COVID-19 & Slovenia: Night, 19 March - 319 Cases, Midnight Lockdown, Emergency Supplies, Economic Effects

By , 19 Mar 2020, 22:13 PM Politics
Sašo Vrabič, in front of Raj-a-nje (work in progress), 2020, oil on convas, 100 x 150 cm Sašo Vrabič, in front of Raj-a-nje (work in progress), 2020, oil on convas, 100 x 150 cm

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We can’t have pictures of COVID-19 every day. So instead we’ll try and show the works of Slovenian artists. Today it’s Sašo Vrabič, in front of Raj-a-nje (work in progress), 2020, oil on convas, 100 x 150 cm. You can see more of his work here.

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

Contents

Number of confirmed coronavirus cases at 319 by 2pm, up by 33 in a day

Govt announces lockdown, starts at midnight

Police and border officials from region discuss emergency supply

Calls to suspend construction work, hop growers face staff shortage

Number of confirmed coronavirus cases at 319 by 2pm, up by 33 in a day

STA, 19 March 2020 - The number of confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Slovenia stood at 319 at 2pm on Thursday, up by 33 in the last 24 hours. A total of 9,860 persons have been tested so far, up by 1,130 from Wednesday, meaning the number of people tested daily remains at slightly above 1,000. Hospitals are reportedly presently looking after around 40 Covid-19 patients.

While no new deaths have been reported since the first confirmed casualty on the weekend, the latest increase is slightly higher than on Tuesday and Wednesday, when it stood at 20 and 13 respectively.

With testing restricted to health and emergency workers, the elderly, those in hospital and people exhibiting more severe symptoms, the government has warned that the number of actually infected people is probably several times higher and strict social distancing measures remain in place.

Bojana Beović, the infectious disease expert affiliated with the government coronavirus crisis response team, told Radio Slovenija today that reports about infections were coming from around the country. The number of patients in hospital care was at around 40 today, an increase compared to previous days, as people whose symptoms have gotten worse are seeking hospitalisation.

Beović said "this is the start of something we will need to control with all our forces and we're getting ready for this very intensively now".

The country's leading hospital UKC Ljubljana told the STA today that it was looking after 21 Covid-19 patients this morning, five of which in intensive care. UKC Maribor has 14, two of which in intensive care.

Beović said hospitals were ready, but some had not yet been admitting patients. The plan is to first fill the capacities at UKC Ljubljana, UKC Maribor and Klinika Golnik to only then gradually include other hospitals.

"Special isolated rooms, equipment and some experience is needed to work with such patients and it would not be wise to disperse this too much," she explained.

Beović again defended the testing policy, saying Slovenia was among countries with the highest number of tests conducted per capita. "Our recommendations are entirely in line with those of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and the draft recommendations of the European Commission," she said.

"We are of course testing, but not those with the mildest symptoms, who can stay home, bar specific situations when we expect an aggravation," she explained. She added the disease can also run its course feeling like a common cold and it was not feasible and even risky for everybody to immediately go to the doctor.

"We are actually testing more, but we've changed the focus of the testing," Beović concluded.

Meanwhile, a group dubbed Young Doctors of Slovenia issued today a warning that the present measures for containing the virus in Slovenia were possibly not effective enough.

Presenting a simulation model that projects the potential spread of the virus in line with two scenarios, the group said around 500 hospital beds, of which 120 in intensive care, would be needed at what would be the peak of the outbreak in the first week of April if the current measures work.

If they don't but are upgraded at the end of March to produce successful results, 18,000 patients would need hospitalisation in mid-April, of which almost 500 in intensive care, suggests the simulation, made by physicist Luka Medic in cooperation with medical doctor Sanja Zupanič.

The young doctors, who published the call on Facebook to stress every day matters, said that according to their knowledge Slovenian has 200 intensive care beds, with most already occupied without crisis conditions.

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Govt announces lockdown, starts at midnight

STA, 19 March 2020 - The government adopted a decree on Thursday banning gatherings and movement of people in public areas, albeit with a number of exceptions. The measure enters into force at midnight.

Despite the stepped up restrictions, people will be allowed to leave home to go to work, the pharmacy and to buy groceries at their closest shop, Interior Minister Aleš Hojs told the public broadcaster RTV Slovenija.

In line with the government decree, people will also be allowed to go outdoors and to parks, but only alone or with people living in the same household. They will also be able to run errants related to their household or agricultural activities.

Local communities will be able to determine exemptions to the ban in more detail with a public municipal decree.

Fines for violations will be about EUR 400, according to Hojs.

Addressing the citizens via a videoconference tonight, Prime Minister Janez Janša said people must become aware that even the strictest measures would have no effect unless "we realise that every one of us is a part of both the problem and solution".

The period of this crisis cannot be assessed yet, he said, noting that "we are definitely not talking about days but rather of at least weeks and months".

He said that Slovenia had never been in a more difficult situation and that the danger was worse than in a typical war except in those that involve the use of biological weapons.

He also announced an expansion of the military reserve force, calling all those with military skills to join in.

Janša added that certain measures such as the ban of passenger flights and restrictions for some other activities would be toned down in the coming weeks when additional protective equipment arrived and safety procedures were laid down.

He asserted additional protective gear would arrive in Europe and Slovenia shortly, and that food reserves were sufficient and would be further supplemented.

Hojs also commented today on calls by the trade union of shop assistants to change a government decree saying that grocery stores must be open from 8am to at least 8pm. The union demands the closing time at 6pm.

It demands the change within 24 hours, and is threatening with a strike.

Hojs said now was not the time to threaten with strike, adding that Economy Minister Zdravko Počivalšek would check the decree again to determine if the working time should be cut any further.

According to the minister, the government would like to set a time frame for individual groups of population to go to shops so as to prevent the most vulnerable groups from being exposed to a potential infection.

Commenting on the proposal to give the army police powers, he said this would not mean that the army would have unlimited powers within the country but that the army could be activated to exercise additional control of the EU's external borders, as police would be required inland.

Until 2pm today, 319 cases of coronavirus infection were recorded in Slovenia, while 9,860 tests were conducted.

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Police and border officials from region discuss emergency supply

STA, 19 March 2020 - Top police and border services officials from Slovenia, Austria, Hungary, Italy, Croatia and Serbia highlighted in a videoconference on Thursday the importance of uninterrupted supply of essential goods in the region and agreed that providing medical supply without any difficulties must be top priority.

The discussion, held at the initiative of the Slovenian police, aimed to coordinate a supply of emergency commodities to avoid disruptions amid the coronavirus epidemic, said the General Police Administration.

Measures could include cargo convoys or special routes.

Medical supply should take priority, they all agreed, adding that police could escort such precious cargo if need be.

The police officials also concurred that cracking down on profiteering from the coronavirus crisis must be top priority as well and highlighted the role of international cooperation in such cases.

They agreed to exchange information on measures and their coordination and stressed the importance of rapid responses and collaboration to mitigate the crisis and protect public health. The next videoconference is scheduled for Monday.

The epidemic has not halted the Western Balkan migration flows and efforts to deal with the migration issue must continue as usual, the officials also said.

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Calls to suspend construction work, hop growers face staff shortage

STA, 19 March 2020 - Employers in the construction sector and related industries were called by the relevant trade union to suspend work on construction sites and production of building materials for the duration of the new coronavirus epidemic. Hop growers meanwhile pointed to the shortage of seasonal workers as borders are being closed.

The Trade Union of Construction Workers of Slovenia said in Thursday's statement that workers on construction sites mostly had no appropriate protective equipment.

There are difficulties in organising the arrival of workers at construction sites, and for those who are coming in a group. It is not ensured that there is a safety distance between them and they are not protected, it added.

The union also said that sanitary conditions at construction sites did not allow for proper hygiene to be maintained, and added that construction work was not essential for the functioning of the state during the crisis.

"What we would like to stress in particular is that migrant workers, whose share is the highest in construction, usually have no accommodation which would enable self-isolation in case a worker gets infected."

The union thus called for measures to be adopted to secure organised self-isolation for workers who get sick but do not need hospitalisation.

While the public life and most of commercial activities have ground to a halt in recent days, the construction sector is facing criticism as many construction sites remain open and work is conducted as usual.

The Economy Ministry said that the temporary ban on the direct provision and sales of goods and services did not apply to construction sites.

"The decree does not encroach upon employment relationships, and workers may continue with works on an unfinished building under the condition that other persons are not present at the site," the ministry said.

As the decree does not regulate transactions between companies, construction material shops are allowed to sell their products, while it does temporarily ban the sale of construction material to individual consumers.

Hop growers, who mostly hire foreign seasonal workers and who have already started with work on hop fields, meanwhile noted that the arrivals of foreigners have stopped and said they expected assistance from the state.

They need between 800 and 1,000 seasonal workers in the spring, and most of them come from Romania, while only around 250 have arrived in Slovenia so far, Janez Oset, the head of the relevant association, told the STA.

"We are in touch with the Agriculture Ministry," he said, adding that the state was expected to make sure that workers got tested before their arrival in Slovenia and that they got documents which would enable them to cross the border.

Oset is worried because work on hop fields needs to be done in the coming weeks, otherwise the crop will be in peril.

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