ill patients are spread over a longer period of time.

"Organisational measures are required," Gantar said, mentioning the possibility of mobile testing units that could swab people at their homes or at nursing facilities.

Special attention is being dedicated to nursing homes and chronically ill patients with the idea being to pull all persons at risk out of work process.

"The situation had been underestimated from the get go, it was an error of judgement not only in Slovenia but also elsewhere to treat this as a slightly aggravated flu," said the minister.

Gantar pointed his finger at the National Public Health Institute (NIJZ) arguing that Slovenia lost precious time to act because of its misjudgement. "We're a week or ten days late taking right measures."

Just today the government replaced its representative on the NIJZ council, which appoints or dismisses the NIJZ director, but Gantar would not say whether he would seek the dismissal of director Nina Pirnat.

Meanwhile, Bojana Beović, the infectious disease expert affiliated with the government coronavirus crisis response team, said that despite organisational changes pertaining to testing, the number of those had not been reduced.

On the contrary, she said that about a thousand tests were being taken daily.

Swabs are being taken from everyone in need of a check-up for potential admission to hospital.

Also tested are nursing home residents with respiratory infections and patients that may have been admitted to hospital due to some other diagnosis and also have a respiratory infection, or patients already in hospital that develop such symptoms.

However, those with only mild symptoms that may have caught a cold anywhere or caused by some other virus, are not being tested because they are best put at home, she said.

"People with a cold should not go anywhere, neither to work or into the health system. They must stay at home to prevent passing on the infection," she said.

Commenting on calls by experts and officials, including European Crisis Management Commissioner Janez Lenarčič and the WHO, for wide testing, Beović said that Slovenia had a high rate of tests per capita.

Commenting on Slovenia's changed approach to testing, Prime Minister Janez Janša said the decision on that was taken by experts rather than the government.

"Mass testing was not being conducted when the infection was imported from the neighbourhood. The problem was capacities and other delays. Some measures work at a certain stage, but no longer later," he said.

The Health Ministry later said it had issued a new rule under which lab tests would be performed in patients who will be or have already been admitted to hospital, as well as in health workers and residents of nursing homes or social care institutions with an acute respiratory infection with or without a fever, regardless of whether they need hospitalisation or not.

NIJZ data show that a total of 7,587 tests have been taken, 257 turning positive, 145 of them in men and 130 in women.

Most of those infected, 102, are in central Slovenia, 48 from south-eastern Slovenia, 38 from the Savinjska region in the north, 25 from Podravje in north-east, 17 from Gorenjska in north-west.

Other regions have recorded ten or fewer cases.

Six of those who tested positive for coronavirus are foreign citizens.

Most of the infected, 96, are between 30 and 49 years of age, 60 are between 16 and 29, and 56 are aged between 50 and 59, while 44 are above 60. Only 19 are children or youths.

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Govt will step up measures to contain coronavirus, PM says

STA, 17 March 2020 - Prime Minister Janez Janša said after Tuesday's session of the National Security Council that the government would step up measures to contain the spread of the new coronavirus. The first step will be the most urgent legislative measures, expected to be adopted on Thursday, and the second will be a crisis package.

 The first legislative measures will be discussed by the National Assembly at Thursday's emergency session.

These include an emergency bill on pay compensation for temporary lay-offs, and a bill on emergency measures for agriculture and food products, meat and wood products, aimed at offsetting the problems caused by the epidemic.

The National Assembly will also decide on a bill introducing temporary measures concerning judicial, administrative or other public affairs. One of the measures is suspension of a prison sentence if there are no safety reservations.

Janša said that an umbrella crisis law would be subsequently adopted, adding that it would feature a lot of measures, which he could not announce just yet. They will depend on what will be agreed at the EU level later today and in the coming days.

The law is expected to be ready by the end of next week, as the government is preparing new measures to address the situation that has changed significantly since it took over on Friday.

"These will be measures you have never seen before, because the situation is strategically different," Janša said.

The government is also dealing with how to secure enough protective gear to the most exposed and vulnerable institutions - community health centres and nursing homes.

Statements from other participants of the council meeting in the broadest ever format suggest that politicians are united in the belief that measures needed to be stepped up.

Defence Minister Matej Tonin said that the most critical nursing homes and community health centres would be equipped with protective masks today, and that millions of masks would be supplied on Wednesday.

Economy Minister Zdravko Počivalšek, who himself wore a face mask while speaking to the press, added that a sufficient quantity of protective gear would be soon secured not only for the healthcare system, but also for key companies.

In the coming two to three days, more than three million surgical masks will be supplied. "The supply will make it possible for key institutions as well as key industrial and production facilities to continue to operate," said Počivalšek.

Once the protective equipment is supplied, some of the existing measures could be toned down, and perhaps some planned measures not adopted, added Janša.

Počivalšek said that measures aimed at alleviating the crisis for companies and entrepreneurs were being expanded with measures for self-employed persons. The relevant bill is expected to be passed this week, he added.

"These are efforts to secure liquidity, with which we will try to service sole proprietors, SMEs and large companies through SID Banka and the Slovenian Enterprise Fund."

At the same time, the ministry is in talks with the Finance Ministry, commercial banks and the central bank on the possibility to defer all obligations of companies, and perhaps even individuals, for a longer period of time, he added. The Finance Ministry said earlier it was drawing up such measures.

As for commodity reserves, the minister said that there was enough food, and that managers of shopping centres had assured him that they had enough stocks.

President Borut Pahor pointed to the seriousness of the epidemic, saying that while the medical issue would be solved, its consequences could be a problem.

"This crisis is unprecedented. For now, all of us are equal, no one is privileged," Pahor said, stressing that everybody should be taken care of to the same extent, so that there was no feeling of inequality as the crisis was being fought.

The president also said that countries needed to act in unison, otherwise there was a risk of increased inequality, which could seriously affect the sentiment for solidarity after the health crisis ends.

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Police overwhelmed by calls amid epidemic

STA, 17 March 2020 - Slovenian police officers continue to carry out all their duties and tasks even during the coronavirus epidemic, however they have decided to restrict visits to police stations to protect the health of its workforce as well as citizens. Moreover, they ask the public to use email or phone for reporting in case of non-urgent matters.

Telephones have been ringing off the hook at police headquarters across Slovenia since the first confirmed case of an infection with the coronavirus. More than 10,700 calls have dialled the emergency telephone number 113 since 10 March, the General Police Administration has reported.

Police departments have processed more than 3,200 interventions, including 118 emergency interventions.

To keep performing their work effectively, including in the field, the police have decided to limit visits to police stations. Citizens are thus urged to reserve in-person services only for urgent matters.

If a citizen is faced with a dilemma whether or not to head to the nearest police station, they should call first and make inquiries.

The restriction measure aims to limit physical contact and protect the health of police officers as well as the public.

Meanwhile, the police have reiterated that the emergency number is only meant for emergency calls.

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Govt pushing back tax duties for companies, taking direct control of budget

STA, 17 March 2020 - The government adopted on Tuesday a set of emergency measures that reduce the administrative and tax burdens on companies affected by the coronavirus epidemic. The bill on emergency measures in the field of public finances also gives the government greater discretion in the use of budget funds.

The measures, filed to parliament in fast-track procedure, push back the deadlines for tax documentation filings for businesses until 31 May.

Moreover, companies will be able to ask for a tax deferral of up to two years or for paying tax in up to 24 instalments within two years. A deferral is already possible now, but conditions will be softened and simplified.

As the government adopted the bill, the Finance Ministry also announced a bill that would allow business to ask banks for a 12-month deferral of credit payments in case these were not already due before the epidemic set in. The government is expected to discuss the bill on Wednesday.

The bill adopted today also pushes back the due date for the Financial Administration's income tax slips for 2019. While the Tax Administration has been sending out its tax return calculations to those it has data for by the end on May, the new deadline is 15 July. Those who do not receive one by then, will have to file their own tax return by 31 August.

Meanwhile, to secure additional and swift funding for crisis measures, the bill also gives the government full discretion in the use budget funds approved for purposes not deemed part of legally binding tasks.

The government will be able to redirect 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 supplementary budget is meant to include all expenditure related to the epidemic.

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Army field hospital erected in Ljubljana, ready to admit Covid-19 patients

STA, 17 March 2020 - The field hospital at the Edvard Peperko Barracks on the outskirts of Ljubljana that was announced by authorities three days ago is ready and can start admitting Covid-19 patients if necessary.

The basis for the new unit, which can serve as an isolation centre for up to 140 patients, was the main field hospital of the Slovenian Armed Forces, Role 2, which was relocated from Maribor.

Defence Minister Matej Tonin paid a visit today, saying the hospital was ready as backup, but he expressed hope it would actually end up being used for other purposes.

Projections based on the current growth of coronavirus cases suggest the field hospital will be needed within two weeks, but Tonin is hopeful the measures adopted by the government will contain the spread.

One alternative option being considered for the field hospital is reserving it for blood donors, as these have been avoiding healthcare institutions in fear of contracting the virus.

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Shops advised to secure enough room between customers

STA, 17 March 2020 - The health authorities have issued recommendations for shops and other commercial premises to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus, saying that 20 m2 should be secured per each customer if more persons are present in the same room, and that people waiting in a queue should keep a distance of at least two metres.

Issuing the recommendations on Tuesday, the National Public Health Institute (NIJZ) said that auxiliary rooms, such as warehouses, bathrooms and locker rooms, did not count as the area used to determine the capacity under the recommendations.

The NIJZ added that, while it was possible to avoid close contact in rooms larger than 100 m2, businesses and institutions are recommended not to bring the recommended area reserved for one customer below 15 m2.

Distance between people waiting in a queue in front of a counter should be at least two metres, and owners of business premises are urged to determine the largest possible number of customers relative to the outlay and capacity of the room.

They are also recommended to perform all work that could be performed outside the opening hours when customers are not present in the room, which also need to be properly and regularly ventilated.

Shopping trolleys and baskets and other items which get in contact with customers should be regularly cleaned and sanitized. Customers are meanwhile advised to use disposable gloves when shopping.

The NIJZ said that there was no evidence that infection with the new coronavirus was transferred by pets, livestock or food, adding that there were no reports about risks when handling or consuming raw food.

It also advised consumers to resort to alternative methods, such as on-line shopping and delivery, as much as possible.

17 Mar 2020, 11:48 AM

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

Border crossings

Slovenians abroad

National security meeting

Immunosuppressive drug

Austria, Croatia closing small crossings on Slovenia border

STA, 17 March 2020 - Austria and Croatia have announced they would temporarily close dozens of small crossings on the border with Slovenia to help stop the spread of coronavirus. Major crossings remain open.

As of midnight Tuesday, crossings to and from Austria will only be allowed at the major crossings Karavanke, Šentilj, Gornja Radgona and Ljubelj, and the smaller border posts Kuzma, Jurij, Trate, Radelj, Gederovci, Korensko Sedlo, Holmec and Vič.

The news was announced on Twitter today by Austrian Ambassador to Slovenia Sigrid Berka.

Croatia said today that 27 local border crossings with Slovenia would be closed. Interior Minister Davor Božinović told the press the closures would probably be implemented in the course of today.

Slovenia's border with Croatia is the external border of the Schengen zone. The local border crossings subject to the closure are open only to EU citizens but are mainly used by locals.

The international border crossings with Croatia - there are 32 according to police data - remain open.

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Many Slovenians still stranded abroad, new evacuation flights planned

STA, 17 March 2020 - Around 90 Slovenian citizens have so far requested consular help unable to return home due to border closures. The government is planning additional evacuation flights after successfully organising a special flight from Moscow Tuesday morning, Andrej Šter, the head of the Foreign Ministry's consular service, told Radio Slovenija.

In addition to the 90 who have contacted consular services, Šter said at least twice as many are probably still stranded abroad.

An Aeroflot aircraft with Slovenian citizens aboard left Moscow this morning and talks are now under way for a special evacuation flight from Morocco, where many European citizens, Slovenians included, have been stranded.

The Foreign Ministry advised against all travel abroad several days ago and it has advised all those still abroad to stay put lest they get stranded in transit.

Those travelling through Madrid, a major hub for flights to South America, are particularly at risk since the Spanish capital will probably soon be placed under quarantine, Šter said.

Slovenia shut down all air traffic except emergency and evacuation flights as of Tuesday and Šter says air transport throughout Europe will be suspended no later than in two days.

Zagreb is among the last airports to remain open and those who land there will almost certainly be able to enter Slovenia, he said.

Slovenia gave just two days advance warning of the closure of air traffic and has been criticised for not giving people enough time to make arrangements for return flights. There have been several cases reported on social media of travellers wanting to return home based on the government's appeal to return but being unable to book flights.

Šter dismissed the criticism saying that the Foreign Ministry had urged all citizens as far back as the end of February to refrain from travelling abroad except in the event of emergency, while those already abroad had been urged to return.

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National Security Council meeting over Covid-19 as flight ban in force

STA, 17 March 2020 - The National Security council is meeting in the broadest ever format on Tuesday to discuss the coronavirus crisis and potential new measures, as a ban on passenger flights came into force in Slovenia at midnight.

Prime Minister Janez Janša as the council chair has invited President Borut Pahor, speakers of both houses of parliament, heads of opposition parties and the two minority MPs to join the meeting.

The government adopted a decree on Monday under which the National Security Council is transformed during war time or a state of emergency into a National Operational Defence Headquarters in line with the defence act.

Jelko Kacin, the spokesman for the government coronavirus crisis unit, told TV Slovenija last night that the National Security Council was meeting in the broadest format ever, in order to "speak with one voice", before they talk to Europe.

Janša will join other EU leaders for a videoconference today to discuss measures to be taken at EU level to curb the spread of coronavirus.

By 2pm Monday, 253 coronavirus cases had been confirmed Slovenia. Three of the patients were in intensive care, with more such cases expected in the coming days.

Slovenia has already adopted sweeping restrictions to contain the coronavirus epidemic, including closure of schools and most shops, as well as bars, restaurants and similar establishments. Public transportation has been suspended.

As of midnight, passenger flights in Slovenia have been banned. The ban on air traffic within the EU will be in force until the end of the month, while flight connections with non-EU members are suspended until further notice.

The ban does not apply to aircraft transporting cargo or mail, aircraft conducting special transport without passengers or ferry flights. Foreign planes or helicopters on humanitarian or health missions are also exempted.

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Talks reportedly under way to use tocilizumab drug in Slovenia

STA, 17 March 2020 - Pharmaceutical company Roche has confirmed that talks are under way in Slovenia on the use of tocilizumab, an immunosuppressive drug used to treat pneumonia in coronavirus patients, the newspaper Delo reported.

"We are in talks with the local regulator, health institutions and doctors about the possibility to secure the tocilizumab drug for Slovenian patients who need it," Delo quoted Roche as saying.

The company stressed that there was currently no solid evidence from clinical trials about the safety and efficacy of the drug in the treatment of covid-19. No medical authority has approved the medicine for this indication yet, Roche added.

The drug is principally used for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis.

In the first two covid-19 patients treated with tocilizumab, significant improvement was detected within 24 hours.

Rheumatologist and the chair of the rheumatology unit at the UKC Ljubljana hospital, Matija Tomšič, noted that the new coronavirus triggered a cytokine release syndrome, a form of systemic inflammatory response.

Cytokines are small molecules that are produced in communication between cells. Tocilizumab captures these molecules and thus prevents lung inflammation.

According to Delo, the drug is currently being tested on 50 covid-19 patients in Italy, after Chinese doctors reported of its efficacy.

According to some doctors, the advantage of the drug is that it had been used for a while, so it is considered safe to use.

Similarly, remdesivir, a drug used as a treatment for Ebola virus disease, is being used in Italy as an experimental drug therapy for covid-19 based on WHO recommendations.

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16 Mar 2020, 21:01 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

Update: Croatia said Slovenians will be turned back on the Croatian border or sent into 14-day self-isolation in Croatia, BUT ONLY if they come from the border regions of Bela Krajina or Dolenjska.

Contents

Flights suspended

Help for self-employed

Banks shortening hours

Companies start to adapt

MOT tests and car registration suspended

Telecoms take the strain of working from home

Passenger flight ban in force as of midnight

STA, 16 March 2020 - The government has issued a decree banning passenger flights in Slovenia as of 12pm on Monday because of the spread of the new coronavirus. Air traffic will be suspended throughout the EU by the end of the month, while flight connections with non-EU members are suspended until further notice.

According to the Infrastructure Ministry, the ban does not apply to aircraft transporting cargo or mail, aircraft conducting special transport without passengers or ferry flights.

Neither does the ban apply to foreign planes or helicopters on humanitarian or health missions.

Any other exemptions must be approved by the infrastructure or foreign ministries.

"There's no point in keeping up air passenger traffic any longer, it's not leading anywhere. We have to get absolutely serious and behave as befits the situation. We are first next to Italy," Jelko Kacin, spokesman for the government's coronavirus crisis unit, said in a televised interview.

Passenger air transport is being shut down throughout Europe as a result of which many Slovenian passengers are stranded at airports abroad.

Asked how many of those passengers, Kacin, speaking to the public broadcaster TV Slovenija said that they were too many. "We don't know yet how they will return home."

Russia has offered to bring Slovenian tourists from Russia home free as their aircraft pick up Russian tourists in Slovenia.

However, a group of Slovenians flying in from afar to a nearby airport today were unable to disembark and were flown back to the Middle East. "This may happen to anyone who fails to take the situation into consideration," Kacin warned.

"The EU will be closing at its external borders, in the air, there will be no more scheduled flights, just exceptional transports. Those will be agreed through diplomatic channels. It's not charter flights, it's just rescue operations," said Kacin.

Earlier, Radio Slovenija reported that the Foreign Ministry had managed to agree with Serbia to let Slovenian passengers who flew in Belgrade from Dubai to continue their journey home by car after initially ordering them to return to Dubai.

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Govt to help self-employed hit by coronavirus

STA, 16 March 2020 - The Economy Ministry is preparing measures to help self-employed affected by the coronavirus epidemic in Slovenia as part of a bill to subsidy pay of temporarily laid-off employees. Social security contributions payments for sole proprietors are to be deferred.

The measure is to be included in the bill that had been tabled by the previous government and is to be passed at an emergency session of the National Assembly on Wednesday.

The amendments are being currently drawn up, the ministry told the STA on Monday. Moreover, Economy Minister Zdravko Počivalšek said today that the ministry "wants to help the self-employed as much as the others. We're talking about an emergency bill which would refund 40% of wages".

He also mentioned a possibility of implementing a measure to defer bank liabilities payment for at least six months for the entire economy.

Meanwhile, the Finance Ministry is also coming up with solutions to mitigate the situation, proposing extending the deadlines for submitting forms and other documentation to the Financial Administration and the Agency for Public Legal Services (AJPES), and deferring payments of certain financial obligations.

A series of calls for mitigating the coronavirus ramifications experienced by the self-employed have been heard since last week, with the Chamber of Craft and Small Business (OZS) urging the authorities to protect such precarious workers.

The chamber has been critical of the emergency bill since it did not envisage a stimulus package for the self-employed from the get-go.

However, the Labour Ministry, which had drawn up the bill, insisted that mitigation measures for the self-employed were within the jurisdiction of the Economy Ministry.

Meanwhile, calls for measures helping the self-employed during the time of the epidemic have been mounting, most notably on the social media where a petition urging the government not only to defer social security contributions payment but also assist self-employed workers left without any work has been signed by more than 6,000 people.

NGOs are also pointing to the precarious situation of all those working in atypical employment arrangements, particularly those employed in culture, education and tourism, calling on the government to provide basic social security and workers' rights for them.

There are more than 100,000 self-employed in Slovenia (some 68,000 working in the economy), over 12% of the country's active population.

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Banks shortening opening hours, insurance offices closed

STA, 16 March 2020 - A majority of banks and savings banks in Slovenia have announced shorter opening hours as the nation is in the lockdown mode to contain the spread of coronavirus. Insurance companies meanwhile closed their offices today, and started to provide their most frequently-sought services solely by phone or on-line.

NLB, the country's largest bank, said on Monday that its offices in Slovenia would operate under a shortened schedule, from 8:30am and 1pm, as of Tuesday.

The exceptions are the office in the UKC Ljubljana hospital, which has been closed until further notice, and the office in the E.Leclerc shopping mall in Ljubljana's south-eastern borough of Rudnik, which will be open between 9am and 1pm.

Slovenia's second largest bank NKBM is switching to the same opening hours, except for the offices in the Europark shopping mall in Maribor and an office in Ptuj, which will be open between 10am and 2:30pm Monday through Friday.

All specialised NKBM counters at post offices around the country will be closed until further notice, the bank said.

The offices of the Kranj-based Gorenjska Banka will be open from Monday to Friday between 8am and noon, but some of the offices will be temporarily closed, the bank announced.

It added that clients would be able to pay their bills without commission at the bank's most visited ATMs.

Both banks have advised their clients to use debit and credit card and their on-line and mobile banking services. Changes to the policy will be updated regularly on the banks' websites.

The Bank Association said that, as some shopping centres and bank offices in them could be closed in the future, banks and savings banks would, regardless of possible gradual closure of their offices, secure regional coverage.

The association added that operations would be switched to on-line and mobile banking to the greatest possible extent, noting that a majority of services could be provided without clients visiting a bank in person.

"In order to limit the transmission of infections with the coronavirus, handling of cash should also be limited," it said.

Insurance companies meanwhile closed their offices today and switched to electronic and telecommunication channels to service their clients.

Zavarovalnica Triglav, Generali and Zavarovalnica Sava said clients would be able to conclude or extend insurance policies and file damage claims remotely.

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Companies adapting to new reality, unions want govt restrictions

STA, 16 March 2020 - Companies in Slovenia are adapting to life in the country and beyond almost grinding to a halt. Some have closed shop, while some have adopted safety measures but continue with operations. To the dismay of trade unions, the latter category also includes providers of non-essential products who cannot secure safety.

Slovenia's largest exporter, Renault's Novo Mesto-based assembly plant Revoz continued with the morning shift normally today. While it has some problems with supply, Revoz said the biggest issue was getting enough workers to work in the face of the public transportation shutdown.

The company, which has a 3,400-strong workforce, said it had introduced a number of safety measures and was expanding them. Workers are for instance required to keep a distance, the lunch serving period has been extended, meetings, training and business trips mostly cancelled.

The Chinese-owned household appliance maker Gorenje is also continuing with normal production, albeit with extensive security measure in place, including thermovision cameras. Around 200 workers, about 5% of the workforce, stayed home, mostly to provide childcare.

Hauliers are also feeling the crisis, but Luka Slokar of Slo-car has for instance told the STA that 40 of its 45 truck drivers are currently on the road. All have been provided with protective equipment and are currently able to cross borders, albeit more slowly than usually.

Things are running at full steam at Mlinotest, the Ajdovščina-based bread and pasta company, although a part of the production staff has been sent home to be ready to step in in case those currently working fall ill and thus at least secure the production of basic foods, such as flour and bread. Supply routes remain stable.

Aluminium producers, such as Talum and Impol, are also continuing with production. A case of coronovirus infection has been reported at Talum and everybody potentially affected has been isolated. The company, stressing its production is of systemic importance, has limited operations to the minimum to preserve essential output.

Work is continuing normally at Škofja Loka-based Knauf Insulation, the Slovenian subsidiary of the multinational Knauf. Part of the workforce is working from home, while various measures were introduced for the rest to avoid close contact.

Production has been suspended for a week at shoe maker Alpina, but the company plans to start operating again in a limited fashion next week. Director Jernej Osterman said adjustments would be made and that health remained a high priority. He acknowledged that close contact could not be avoided in production.

On the other hand, a number of major companies have halted production, among them household appliance maker BSH Hišni Aparati and sports equipment manufacturer Elan.

Meanwhile, upset that not all companies and sectors that are not essential in the crisis have stopped or limited production in a way that would provide safety, the ZSSS trade union confederation called on the government today to force them to do so.

"Workers, in particular those who do not see any rational reason to continue going to work, are scared, conflicted, they feel inferior, devalued. They feel the state and employers are exposing them to danger, that all that is constantly preached in the media does not apply to them," ZSSS head Lidija Jerkič wrote.

"The message that they understand it that all the words notwithstanding, capital is put before people. As always," Jerkič added.

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MOT tests and car registration suspended

STA, 16 March 2020 - The government has issued a decree suspending annual vehicle roadworthiness tests and other procedures associated with registration of motor vehicles as part of measures to contain the Covid-19 outbreak.

The decree, passed at today's correspondence session, will step into effect on Tuesday and will be valid until 16 April.

The validity of vehicle registration certificates, including vehicle insurance and ADR certificates for transport of hazardous goods, that would expire by 16 April, is being extended to 16 May.

Meanwhile, the Slovenian Automobile Association (AMZS) closed its repair shops for retail clients until further notice, which means winter tyre replacement there will not be possible.

Until further notice, the AMZS will conduct vehicle damage assessment only remotely.

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Mobile operators report disruption as virus lockdown starts

STA, 16 March 2020 - As lockdown measures to contain the coronavirus outbreak have entered into force, telecommunications companies report a high increase in traffic in voice, data and video services, resulting in some disruption, mostly in inter-operator communication.

Announcing the difficulties, the telecoms incumbent Telekom Slovenije said on Monday that the ongoing situation was a challenge for ICT experts.

The largest telecommunications operator in the country noted that in recent days, the traffic of voice, data and video services had increased by more than 50% compared to normal traffic.

It added that inter-operator connections were facing heavy burden, while communication within the operator's network was running smoothly.

T-2 also reports an increase in voice and mobile data traffic, resulting in occasional disturbances in calls at peak hours, especially if their users are hosted by the Telekom Slovenije network.

The company has thus called on the telecoms incumbent to solve the problems by increasing and upgrading the capacity of the connection between T-2 and Telekom Slovenije. This would enable undisturbed functioning of mobile services, it added.

T-2 has advised its users to use fixed telephony, which it says functions fine.

A heavy increase in mobile and fixed telephony traffic is also reported by A1, which said some difficulties were experienced in certain services, but no major disturbances were detected.

All three operators, as well as Telemach, have expanded their cable TV packages free of charge as people are urged to stay at home to contribute to the containment of coronavirus.

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16 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

CONTENTS

253 cases

Shops limiting opening hours, urging online shopping

Calls growing for measures supporting the self-employed

Govt proposes one-month suspension of prison sentences over virus

Slovenia's number of coronavirus cases at 253

STA, 16 March 2020 - Slovenia registered 253 confirmed coronavirus cases by 2pm Monday, an increase of 34 over the past 24 hours. A total of 6,712 tests have been taken, fresh data posted on the government website shows.

The fresh statistics come as public life in the country has ground to a halt with further measures in the pipeline to slow down the spread of new infections.

All education institutions and most shops have been closed, and public transportation suspended. A ban has been imposed on any form organised childcare.

As of midnight, all passenger flights are being banned as well.

The National Security Council is expected to meet to take potential further measures.

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Shops limiting opening hours and urging online shopping

STA, 16 March 2020 - Slovenian retailers are adjusting to the recent measures implemented to contain the coronavirus epidemic in the country by reducing their opening hours or even restricting the number of customers allowed inside a store at the same time. Moreover, they are encouraging shopping online.

Retailers Hofer, Lidl, Spar and Tuš have announced that their opening hours will be cut short as of Tuesday. Some of them are also planning to limit the number of customers allowed to shop at the same time to protect the shoppers as well as employees. The latter measure will be imposed in line with the government's guidelines.

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Hofer stores will be open from 8.30am until 5pm Monday to Saturday and between 8.30am and noon on Sundays until further notice.

The retailer has said that its supply chain is operating without any major disruption, adding that Hofer has been working on restocking after sales have increased in the past few days amid coronavirus concerns.

Meanwhile, Lidl stores will be open from 8.30am until 6pm Monday to Saturday and between 8.30am and noon on Sundays as of tomorrow. Today, Lidl shops will close at 6pm as well.

As of Tuesday, consumers will be able to shop at Interspar centres from 10am until 6pm Monday to Saturday and between 9am and 3pm on Sundays. Spar shops will be mostly open during the same business hours, with those generally open on Sundays operating between 8am and noon.

Tuš will reduce its store hours as well - Monday to Saturday between 9am and 6pm, and from 8am until noon on Sundays.

On the other hand, retailers Mercator and Jagr have decided not to change their opening hours due to the epidemic for now.

All retailers have called on the customers to maintain a distance of at least 1.5 metre from people and follow all the related prevention steps, such as using hand sanitisers and protective gloves.

Shops are also urging their customers to shop online. However, cash payments are mostly not allowed, nor is in-store pick-up.

Most online retailers, such as Mimovrste and Moje-lece.si, are thus calling on their clients to pay online and get their purchase delivered to their home.

Postal services operator Pošta Slovenije will remain delivering packages and is calling on its customers to accept the items without any physical contact at pre-arranged spots.

GLS parcel service has also set up alternative ways of delivery, taking precautions such as outdoor delivery and keeping the 1.5 metre distance.

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Calls mounting for measures supporting the self-employed

STA, 16 March 2020 - After moving quickly to provide a stimulus package for businesses the face of the coronavirus outbreak, the government is now facing increasing pressure to honour its announcement that help would also be extended to the self-employed and other precarious workers.

While a proposal is expected to be unveiled by the Economy Ministry later this week, key ideas being promulgated in different petitions include cancelling or deferring social security contributions for sole proprietors and providing aid to precarious workers making less than minimum wage.

The opposition Left proposed last Friday that the income threshold for cancellations of contributions for the self-employed be put at EUR 20,000 in 2020, a figure echoed today in a petition to the government signed by over 6,000 people.

The petition, which argues that 100,000 self-employed workers or 12% of the working population would be affected, proposes that the exemption become effective immediately and remain in place until the pandemic ends. Those exceeding the threshold at the end of the year would reimburse the budget.

One of the first to urge an expansion of the stimulus package to the self-employed was the Chamber of Craft and Small Business (OZS), which spoke of 68,000 self-employed persons last Wednesday and also proposed a lifting of social contribution payments.

Several NGOs specialising in labour rights raised their voice as well on the same day, highlighting the distress of culture and other workers mostly operating in atypical forms of employment.

The Mladi Plus youth trade union, which is part of the ZSSS confederation, pointed out today the government's proposal had "completely left out the public sector and everybody working in precarious labour arrangements.

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Govt proposes one-month suspension of prison sentences over virus

STA, 16 March 2020 - The government has tabled a bill under which a one-month suspension of a prison sentence and an early release of prisoners up to six months before the end of their sentence would be possible as a means of containing the coronavirus outbreak.

The proposals are part of the bill on temporary coronavirus containment measures in judicial, administrative and other public legal matters, which the government wants to be fast-tracked in the National Assembly.

Under the bill filed on Monday, a prison director could, if this is required in order to prevent the epidemic from spreading and if there are no security concerns, suspend a prison sentence for one month. The suspension could be extended.

The bill also allows the prison director to release a prisoner up to six months before the end of their sentence for the same purpose, in line with the act governing prison sentences.

The article says that, based on expert opinion, the prison director may release early a prisoner who behaves appropriately, is diligent at work and actively participates in other useful activities, and who has served two-thirds of the sentence.

The government says that the main objective of the bill is to provide safer conditions to prisoners and prison staff.

It noted that, due to prisons being overcrowded, it was not possible to secure effective isolation of infected persons at all locations, which meant there was a high probability of a fast spread of the virus among prisoners and staff.

Under the bill, the government would also be able to impose other measures "needed to prevent the spread of the virus infection, protect the rights and legal benefits of persons, and ensure the undisturbed operation of administrative and other state bodies, local government bodies and holders of public powers who perform administrative tasks".

One such measure would be the freezing of deadlines in court matters and the possibility to interrogate a person via videoconference.

A judge could limit or temporarily, partially or fully prohibit the presence of the media and public in a trial. The public would be excluded from all procedures in administrative matters.

The justice minister would get the power to completely close all notary offices at the proposal of the Chamber of Notaries.

The measures would be in force until 1 July but could end earlier if needed.

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16 Mar 2020, 12:06 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

New restrictions

Croatia limits entry

Doctors mobilised

Ban on sale of hand sanitisers, face masks lifted

GoOpti to suspend services in Slovenia

New restrictions in place to contain epidemic

STA, 16 March 2020 - Sweeping new restrictions entered into force at midnight to contain the coronavirus epidemic in Slovenia. Most shops will be closed, public transportation will not operate and schools will be closed.

The vast majority of retail establishments will remain closed along with shops providing services, such as hair salons, beauty parlours, restaurants and gyms.

Grocery stores, pharmacies, banks, post offices, petrol stations, newsstands and stores selling agricultural products will be open.

The decree does not come with a time limit, it will remain in place until it is revoked.

The government also decided to indefinitely extend the previous government's two-week decree ordering the closure of all educational institutions.

Monday will also be the last day for aircraft movements as a ban on air traffic was announced for Tuesday.

Croatia limits entry ban to Slovenians from border region

STA, 16 March 2020 - After a back-and-forth on Sunday by Croatian authorities regarding whether Slovenia was on Croatia's list of coronavirus crisis countries, Croatia said on Sunday evening that Slovenians will be turned back on the Croatian border or sent into 14-day self-isolation in Croatia only if they come from the border region of Bela Krajina.

While the Croatian Foreign Ministry still said on Sunday afternoon the border measure applied for the whole of Slovenia, it later back-pedalled to name the restriction already in place before and applying only to passengers hailing from Bela Krajina.

Thus, those from Bela Krajina wishing to enter Croatia will be rejected by Croatian police in case they do not opt for a 14-day self-isolation at a Croatian address.

The same home quarantine applies for Croatians who go to work in Bela Krajina and decide to return home.

While Bela Krajina is not the only Slovenian region bordering on Croatia, it has been affected by coronavirus disproportionally.

As of Sunday, Slovenians are no longer allowed to enter Serbia. As an additional measure to contain the outbreak, a temporary ban has been issued by Serbian authorities for foreigners coming from Slovenia, France, Germany, Austria, Spain, Greece and Switzerland.

Specialist registrars mobilised to help fight coronavirus

STA, 16 March 2020 - The government adopted a decree on Sunday suspending all doctors' specializations. Specialist registrars and interns, meaning doctors who have not obtained their licences yet, will be included in efforts to prevent, manage and deal with the coronavirus epidemic.

All their obligations concerning specialisation, including rotation and exams are suspended until further notice. During that time no new specialisations will start either.

Specialist registrars and interns will be deployed where their services will be required. They could be assigned to work at the health institutions where they worked as interns or any other post where they are needed.

Doctors who do not have their licences yet will be working with mentors assigned to them by their employer, the government said.

Ban on sale of protective equipment lifted

STA, 16 March 2020 - The government has lifted a ban on the sale of protective equipment that had been put in place last week to ensure a sufficient supply of face masks, sanitizer and protective suit for health and rescue personnel.

Under a decree that took effect on Sunday evening, the ban was revoked with immediate effect to prevent any problems occurring.

"Sales must be approved if we want to supply this protective equipment and to make sure work in this area runs smoothly," Health Minister Tomaž Gantar said after a meeting Sunday evening with hospital directors.

Face masks and hand sanitizer had been sold out for several days before the ban anyway and Gantar said if and when they are available again in pharmacies, people will be able to buy them.

GoOpti to suspend Slovenian services

As announced on the shuttle company’s website:

From March 16 all transfer within, to and from Slovenia, Croatia and Austria has been CANCELLED as well. New bookings will not be possible for these dates. Passengers will be reimbursed the cost of canceled transportation in the form of a discount code for future bookings. Passengers will be notified by SMS and e-mail.

15 Mar 2020, 21:23 PM

STA, 15 March 2020 - Slovenia has put in place sweeping new measures effective at midnight on Sunday to contain the coronavirus epidemic as the number of confirmed coronavirus cases rose to 219 and one person died. Most shops will be closed, public transportation will not operate and schools will be closed until further notice.

The vast majority of retail establishments will close, but grocery stores, pharmacies, banks, post offices, petrol stations, newsstands and stores selling agricultural products will remain open.

Within 24 hours the National Institute of Public health will also issue recommendations about limits to the number of customers that may be in a shop at a given time.

The decree does not come with a time limit, it will remain in place until it is revoked.

The government also decided to indefinitely extend the previous government's two-week decree ordering the closure of all educational institutions.

The ban is near-complete with few exemptions, for example for special educational institutions providing care for persons with mental disabilities.

Students living in dormitories who cannot return home will be allowed to stay, as will foreign students who cannot return to their countries, student families, and visiting professors living in student housing.

The original plan was to organise daycare for children whose parents work in critical industries, but that has been cancelled now as well.

A decree has been adopted banning any sort of organised care given that children can be very important vectors of coronavirus transmission.

Instead, Prime Minister Janez Janša and Education Minister Simona Kustec issued an urgent appeal to people to help each other with home care.

"I'm asking all healthy youths who have time to help. Currently the only safe form of daycare is home care," Janša wrote on Twitter.

Travel will also be severely affected as Slovenia shuts down air traffic, much like most European countries have done or are planning to do.

The ban will take effect on Tuesday, giving travellers some time to make arrangements to leave the country or get back home, according to Jelko Kacin, spokesman for the government's crisis management unit.

The authorities are now looking into possibilities to help individual citizens who may be stranded abroad.

But travel has been hampered anyway by bans countries have been introducing to protect their citizens.

The Foreign Ministry announced that Slovenian citizens were no longer allowed by Serbian authorities to enter the country. Croatia started to reject Slovenians who do not opt for two-week self-isolation at an address in Croatia.

The Foreign Ministry has issued a travel alert advising all citizens against any travel whatsoever, after issuing special travel warnings for Italy, Serbia, Spain, Iran, South Korea, the US and China.

"On 12 March Slovenia declared an epidemic based on an increasing number of infections with the coronavirus. Slovenian citizens are advised against any travel!" the ministry said.

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15 Mar 2020, 11:32 AM

STA, 14 March 2020 - The government will gradually increase reserves of essential food commodities for emergency supply of the population during the coronavirus outbreak and is putting forward an emergency bill to intervene in agricultural markets.

The Slovenian food industry is being affected by market disruption and instability due to obstacles to the free movement of goods and services, capital and persons in the single EU market and third countries.

Presenting the measures in response to the situation on Saturday, Agriculture Minister Aleksandra Pivec said that the situation was being monitored and responded to in accordance with disruption in food supplies.

"Projections and predictions are also being made in case of disruption due to restrictions on transport of food across various borders," she said.

Regardless of the high level of self-sufficiency for milk, meat and dairy and meat products, the government tasked the Commodity Reserves Institute to gradually increase reserves of UHT milk, milk powder, cheese, poultry and beef.

The government has also adopted a bill on emergency measures in the market of agricultural produce, food, livestock and poultry markets and wood, submitting it to parliament for passage in an emergency procedure.

"The idea is to create the possibility to place restrictions on trade in agricultural produce, food products and livestock and poultry to ensure sufficient food supplies in the country," said the minister.

The act would allow 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.

The act would also give the minister the power to cap prices of certain foodstuffs.

On the proposal of mayors, the Agriculture Ministry would also be able to appoint interim administrator of a farm if the farmers or employees on the farm were unable to work due to the effects of coronavirus.

The bill moreover provides for creation of temporary storage facilities in case of a surplus of goods due to disruption in exports in existing warehouses.

The minister would also get the power to impose restrictions and bans on imports of wood, wood chips and pellets from other countries, a measure to that Pivec said was meant to prevent import of coronavirus infections.

Army erecting field hospital in Ljubljana to serve as isolation centre

STA, 14 March 2020 - The Slovenian army started preparations Saturday to erect a field hospital at the Edvard Peperko Barracks on the outskirts of Ljubljana. In the event hospital wards are flooded with coronavirus patients, the unit would serve as an isolation centre for up to 120 people.

 Brigadier General Robert Glavaš, the acting chief of the general staff, said the army's main field hospital, Role 2, would be relocated from Maribor and erected in Ljubljana within about three days. He expects the job to be completed and the isolation unit operational by Tuesday morning at the latest.

Defence Minister Matej Tonin said the government's crisis response task force had decided to activate the army with the aim of securing additional capacities in the event they are needed. The isolation unit would be able to accommodate 40 patients with severe symptoms and 80 with milder symptoms.

"If it turns out that these mobile units are inadequate, we're considering repurposing the gym at this location to admit more patients," he said.

Slovenia had 181 confirmed cases of coronavirus by 2pm on Saturday. The government has decided to now shift the focus from detecting infections to providing for the most severe cases, which are expected to jump significantly within about a week given the current infection trends.

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