Coronavirus & Slovenia, Night 17 March: Behaviour, Police, Taxes, Testing, Field Hospital, Shops

By , 17 Mar 2020, 18:55 PM Politics
Coronavirus & Slovenia, Night 17 March: Behaviour, Police, Taxes, Testing, Field Hospital, Shops Photo: A @_aney

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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.

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