Coronavirus & Slovenia, Night 16 March: 253 Cases, Flights Suspended, the Self-Employed, Banks, MOT Tests, Telecoms

By , 16 Mar 2020, 21:01 PM Politics
253 cases at the time of writing 253 cases at the time of writing www.nijz.si

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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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