02 Oct 2020, 14:38 PM

STA, 2 October 2020 - Slovenia has passed a new record number of daily coronavirus cases as 238 tests came back positive on Thursday, with the total now exceeding 6,100 as the death toll increased by two to 154.

Data released by the government show that 3,281 tests for Sars-CoV-2 were conducted yesterday, with calculations at the tracker site covid-19.sledilnik.org showing 7.25% of the tests were positive.

Hospitalisations remained stable at 86 after eight more Covid-19 patients were discharged home yesterday. Fifteen remain in intensive treatment units.

Of the 6,103 cases recorded in the country so far, 1,908 remain active, data at covid-19.sledilnik.org show.

The Ljubljana-based Jožef Stefan Institute has warned of the exponential spread of the outbreak with its latest projections showing the infections double in about 17 days.

Warnings and appeals to the public to stick to precautionary measures were also voiced at the government coronavirus press briefing.

Slovenia's incidence rate is almost 87 per 100,000 residents in a fortnight, government spokesman Jelko Kacin said as he cited some statistics that are cause for concern.

For comparison, Kacin said the 14-day incidence in the EU and UK has been increasing uninterruptedly for 70 days and is currently 114 per 100,000 residents.

In Slovenia, infections were registered in 80 municipalities across the country yesterday, with the most, 46 in Ljubljana, which has 361 active cases, representing 0.123% of the population.

The highest active infection rates at the moment are in Črna na Koroškem in the north at 1.28%, Log-Dragomer just west of Ljubljana at 0.465% and Mežica in the north at 0.45%.

A new hotspot has recently emerged at the Rakičan care home, where six staff and 13 residents are infected, Labour Minister Janez Cigler Kralj told the briefing.

He said the situation at care homes was serious but not dramatic.

Even the situation at the centre for people with mental disabilities in Črna na Koroškem is stabilising. A total of 20 staff, two volunteers and 58 users are infected, with most isolated at other locations.

So has the outbreak been contained at the Danica Vogrinec care home in Maribor with all tests returning negative there on Thursday. A total of 44 elderly residents and 23 staff are still infected there.

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02 Oct 2020, 12:01 PM

STA, 1 October 2020 - The interim leader of the Social Democrats (SD), Tanja Fajon, has called on the government to reconsider the appointments of National Institute of Public Health (NIJZ) director Milan Krek and of coronavirus spokesperson Jelko Kacin, criticising their style of communication and questioning their expertise.

In today's letter to Prime Minister Janez Janša, she criticised the "confused, inconsistent and unprofessional communication of the measures to contain the spread of the coronavirus".

She believes experts should be again entrusted with preparing relevant measures and the governments should take decisions on the basis of their recommendations.

In Fajon's view, Krek should be replaced by a person who will restore trust in the expertise of the NIJZ as a key institution during the epidemic.

She pointed to the situation at NIJZ as worrying indicating that the experts' voice was not being heard.

Kacin should meanwhile be replaced by an epidemiologist who will assume the key role in communicating with the public in a calm, wise and explanatory manner.

Kacin, a veteran politician who excelled at the government's news conferences during the 1991 war, was appointed practically as soon as the Janša government took over in mid-March. His style of communication has been often criticised as patronising.

Krek's appointment was meanwhile cleared on 30 April after his predecessor and the government had differing views on some of the preventive measures.

The opposition criticised him already in June for undermining the NIJZ's reputation by providing confused and incomprehensible explanations of some of the measures.

Fajon meanwhile welcomed the government's intention to draft a plan to contain the epidemic, but would like it to be produced in collaboration with various experts.

The plan should feature "logical and realistic measures which should be communicated in clearly and frankly", she wrote.

Fajon also supports an initiative by the leader of the fellow-opposition SAB party, Alenka Bratušek, to call a political summit on measures to contain the epidemic.

Fajon's appeal was rebuked by senior government officials and Krek, with two state secretaries at the prime minister's office dismissing her argument.

Vinko Gorenak said on Twitter that the government had always taken measures "exclusively on the basis of recommendations by the epidemiological profession".

Jelka Godec said the coronavirus task force presents proposed measures at least once a week, but it is true that ignores "your 'expert' recommendations about wearing masks," a reference to the SD's proposal that masks should no longer be mandatory in school.

While Kacin declined to comment on the call for the STA, Krek said what the NIJZ needed most right now was help and support rather than criticism.

"I work for the NIJZ as a doctor, I work in line with medical standards and I communicate with people in a way for them to realise this is a serious situation. Fajon's assessment is just her own assessment," he told the STA.

Krek said that 27 epidemiologists were working at the NIJZ keeping things going during the epidemic so that the country did not have to go into lockdown again.

"And instead of thanking us, Fajon is criticising us. I wonder what right she has to do it and why she is doing it."

He said he expected politicians to understand "that we are an expert institution not a political one, and that we are neither for one or the other political block, because we have too serious a job to do right now to be able to engage in anything else."

01 Oct 2020, 18:49 PM

STA, 1 October 2020 - Prime Minister Janez Janša has been formally indicted of abuse of office over a property sale carried out in 2005, a decision by the prosecution that comes more than six years after an inquiry was launched, Večer reported on Thursday.

Janša is one of the three persons indicted along with two former directors of companies that took part in multiple transactions, Branko Kastelic and Klemen Gantar, according to the newspaper.

The case revolves around a plot of land in the Trenta Valley in the Alps that Janša bought in 1992 and sold in 2005, at the time when he was prime minister the first time, for roughly EUR 131,000, nearly nine times the price he paid.

The buyer, the property developer Eurogradnje, then sold the plot, land along a river accessible only via a footbridge, for EUR 146,000 in 2005 to another company, Imos. The same year, Imos sold Janša a three-room apartment in the centre of Ljubljana for EUR 236,100.

The prosecution claims Eurogradnje paid EUR 100,000 more for the land than it was worth, which was then factored into the price of the apartment.

When Imos went bankrupt, the value of the plot was officially appraised at EUR 17,655, but then the plot was sold for EUR 127,500 at an auction won by Damjan Podjed, raising accusations about the price being artificially inflated to help Janša.

However, in August 2018 Podjed sold the plot to another person for EUR 140,000. Neither Podjed nor the final buyer appear among the suspects for now.

Janša has vehemently denied all allegations of wrongdoing since they first surfaced in the media in 2011. He has stressed that he has made enough money in his career with salaries and multiple bestselling books and has cast the allegations as part of a plot by people behind the scenes to remove him from politics.

The Trenta transaction was one of the allegations against him in a 2011 report by the Commission for the Prevention of Corruption.

The alleged criminal offence carries an eight-year prison sentence and is subject to a 20-year statute of limitations.

01 Oct 2020, 13:11 PM

STA, 1 October 2020 - A total of 175 new coronavirus infections were confirmed in Slovenia on Wednesday after 2,899 tests, meaning 6% of the tests were positive. Yesterday, 86 people were in hospital, including 15 in intensive care, of whom ten needed ventilators. Two people infected with coronavirus died, the government said on Twitter.

Fifteen people were discharged from hospital yesterday.

There are currently 1,807 active cases in the country, while 5,865 infections have been confirmed so far. A total of 152 people infected with Covid-19 have died so far.

Slovenia saw a record in new daily infections on Tuesday when 203 infections were confirmed after 3,391 tests.

On Wednesday, most new infections were recorded in the 35-44 age group, where 41 new cases were detected. Two cases fewer were recorded in the 45 to 54 age group.

Another 29 cases were infections among those aged between 25 and 34, and there were 21 cases confirmed in the 55-64 age group. 15 or fewer cases were recorded in other age groups.

The most infections, 20, were recorded in Ljubljana, while the rest were dispersed around the country.

To cope with a surge in new Covid-19 patients, the UKC Ljubljana hospital will turn a section of its complex which used to house the institute for safety at work into a grey zone for Covid-19 patients. The rooms could be ready by the end of the year, the hospital said.

The grey zone in the basement of the building opposite the Paediatric Clinic will be intended for patients who need hospitalisation but could also be infected with coronavirus.

Nine isolation rooms with own toilets and bathrooms are planned along with four isolation rooms for patients who need constant care.

Koroška region added to Germany's Covid-19 red list

STA, 1 October 2020 - Germany added on Wednesday the northern Slovenian region of Koroška to its list of Covid-19 high-risk areas after doing the same a week ago for the western region of Primorsko-Notranjska.

Passengers entering Germany who spent time in Koroška in the past 14 days must quarantine unless they can present a negative coronavirus test that is not older than 48 hours.

Koroška, one of Slovenia's twelve statistical regions, has recently seen a Covid-19 outbreak in a care centre.

Government spokesperson Jelko Kacin assessed for TV Slovenija on Wednesday that the region is "not a problem, since the infections are limited to a single facility from where the new coronavirus has not yet spread outward".

"But this is simply how any responsible country must act," Kacin commented on Germany's decision.

Germany's red list is determined by the federal ministries of health, interior and foreign affairs. The threshold is 50 new infections per 100,000 inhabitants in the past seven days, but other criteria are considered as well.

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01 Oct 2020, 10:47 AM

STA, 30 September 2020 - Slovenia's state budget will continue in deficit over the next two years, however, the pandemic-driven shortfall is projected to decrease from 9.2% of GDP this year to 5.6% in 2021 and 3.1% in 2022, under budget proposals adopted by the government on Wednesday.

Speaking to reporters in Ljubljana after the government session at Brdo estate, Finance Minister Andrej Šircelj said the budgets for the next two years were "development-oriented" with investment funding increasing significantly.

The budget for 2021 was passed by the National Assembly in November 2019, however it was revised by the government today to expand the projected expenditure from EUR 10.45 billion to EUR 13.47 billion.

The government also adopted a proposal for the 2022 budget and other budget implementation documents. All the proposals need to be submitted the National Assembly for adoption by Thursday.

The budget documents have been drawn up against the backdrop of the continuing fallout from the coronavirus pandemic. "The situation remains uncertain," said Šircelj.

The budgets are looking to support the economy's recovery and boost its resilience, while provide better prosperity for the people, he said.

The supplementary budget for this year, passed last week, plans a deficit of EUR 4.2 billion (9.2% of GDP), which is to drop to EUR 2.75 billion next year (5.6% of GDP) and EUR 1.59 billion in (3.1% of GDP) in 2022.

Šircelj said investment funding would be mainly in infrastructure, transport links, healthcare, protecting the environmental, science, information society, entrepreneurship and improving the competitive edge. Local governments will also get more funds.

Revenue for 2021 is budgeted at EUR 10.72 billion, 3.5% less than in the original budget, while expenditure is planned at EUR 13.47 billion, an increase of 28.8% compared with the document passed last year.

In 2022 budget revenue is expected to increase to EUR 11.01 billion as expenditure is to drop to EUR 12.6 billion.

Along with the deficit, state debt is also projected to decrease, from 82.4% of GDP this year to 80.9% of GDP in 2021 and 79.3% of GDP in 2022.

The budget implementation bill sets down the raised per capital lump sum for local communities signed today, at EUR 628 for 2021 and 2022, an increase of EUR 4.24 compared with this year.

The bill also provides for a regular 2.5% adjustment of pensions in January 2021 and an increase in the annual allowance for pensioners, coming in five amounts, from EUR 135 for those receiving more than EUR 900 a month to EUR 445 for those with the lowest pensions.

To be able to increase budget expenditure, the government is also putting forward amendments to the decree on the general government budget framework.

General government expenditure is proposed to be capped at EUR 24.9 billion in 2021 and EUR 24.9 billion in 2022. "Expenditure is higher, but within a framework that will ensure fiscal stability," said Šircelj.

30 Sep 2020, 18:26 PM

STA, 30 September 2020 - EU members backed a proposal tabled by the German EU presidency to peg respect for the rule of law to the union's funds, which should enable the start of talks on the over EUR 1.8 trillion budget and coronavirus recovery package with the European Parliament. Unofficial information suggests that Slovenia is among the supporters.

For Slovenia, the German proposal is a solid basis which could lead to a balanced compromise, a Slovenian source said yesterday.

The German presidency presented the compromise, which is based on the decisions taken by EU leaders in July, on Sunday and it was endorsed today.

In July, EU leaders came under fire for allegedly yielding to Hungary and Poland's pressure not to tie receiving EU funds to respecting the rule of law.

Slovenia was said to have sided with the two members, but Prime Minister Janez Janša said it only wanted the same standards to be used for all member states.

The German proposal is seen as further watering down the European Commission's draft regulation on the protection of the EU's budget if deficiencies regarding the rule of law are detected in member states, a document from May 2018.

It defines more loosely the deficiencies which could be sanctioned with the freeze of EU funds, focussing on financial management of the budget and on the protection of the EU's financial interests.

Unofficial information indicates that Hungary, Poland, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, the Netherlands and Belgium voted against, while Austria and Luxembourg abstained.

Slovenia's stance has been all along that the EU's 2021-2027 budget and the recovery fund should start being implemented as early in 2021 as possible, which the country believes is in the strategic interest of both Slovenia and the EU.

This is why a deal on the draft regulation and on the other pieces of legislation needed to kick-start their implementation are needed as soon as possible.

The draft regulation is one of the toughest nuts to crack in the talks on the bloc's seven-year budget worth EUR 1.074 trillion and the recovery fund worth EUR 750 billion.

Poland and Hungary - against which a procedure for alleged violations of the rule of law has been launched - have threatened to block the budget and the recovery fund if no solution is found to the rule of law.

Some western and northern members meanwhile insist on a strong link between EU funds and the rule of law; delaying the implementation of the recovery package would means lower spending.

30 Sep 2020, 14:18 PM

STA, 30 September 2020 - Slovenia reached a new record in daily coronavirus cases, as 203 tested positive on Tuesday in a total of 3,391 tests, while one Covid-19 patient died, the government said on Wednesday. The share of positive tests was 5.99%, according to the national Covid-19 tracker Sledilnik.

There were 1,736 active coronavirus infection in Slovenia on Tuesday, according Sledilnik, with 86 people requiring hospital care, of whom 16 were in intensive care.

The most recent data bring the total count of positive cases to 5,690 and the death tally to 150.

Yesterday, once again, the highest number of new cases was confirmed in Ljubljana (37), followed by Kranj with 9 cases.

Meanwhile, Črna na Koroškem in the north remains the community with the highest share of SARS-CoV-2 infections per capita (1.219%).

There are currently 40 active infections in Črna na Koroškem after the local centre for persons with disabilities became a Covid-19 hotspot, with 45 users and 15 members of staff testing positive.

Coronavirus infection were also confirmed in several staff members and patients at the regional hospital in Slovenj Gradec.

There, four staff member have contracted the virus, all of them in their home environment, the hospital said on Wednesday. Eight employees are quarantining.

Moreover, two patients have also tested positive, both contracting the virus at home. Staff members who were tested following this have all been negative.

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29 Sep 2020, 13:07 PM

STA, 29 September 2020 - A total of 99 new cases of SARS-CoV-2 were confirmed in 2,382 tests on Monday. No deaths were recorded yesterday, according to the most recent data released by the government.

The national Covid-19 tracker Sledilnik says that there were 1,656 active cases in Slovenia in Monday, with 84 patients requiring hospital care, while 16 were in intensive care.

The figures indicate that Slovenia is flattening the curve of contagion, after a record 192 new cases were detected on Thursday and the share of positive cases in total tests performed on a single day climbed to a record 8.24% on Saturday, while on Monday it was 4.16%.

In total, Slovenia has recorded 5,487 coronavirus cases and 149 SARS-CoV-2 deaths.

Janša says stricter measures not needed at the moment

STA, 29 September 2020 - Prime Minister Janez Janša said on Tuesday that despite a higher number of Covid-19 cases than in the first wave, hospitalisation figures in Slovenia were still manageable and did not yet call for stricter measures. Speaking at an AmCham Slovenia event, he announced a plan for different future scenarios would be presented shortly.

At the meeting, which focused on key challenges and reforms ahead for Slovenia and its role in the EU, Janša said that Slovenia was still in "the orange zone".

He said the government had already drawn up plans for the future, with the measures also depending on hospital bed occupancy numbers. On Monday, 84 Covid-19 patients were hospitalised, with 16 receiving intensive care.

Responding to criticism of some of the government's actions, Janša said much had been learned in the spring. "If we hadn't learned, the situation would be much more critical today," he said.

He added health and social welfare establishments had also managed to keep infections at bay much better now than at the beginning. There are still some problem points, but the reason mostly lies in people not keeping to the measures. However, the situation is still manageable without stricter measures, Janša argued.

Commenting on the contact tracing app, whose wide use he had said was the only path to a normal functioning of society until vaccination, the prime minister acknowledged that wide and effective use has not happened.

He argued this was also the result of the app being voluntary. Given Slovenia's location in the centre of Europe, the app would function better if it was pan-European, Janša says, expressing regret the EU failed to come to an agreement on this.

While the app is producing some results, these are not enough to be an alternative to the measures. This is why we wear masks, keep a distance and have other restrictions. This is causing debate, but many of these restrictions would not be needed if the app were used and existing measures were respected more consistently, Janša assessed.

He meanwhile pointed the government's latest stimulus package, announcing that after the vaccine stops the pandemic, additional targeted measures would follow for sectors that will need longer to recover. He feels this will be a much smaller problem, as optimism will be driving European and global economy forward then and everything will be easier.

Man gets into a fist fight with security guard over face masks

STA, 29 September 2020 - A man got into a fist fight with a security guard in one of Ljubljana's shops on Saturday after the security guard warned him and his family that they need to wear face masks if they want to enter the shop.

A couple with a child entered the shop in the Šiška borough without face masks, which are obligatory in all enclosed public areas in Slovenia.

After the security guard asked them to put face masks on or leave the area, the woman followed his instructions, while the man punched the security guard in the face.

According to the Ljubljana police department, the security guard then attempted to keep the man in place for disobeying his warning and attacking him, but the man resisted and started beating the security guard until another security guard intervened.

During the fight, the stroller that the man was holding overturned, but the child did not fall out or got injured.

The injured security guard was rushed to the hospital, police said, adding that investigation is under way.

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28 Sep 2020, 15:06 PM

STA, 28 September 2020 - Slovenian police apprehended several large groups of migrants at the border and inland over the weekend and arrested several smugglers, as migration pressure intensified before the typical winter lull.

In Ilirska Bistrica area in south-western Slovenia police apprehended a total of 144 migrants in several stings on Sunday, a number typically recorded in the region in a week. The majority were citizens of Bangladesh and Pakistan, the Koper police said.

In eastern Slovenia, near Ormož, police stopped a van with 22 migrants, more than half of them from Bangladesh. Two smugglers, a Moldovan and a Ukrainian citizen, were arrested.

A sting by the Financial Administration and police in Celje turned up a van with 34 migrants driven by a Belgian driver.

The smugglers face criminal charges, while procedures concerning migrants are ongoing. The majority will probably be returned to Croatia.

Commenting on the stings, Interior Minister Aleš Hojs told the press on Monday that the figures showed "the organised market for migrant smuggling is in full swing" and that police were doing a good job. Around 100 smugglers of migrants are currently in detention in Slovenia.

Hojs indicated the police may once again ask parliament to activate a special article of the defence act that gives soldiers limited police powers for patrolling the border. Previous such attempts were deflected by the opposition.

He also indicated Slovenia and Croatia are considering a new way of patrolling their shared border. Croatia has proposed mixed police patrols, while Slovenia suggested that both sides alternately step up patrols along different sections of the border in "a zipper system of sorts".

Overall, he said cooperation with Slovenian law enforcement was good as Croatian police "unconditionally accept back everything we intercept".

28 Sep 2020, 12:44 PM

STA, 24 September 2020 - Minister of the Environment and Spatial Planning Andrej Vizjak is being investigated by the securities market regulator for buying over 400 shares of fuel company Petrol in the spring. The news comes a day after the government decided to fully liberalise fuel prices as of October, which could significantly impact Petrol's business.

 The Securities Market Agency has introduced oversight because of suspicion of abuse of internal information, or insider trading, but would not reveal any details.

Vizjak has bought 415 Petrol shares since March, the bulk at the end of May, for a total of EUR 120,000, the Finance paper reported in early September.

To finance the purchase, prior to which he already had over 80 Petrol shares, Vizjak took out a loan, the business newspaper also reported.

"Given that their stock market price plummeted during the epidemic, I bought the Petrol shares because I saw an opportunity for a good investment," he explained earlier this month.

A day after the government's decision to liberalise fuel prices, Petrol was the busiest share on the Ljubljana Stock Exchange today, up 6.31% to close at 320 euro.

It accounted for nearly 639,000 euro in deals, which is almost half of the daily turnover.

Finance reported that Vizjak's move was today reported to the corruption watchdog - the Commission for the Prevention of Corruption.

Vizjak meanwhile told the newspaper Večer today that he had purchased the first Petrol shares already 25 years ago, because he considered Petrol a promising company.

He reiterated the Petrol price on the stock market in spring was relatively low and at the time "nobody was taking about fuel market liberalisation yet".

The minister also said he had not been involved in the government's liberalisation of the fuel market.

"The documents were prepared by the Economy Ministry, and the Finance Ministry also took part. I was not involved. I find it unacceptable to be dragged into this story," he said indicating at a media fabrication.

Vizjak, who was also the subject of criticism for buying Telekom Slovenije shares as labour minister in 2012 when the then Janez Janša government was deciding on a potential sale of the telco and on dividend payouts, further explained for the press today during a working visit to Hrastnik that he had earned nothing through the acquisition.

"I haven't sold the shares, they are a long-term investment. When I sell them, we can start talking about whether I earned something," he said.

Vizjak, who also argued that expecting deregulation would lead to higher prices was a speculation, added that he was regularly buying promising shares of Slovenian companies and was looking forward to the Securities Market Agency procedure. He is ready to accept responsibility if any irregularities are established.

28 Sep 2020, 10:27 AM

STA, 28 September 2020 - Passengers from red or orange-listed countries will be able to avoid quarantine in Slovenia as of Monday if they present a negative coronavirus test no older than 48 hours. Travellers from orange countries in the EU or Schengen will avoid quarantine altogether.

This was decided by the government at the weekend, when it also renamed the yellow list of countries the orange list and green-listed Serbia and Poland. These changes will come into effect on Tuesday.

Apart from Serbia and Poland, Slovenia's green list from Tuesday also includes Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania and Finland among EU member states, as well as Australia, South Korea, New Zealand and Uruguay.

Italy was moved from green list to orange. Parts of Croatia along the border with Slovenia were moved to orange from red, while the rest of the country remains red-listed.

Three states in Austria (Vienna, Vorarlberg and Tirol) and two regions in Hungary (Budapest and Gyor-Moson-Sopron), as well as parts of several other EU countries and Switzerland, were red-listed. From Tuesday, the red list will include 16 members of the EU and the Schengen zone, and 114 third countries.

Residents of green countries do not have to go into quarantine when entering Slovenia and under the latest changes, the same applies to anybody who had spent at least a fortnight in the green country from which they are entering Slovenia.

Many of the exemptions to travel restrictions remain in place, allowing several groups of people to avoid quarantine even when entering Slovenia from an orange or red-listed country without a negative test.

This remains the case for workers commuting across the border, hauliers, diplomats, foreign delegations, foreign security services employees, members of the Slovenian armed and police forces, as well as people travelling for urgent personal or business matters, and people who own property in a neighbouring country.

Moreover, persons who test negative after having been ordered to quarantine will be allowed to cut short their quarantine.

The changes will be explained in more detail at a press conference on Monday.

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