COVID-19 & Slovenia: Afternoon, 20 March - €400 Fine for Breaking Lockdown, Slovenia Has Enough Food, New Laws Passed

By , 20 Mar 2020, 15:25 PM Politics
COVID-19 & Slovenia: Afternoon, 20 March - €400 Fine for Breaking Lockdown, Slovenia Has Enough Food, New Laws Passed In a search of a golden time (collage on canvas) dyptich ×70×90cm, Marusa Stibelj 2020

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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 Marusa Stibelj. You can see more of her work here and on Instagram

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

Slovenia registered 341 confirmed coronavirus cases by 2pm on Friday, up by 22 in the last 24 hours. Almost 11,000 tests have so far been carried out, an increase of more than a thousand compared to the day before, show figures released by the National Institute of Public Health.


Slovenia enters lockdown mode

Minister assures public there is enough food for months

Parliament passes package of laws to mitigate fallout of coronavirus crisis

Slovenia enters lockdown mode

STA, 20 March 2020 - Slovenia entered lockdown mode at midnight as the government issued decree temporarily prohibiting public gatherings in public places to contain the coronavirus epidemic. The decree prohibits the movement and gathering of people in public places until further notice, but there are exemptions to ensure that society can function.

Individuals may leave their homes for a public place mindful of keeping a safe distance and only for work-related activities, to eliminate immediate threats to health, life and property, to care for people in need of support, and to access shops that remain open (grocery stores, pharmacies, petrol stations, banks, post offices, cleaning services, car repair shops and the like).

Importantly, people may access public parks and other areas for walking, again mindful of the safety distance. But they are not allowed to go for a stroll in the city. Cycling is allowed.

The lockdown has also opened some dilemmas, as a person is for example allowed to take a dog for a walk to a near-by park but not go for a walk with a partner they do not live in the same household with.

At present there also seems to be no restrictions for family trips to secluded places, even if they are on the other side of the country, but Interior Minister Aleš Hojs indicated today that in the future the government decree could be amended.

"Whatever will be changed will be changed with the sole purpose of guaranteeing additional safety," he said, announcing it may be necessary to restrict people to their municipality.

Local communities may make more detailed rules depending on the needs of the community. In that case, mayors must post public notices.

Hojs said that individual municipalities might need to introduce further restrictions to the movement of people, to for example keep people within the municipality, but that would depend on how the lockdown would be respected in its present form.

For now movement, access to and stay in a public place is also allowed for groups of persons who are close family members or share the same household, provided they keep a safe distance from other similar groups.

Groups of up to five co-workers who share the same personal vehicle to get to work or who have been called up to perform tasks within the Civil Protection Service are also exempted.

The lockdown is being policed and the fines for violations are around 400 euro.

The lockdown was also announced via an SMS sent to all phones in the country notifying the people of the prohibition of public gatherings.

Police have told the STA that they are already patrolling public spaces, warning potential violators and ordering them to abide by law such as by urging them to stand apart and keep a safe distance.

Those who do not follow the officers' instructions face a notice for violating the protection of public order act, or referral to the health inspectorate, which issues fines for lockdown violations.

The police force does not have data on measures taken against potential violators, but it says that people are mostly following officers' warnings and instructions.

"Police are implementing measures to prevent the spread of infectious diseases as a priority through joint tightened checks with health inspectors or independently," said the police.

In Ljubljana and many other cities around the country, traffic wardens have been deployed to check whether residents are observing lockdown measures.

Mayor Zoran Janković urged residents to follow the instructions for the sake of their health and the health of their loved ones. He is not planning to propose any additional measures because he believes most of the 292,000 Ljubljana residents behave in a very responsible way.

Meanwhile, Kranj Mayor Matjaž Rakovec was much more critical of the situation in Slovenia's fourth city where groups of people had been spotted in recent days acting irresponsibly.

To illustrate just one example he said that a shop assistant reported being jeered and sworn at for trying to keep shoppers apart.

"It's hard to believe my colleagues having to deal with those who don't understand or won't understand how serious the epidemic is," said Rakovec, who hopes the latest decree will improve the situation.

Many towns had locked or cordoned off playgrounds and sport grounds and facilities even before the decree stepped into force, while traffic wardens are patrolling areas that could not have been physically restricted.

Officials in Novo Mesto in the south-east and Nova Gorica on the border with Italy say that the residents were obeying the ban on gatherings.

Some towns, such as Nova Gorica and Izola have disinfected public spaces where there has been a large concentration of people, while Janković said Ljubljana would not do that because health authorities deemed the measure ineffective.

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Minister assures public there is enough food for months

STA, 20 March 2020 - Agriculture Minister Aleksandra Pivec assured the public that there is enough basic foodstuffs in Slovenia for a few months, assuaging fears that the country might run out of food as the measures are imposed world-wide to contain the spread of the new coronavirus. Food producers also said that operations ran without disruption for the time being.

 Pivec, who is also in charge of food, told the press on Friday that the situation was constantly monitored, and that backup plans were in place in case of disruption in the food supply channels.

Procedures have also been launched to supply products from other countries, if necessary, the minister said, adding that problems could first start in the supply of fresh fruit, such as citrus and tropical fruit, and certain vegetables.

Italy is a major supplier of these products to Slovenia and, if the supply of goods from there gets disrupted, Hungary could serve as a backup for the supply of fruit and vegetables.

Pivec also summarised the government measures in agriculture, including the option that a temporary manager of a farm is appointed if the owners or workers at the farm are incapacitated due to coronavirus.

The temporary manager would have the same rights and obligations as the owner, including the right to monthly pay, but will not hold the ownership right. Farm management and sales need to be conducted with the owner's consent.

No measures to prevent potential dumping have been adopted, but Pivec said that it was possible to restrict or ban the sale of a certain groups of products, individual products, foodstuffs or animals to other EU member states or third countries.

The minister added that the decree on the conditions for the entry to Slovenia from Italy did not apply to owners whose land used for agricultural work laid on both sides of the border.

Pivec noted that the good news was that the European Commission had approved an increase in de minimis aid to companies in the fisheries from EUR 15,000 to EUR 120,000 and in agriculture from EUR 20,000 to 100,000.

The ministry has also stepped up the promotion of Slovenian products and established a 24/7 call centre for questions related to the access to food.

Pivec stressed that the sale of food at produce markets and farms had not been prohibited, and that the ministry was in talks with the Economy Ministry about the possibility to re-open shops with pet food.

For the time being, there are no indications that the country may run out of pesticides, she added.

Companies in the food production and processing industry are coping with the increased demand, with production being either increased or reduced in different segments due to the changed circumstances.

The country's largest bread and pasta maker Žito said that the operations ran without disruptions, with employees regularly coming to work in production plants, bakeries and shops.

Demand for basic and durable foodstuffs, such as flour, pasta, rice, yeast, cornmeal and canned and baby food, has increased, but this is not problematic for the time being, the company added.

The dairy Mlekarna Celeia said that milk continued to be purchased from more than 900 Slovenian farms, with the daily quantity reaching 270,000 litres.

"In recent days we have noticed an increase in orders of fresh and long-life milk, cheese and yoghurt in large packages, and we have adjusted the production to the situation," director Vinko But said.

The company currently supplies around 1,000 outlets in the country, and the production and delivery of products is not disrupted despite the strict safety measures, the company added in a press release.

The Pekarna Grosuplje bakery has meanwhile reduced the workload in production for safety reasons, but said that the supply was not a problem because the raw material used was mostly of Slovenian origin.

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Parliament passes package of laws to mitigate fallout of coronavirus crisis

STA, 20 March 2020 - Parliament passed on Thursday a package of laws aimed at mitigating the impact of the coronavirus crisis. Measures include pay compensation for temporary lay-offs, credit payment and tax duty deferrals for companies, as well as trade restrictions for agriculture and food products. One act also gives the government direct control over the budget.

A major part of the package is the act providing state aid in pay compensation for temporary lay-offs at companies that will need to temporarily lay off at least 30% of their workforce due to disruptions in supply or a drop in demand.

The act, whose costs are estimated at EUR 50 million, stipulates temporarily laid-off workers will be entitled to 80% of their wage average from the past three months, with the employers having to cover 60% of this sum and the state 40%.

The maximum temporary lay-off period will be three months and employers using the aid will have to commit to having the temporarily redundant workers employed for at least six month after sending them home.

Aid will also be provided in cases of workers unable to work as a result of self-isolation, but the state will cover the full 80% for such instances.

In line with amendments adopted at the committee level, the scheme was extended to self-employed workers, however the only aid will be the possibility to defer social contribution payments for the coming three months by up to two years.

While government representatives stressed the measure was about preserving jobs and avoiding people ending up on the shoulders of the Employment Service, the left-leaning opposition parties argued too little was being done for the self-employed, actually the most vulnerable group.

"100,000 sole proprietors is a number we should not ignore," said Soniboj Knežak of the SocDems, but an amendment by the Left to write off these social contribution payments was rejected.

The pressure on business will meanwhile also be mitigated with an act that reduces the administrative and tax burdens on companies, pushing back the deadlines for tax documentation filings and allowing companies to ask for a tax deferral of up to two years or for paying tax in up to 24 instalments.

The same law notably gives the government full discretion in the use of budget funds approved for purposes not deemed part of legally binding tasks.

The government will be able to reallocate 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 situation will not occur in this country where funding would not be available for equipment to save lies," Finance Minister Andrej Šircelj defended the measure as a number of MPs expressed misgivings about it, including from the ranks of the coalition.

"The government is getting powers that are unmatched in Slovenia's independence era and by far exceed those the government had during the financial crisis," noted Robert Polnar of the coalition Pensioners' Party (DeSUS).

The opposition Left's Luka Mesec expressed "fear these measure will be used for an illegitimate consolidation of power" and argued it could be unconstitutional, given that parliament's role as the guardian of the budget is being suspended even though a state of emergency had not been declared.

Šircelj responded by saying the government would report to parliament about the reallocations regularly, a provision inserted in the bill in an amendment.

Meanwhile, another emergency act adopted will allow banks to defer liabilities of companies, co-operatives, self-employed and farmers by 12 months. Banks will be compelled to do so for those whose operation has been thwarted under government measures to contain the coronavirus outbreak. The act will also apply for loans taken out during the epidemic.

Also passed were emergency measures that restrict trade with agricultural produce, food products and livestock and poultry to ensure sufficient food supplies in the country.

The act allows the minister, in consent with the economy minister, to impose restrictions or bans on exports or imports of individual products or groups of products to or from other countries. It also gives the minister the power to cap prices of certain foodstuffs.

Meanwhile, one of the measures also involves a one-month suspension of prison sentences in cases without safety risks as well the option of early release from prison.

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