Coronavirus & Slovenia, Mid-Day 19 March: Shops, Italy, Army, Stranded Slovenes, Face Masks

By , 19 Mar 2020, 12:03 PM Politics
Coronavirus & Slovenia, Mid-Day 19 March: Shops, Italy, Army, Stranded Slovenes, Face Masks Wikimedia - Florian Jesse CC by 1.0

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New rules for shops in place

Only four crossings with Italy open as of midnight

Minister considering police powers for the army

Stranded Slovenians returning home

Half a million face masks delivered to civil defence today

New rules for shops in place

STA, 19 March 2020 - New rules for grocery shops took effect on Thursday. They must be open from 8am to 8pm, and for the first two hours, until 10am, groups particularly vulnerable to infections - the elderly, pregnant women and disabled persons - must be given priority. All shops bar petrol stations and pharmacies must be closed on Sunday and holidays.

This follows from a government decree adopted late on Wednesday as part of ongoing efforts to contain coronavirus by imposing strict social distancing rules.

The vast majority of shops, all bars and restaurants, hotels, and services establishments such as hair salons were shut down by decree on Sunday.

The establishments that remain open - groceries, pharmacies, service stations, shops for farmers, banks and post offices - had originally been unrestricted in how they restructured their opening hours and most had opted for shorter hours and stepped up online deliveries.

Public life in Slovenia has ground to a near halt since the start of this week due to the coronavirus measures and new rules are expected, including a ban on public gatherings of more than five people and police powers for the army.

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Only four crossings with Italy open as of midnight

STA, 18 March 2020 - Only four points along the border with Italy will be open as of midnight Wednesday, down from six so far, under a new decree that the Slovenian government adopted Wednesday evening.

The only points that will remain open at all times are the crossings Vrtojba, Fernetiči and Škofije, which are on the main transit routes to Italy. The smaller crossing Krvavi Potok will be open from 5am to 11pm.

On all other road connection with Italy, road-blocks will be erected. Train and bus transport remain suspended as well.

While reducing the number of entry points, the decree will nevertheless make life easier for farmers who have land on both sides of the border and have complained that the border closure is causing them serious difficulties since they had to take long detours.

Slovenian citizens who have land in Italy will be allowed passage on all roads for farm work.

Cargo traffic will remain restricted. Lorries bound for Slovenia will have free passage, as will lorries in transit which neighbouring countries agree to let cross.

All other cargo except mail, medicines, protective equipment, medical devices and humanitarian aid will be turned away at the border.

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Minister considering police powers for the army

STA, 19 March 2020 - Interior Minister Aleš Hojs is considering an activation of legislation that would give the army police powers, a move that would need to be endorsed by a two-thirds majority in parliament.

Speaking for public broadcaster TV Slovenija on Wednesday evening, Hojs said "I will propose the activation of article 37.a [of the defence act] as the competent minister." He did not specify when he may formally make the proposal.

The article in question was adopted at the peak of the migration crisis, in October 2015, and once activated by a two-thirds majority vote at the proposal of the government it allows the army to help the police in "broader protection of the state border".

It allows soldiers to carry out tasks such as temporarily restricting the movement of persons and taking part in crowd control.

The powers are granted for three months with the possibility of extension. The article has been invoked once before, in February 2016, to help police patrol the border.

The legislation faced heavy criticism when it was passed with leftist activist groups and NGOs concerned about its potential implications for civil rights.

Radio Študent, a student radio station, even initiated a referendum to stop the bill, but the National Assembly thwarted the attempt invoking constitutional provisions that ban referenda "on laws on urgent measures to ensure the defence of the state, security, or the elimination of the consequences of natural disasters".

The legislation was subsequently challenged at the Constitutional Court but it passed muster.

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Stranded Slovenians returning home

STA, 19 March 2020 - Slovenians are gradually returning to their homeland from Morocco, the Czech Republic and Serbia after being stranded abroad due to suspended flights and border restrictions in response to the coronavirus epidemic. Several groups of travellers are currently en route, the Foreign Ministry told the STA on Thursday.

A bus full of Slovenians left Prague this morning, while another one has recently headed towards Belgrade to pick up Slovenians there. A group of Slovenians are also on a repatriation flight from Marrakesh to Budapest.

A total of 16 Slovenians have asked for consular help in getting back home from Morocco. All of them are on today's flight to Budapest.

The ministry said that the group would then be transported to Slovenia. The repatriation mission was coordinated with the Hungarian Foreign Ministry, Slovenian embassy in Paris and Hungarian embassy in Morocco.

The bus from the Czech Republic left Prague airport early this morning carrying twelve Slovenian tourists who had experienced problems returning back home from the Canary Islands due to border closures. The ministry coordinated their return with their Czech colleagues as well as with the Slovenian embassies in Madrid and Prague.

Meanwhile, the bus headed to Serbia, carrying stranded Serbian citizens, is expected to return to Slovenia with twelve Slovenians and two Slovaks who have been stuck there after restrictive measures were imposed.

The ministry has pointed out that one of the few European airports that is still operating is the one in Croatia's Zagreb but Croatia Airlines might suspend their links at any moment due to the emergency situation. Passengers are thus advised to check their flight statuses directly with the airline.

Slovenians left abroad amid the epidemic were urged to contact the ministry earlier this week, particularly if they needed help with repatriation. More than 650 Slovenians have checked in: almost a half of them are stranded in EU countries and almost a third in Russia, Asian countries and in the Middle East.

So far, none of them have reported any issues, all of them are safe and have access to a special consular emergency unit at the ministry.

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Half a million face masks delivered to civil defence today

STA, 19 March 2020 - Around half a million face masks were delivered to the civil defence warehouse on Thursday morning, Economy Minister Zdravko Počivalšek said, adding that the most urgent needs for the protective equipment to contain the coronavirus outbreak were now covered.

A total of 400,000 disposable three-layer masks have been delivered by the medical equipment supplier Sanolabor, and the railway operator Slovenske Železnice delivered an additional 100,000 masks.

Speaking to the press at the civil defence warehouse in Roje on the outskirts of Ljubljana, Počivalšek said that the government would try to pull off the planned supply of 1.5 million type FFB2 masks by the end of the week.

The same quantity of the more effective type FFP3 masks is expected to be delivered at the beginning of next week, he added.

The minister said that the government was checking what had happened with a shipment of 1.5 million masks which had been expected to arrive at an airport in Germany's Hamburg on Wednesday.

Slovenia's diplomatic service in Berlin has been involved in the inquiry, Počivalšek said, adding that the efforts included Slovenian Ambassador Franc But.

Počivalšek expects that, despite some logistics problems, protective equipment will be provided to all healthcare workers and later to other public services whose employees are in contact with infected persons, and to companies.

The minister noted that the market was flooded with suppliers and that talks were under way to supply around 11 million three-layer masks. "I want ... everybody to get access to all the protective gear as they need."

Defence Minister Matej Tonin, whose ministry is in charge of distribution, said on Wednesday that the equipment would be distributed first to the healthcare sector and social institutions, and then to critical infrastructure and companies.

Slovenia is also awaiting another 300,000 face masks secured by the Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba via personal connections between Slovenian lawyer Aleksander Čeferin, the president of UEFA, and Alibaba owner Jack Ma.

The shipment arrived on Wednesday at the Liege airport in Belgium, and is expected to be in Slovenia this evening or on Friday morning.

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