STA, 2 March 2020 - As the coronavirus outbreak is spreading in the neighbouring countries, Slovenian officials faced questions on Monday as to whether testing for the virus should be expanded considering no one has yet tested positive.
The outgoing Prime Minister Marjan Šarec defended action taken by the authorities over the coronavirus scare in questions time when challenged by Iva Dimic, the deputy for New Slovenia (NSi), who said the government did not realise the seriousness of the threat until the virus claimed first lives in Italy.
Šarec rejected her claim, listing measures taken and assuring her that there were plans how to respond to first infections or a potential outbreak. He also noted that Slovenia had not detected any coronavirus infections yet.
However, Dimic wondered whether all the necessary tests were being taken, commenting that it was odd Slovenia had not had any positive case yet.
She offered the example of a family that wanted to have their child tested after a holiday in Italy, but was told that would be unnecessary as long as the children were not coughing.
"It's experts who are responsible for testing, with coordination running through the Health Ministry. If people want to get tested this should be available to them," Šarec said.
The question also came up as the parliamentary Health Committee continued its session about Slovenia's preparedness for a potential coronavirus outbreak.
Alenka Jeraj, a deputy for the Democratic Party (SDS), wanted to know why the country was not conducting preventive tests on those who returned from the virus-hit areas even if they were in good health.
"Isn't it better for their safety that they should learn as soon as possible whether they might be ill so they get treatment as soon as possible," wondered Jeraj.
She criticised the fact that "only about 200 tests" for the novel coronavirus had been conducted in the country.
Nina Pirnat, director of the National Institute of Public Health, said that it made no sense taking swabs from healthy people; negative smear tests could give them a false sense of security should they fall ill later.
"The important thing is to take swabs from sick people," said Pirnat.
Meanwhile, committee chair Franc Trček from the Left commented that France was capable of testing 'only' 300 people a day.
Miroslav Petrovec, the chair of the Institute of Microbiology and Immunology in Ljubljana, rejected the speculations that test kits in Slovenia may be faulty or inferior.
"I strongly reject speculations about the absence of cases in Slovenia being the result of faulty tests. This is pure conjecture and disinformation," he said, adding that Slovenia was among the first European countries to get testing kits.
He said every person with clinical symptoms was being tested, but "it is an illusion to test everyone with symptoms of the common cold in wintertime."
Slovenia has not yet had the first confirmed coronavirus case. Health authorities tested 255 persons by Monday afternoon with all results negative.
All our stories on coronavirus and Slovenia are here