COVID-19 & Slovenia, Night 24 March: 480 Cases, Austria, Stimulus, Home Delivery, Ventilators

By , 24 Mar 2020, 18:33 PM Politics
Top of The Crisis 2, oil on canvas, 4.6 x 6.5 feet Top of The Crisis 2, oil on canvas, 4.6 x 6.5 feet Sašo Vrabič

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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

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. You can see more of his work here.


Number of coronavirus cases in Slovenia up by 38 to 480

Slovenia reintroducing border checks with Austria

Budget funds for stimulus package sufficient, say PM, treasury

Options for home delivery of food products expanding

Supply of ventilators and protective gear on schedule

Number of coronavirus cases in Slovenia up by 38 to 480

STA, 24 March 2020 - A total of 480 cases of coronavirus infection were confirmed by 10am today, up 38 in a day. According to the National Public Health Institute, central Slovenia remains to be the region with the highest number of infections.

Out of the 480 cases, 168 were recorded in central Slovenia, 89 in the Savinjska region in the east, 60 in the south-east, 47 in Podravje in north-east and 31 in Gorenjska in the north. Other regions have less than 20 cases. Six foreigners are also infected.

At least one case of infection has been confirmed until today in 109 of Slovenia's 212 municipalities, while 60 municipalities have more than two cases.

Most of the infected (96 persons) are aged between 25 and 34. Another 91 are 45 to 54 years old.

By midnight, a total of 14,870 tests were conducted.

According to data released by the government, 1,058 persons were tested today and 36 tested positive. In total, 65 persons were hospitalised today, ten are in intensive care.

Slovenia recorded the fourth coronavirus-related death today as an elderly woman died at the Šmarje pri Jelšah nursing home, one of the hotspots of the coronavirus epidemic in the country.

The woman had multiple underlying chronic conditions and died "at a very advanced age", the Šmarje pri Jelšah municipality said on its website without specifying the woman's age.

The woman was a resident of the local nursing home, where 24 residents and six staff have so far been diagnosed with Covid-19.

According to Tadeja Kotar from the UKC Ljubljana hospital, 39 Covid-19 patients are being treated at the hospital today; eight of them in intensive care, which is the same as yesterday. The total number of patients rose by seven.

The patients are on average between 60 and 70 years old. Both the youngest and the oldest patients are women, at 25 and 95, respectively.

Ten people have so far been discharged from hospital, but none from intensive care. She said treatment in intensive care usually takes three to five weeks.

Kristina Nadrah from the hospital's unit for infectious diseases said patients were primarily receiving medical support but that some of them were also receiving the drugs principally used for the treatment of other conditions that have proven to be effective in the treatment of Covid-19, including chloroquine, used to treat malaria, and hydroxychloroquine.

Patients are also receiving lopinavir/ritonavir, which was intended for treating patients with HIV infection.

Nadrah said combinations of the drugs were being prescribed to patients, depending on their underlying conditions. But she stressed this was a test treatment and that the efficiency of the drugs in Covid-19 patients had not been proven yet.

The test drug remdesivir, which was developed in the US as a treatment for Ebola virus disease and is not registered yet, has also already been administered to the first patient.

Slovenia has received the drug as a donation from the US manufacturer, since the drug cannot yet be sold on the market, the public broadcaster RTV Slovenija reported last night.

Nadrah said the patient who had received it was feeling better but that it was hard to say whether this was only because of the drug. She said the drug would be available to other patients in intensive care as well.

According to Nadrah, Slovenian doctors are in contact with their counterparts from abroad on a daily basis. Talks are also under way for Slovenia to start importing some Asian drugs that have not been registered here yet, she said in a video-statement released today by the hospital.

The number of patients at the UKC Maribor hospital rose from 11 to 13. The number of patients in intensive care rose from two to three. The hospital currently has 67 members of staff in self-isolation because of close contacts with infected persons.

The Celje hospital admitted three additional patients today, putting its total number at four. One member of the hospital staff is in self-isolation. Ten tests were conducted among staff there and they were all negative, the hospital said today.

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Slovenia reintroducing border checks with Austria

STA, 24 March 2020 - Slovenia will reintroduce border checks with Austria from midnight to restrict access to the country because of the coronavirus epidemic. A total of 13 border checkpoints will be set up at former border crossings with Austria, Jelko Kacin, the spokesman for the government coronavirus crisis unit, announced on Tuesday.

According to Kacin, Prime Minister Janez Janša has signed a decree restricting entry to Slovenia from Austria in line with the rules that already apply on the Italian border.

The checkpoints will be set up at the former border crossings Gornja Radgona, Kuzma, Holmec, Vič, Jurij, Karavanke, Ljubelj, Trate, Radlje, Gederovci, Šentilj - motorway, Šentilj - local road and Korensko Sedlo.

Only foreigners with a medical certificate showing that they have tested negative for coronavirus not more than three days ago and foreigners with body temperature under 37.5 degrees Celsius and no visible symptoms of infection will be allowed to enter the country.

Slovenian citizens and residents will be allowed to enter.

Locals who own land on both sides of the border, those commuting on a daily basis, cargo transport, emergency and humanitarian vehicles will continue to be allowed to cross the border.

Train transport has already been suspended.

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Budget funds for stimulus package sufficient, say PM, treasury

STA, 24 March 2020 - Prime Minister Janez Janša and Finance Minister Andrej Šircelj have assured the public that the funds to finance the coronavirus stimulus package announced on Tuesday are sufficient, with reliable sources available to tap into.

Addressing the press conference at which the package to help businesses and the population was unveiled, Janša said the government was not planning a special supplementary budget tor the measures taken to mitigate the coronavirus crisis.

He said that a special framework outside existing fiscal rules and limitations was being set out at the EU level, a framework that would be expanded at the level of monetary policies of the European Central Bank (ECB) as well as at the level of EU and eurozone instruments.

"There's currently no concern about a lack of current liquidity to meet the needs," said the prime minister, referring to the planned measures to help business and the population and current public expenditure.

Minister Šircelj noted that the taskforce preparing the stimulus plan had estimated its value at around EUR 2 billion, adding that the Finance Ministry's calculation of the financial impact of the measures would be ready by Thursday evening, when the relevant bills were ready.

"The sources to finance those measures exist and are secured, realistic and reliable," said Šircelj, pointing to EU and domestic funds.

He assessed that Slovenia could count on EUR 1.1 billion from an instrument to be formed by the Eurogroup based on the European Stability Mechanism and EUR 2.5 billion as part of the ECB council's decision on an increased bond-buying plan.

The state will approve guarantees through SID Bank and special-purpose funds so that commercial banks can help the population and businesses with borrowing and loan repayment. In one of the measures the Bank Assets Management Company will be allowed to buy non-performing loans.

Money from cohesion funds will be diverted to where the money is needed more.

Slovenia is also in talks with the International Monetary Fund on an instrument that will allow additional guarantees, and with the World Bank, according to Šircelj.

He said that government borrowing would be within the set annual limit. The budget financing plan for the year sets the cap on state borrowing at EUR 1.58 billion.

Considering the still relatively favourable terms in the market, borrowing is possible and in a way pays off, said the minister, as the past more costly borrowing is being replaced by cheaper borrowing.

"These measures will cause nothing unusual, exceptional finance-wise, the financial system is stable," said Šircelj, expressing regret that some businesses and sole traders suspended their operations because they did not believe the state would take care of them.

Similarly, economist Jože Damijan maintains that financing the crisis mitigation and stimulus package should not be a problem for Slovenia.

He estimates a minimum state intervention should be between EUR 2.6 billion and up to almost EUR 6 billion, while Slovenia already has about EUR 3 billion liquidity in the budget.

The economist expects the state will issue EUR 5 billion of 10- and 20-year bonds. The state can borrow in international markets at low interest rates, while there is also considerable potential at home with EUR 20 billion in savings deposits.

In a webinar hosted by the Ljubljana School of Business and Economics, Damijan argued that a fast and substantial intervention was needed to reduce the damage to the economy caused by the pandemic.

He welcomed most of the measures set out by the government today, but dismissed the solidarity allowance for pensioners and a cut in public office holders' pay as populist, and labelling as discrimination the plan that the self-employed get only 70% of the minimum wage, while infected farmers get 80%.

He believes the government should fully compensate companies for the loss of income and wages for employees and self-employed. As a follow-up he suggests a transfer of EUR 500 for each adult and EUR 150 for each child to be able to spend more after the crisis at the budget cost of EUR 800 million.

Among several other measures he also proposed a six-month moratorium or rescheduling of loans of affected business and individuals.

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Options for home delivery of food products expanding

STA, 24 March 2020 - After major grocery chains already started struggling with a sharp increase in demand for home delivery last week, options for avoiding in-store purchases have continued to expand. Large numbers of volunteers have stepped forward to help the elderly, while companies making pasta, frozen baked goods and the like have set up delivery schemes.

Retailers have been reporting about up to five-fold increases in delivery orders, with capacities booked out days or weeks in advance, and have been expanding capabilities accordingly.

Some are also cooperating with volunteer organisations, which have moreover teamed up with social work centres, the police force, the civil protection and health centres.

Meanwhile, forays into home delivery are being made by companies with limited or no experience in this field, for instance Pekarna Pečjak, the biggest maker of frozen dough foods in the country,

On Wednesday, Pekarna Pečjak plans to start delivering around 100 products from its frozen foods line, along with pasta, bread, biscuits, oil, milk, salt, sugar and flour.

A similar service was launched a few days ago by Mlinotest, the Ajdovščina-based bread and pasta company.

Food delivery is moreover provided by the webstore of energy trader Petrol, while the classified ads website is serving as a digital market connecting users to local food producers who deliver fresh food.

The network of food producers delivering their products has expanded around country and a number of farms have started selling their products directly.

Municipalities are taking action as well and are for instance publishing lists of food delivery providers.

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Supply of ventilators and protective gear on schedule

STA, 24 March 2020 - Senior Slovenian officials have assured the public that the supply of ventilators and the protective equipment required to contain the spread of the coronavirus epidemic in the country is running without disruptions.

President Borut Pahor received on Tuesday Chinese Ambassador Wang Shunqin to thank him for his country's support in the supply of ventilators, which are expected to be used on patients most affected with the coronavirus.

The post on the website of the president's office says that Pahor and Wang had agreed that Slovenia and China would maintain humanitarian, scientific and economic ties in a bid to manage the consequences of the pandemic.

The ambassador said that the company which supplied the ventilators would make sure that the supply to Slovenia went as agreed.

After the first 20 ventilators were delivered yesterday, another 100 are expected to be delivered by the beginning of the next week. A total of 220 ventilators are expected to be supplied in two weeks.

The press release adds that Wang had informed the president about the situation in China and thanked him for Slovenia's support and aid in the hardest moments.

Economy Minister Zdravko Počivalšek meanwhile told the press that a sufficient quantity of ventilators and protective masks had been ordered. The latter will eventually be available to all, not only to medical staff.

The minister said that there had been some logistical problems, but the "relevant ministries, equipment suppliers and diplomatic services are giving it their best for the ordered quantity of the protective gear to be supplied."

Počivalšek rejected speculations that some of the ordered equipment had gotten stuck along the way and reiterated that payments were made only after the equipment was delivered, not in advance.

The minister noted that companies based in Slovenia had also started producing protective equipment. "Soon we will start delivering increasing quantities of protective equipment and masks from our producers," he added.

At least two companies started producing face masks this week and are expected to make several thousand each day.

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