Coronavirus & Slovenia, Mid-day 17 March: Border Crossings Close, Slovenes Stuck Abroad, National Security Meeting, Face Masks, Immunosuppressive Drug

By , 17 Mar 2020, 11:48 AM Politics
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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


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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