COVID-19 & Slovenia, Night 26 March: 6th Death, Slovenians Optimistic, Protective Gear, Govt Action, Pahor, Spain, Roma,

By , 26 Mar 2020, 20:43 PM Politics
COVID-19 & Slovenia, Night 26 March: 6th Death, Slovenians Optimistic, Protective Gear, Govt Action, Pahor, Spain, Roma, Aleksandra Jereb

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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 Aleksandra Jereb. You can see more of her work here.


Sixth Covid-19-related death in Slovenia confirmed

Survey: Slovenians quite optimistic about coronavirus situation

Slovenia's stock of protective gear sufficient for at least a week

Top officials pledge effective and democratic action

Pahor endorses govt coronavirus action

Slovenians returning from Spain to be put in strict quarantine

Coronavirus crisis particularly hard on Roma without access to drinking water

Sixth Covid-19-related death in Slovenia confirmed

STA, 26 March 2020 - An resident of the Metlika nursing home died last night of complications caused by the new coronavirus, bringing the total number of Covid-19-related deaths in Slovenia to six. The person had several underlying conditions, the head of UKC Ljubljana's infectious disease clinic Tatjana Lejko Zupanc announced on Thursday.

There are currently 41 persons at the infectious disease clinic treated for Covid-19, of which 11 are in intensive care. One of the patients from the intensive therapy unit no longer needs artificial ventilation, UKC Ljubljana said on Twitter.

"This is exceptionally good news, which we had awaited eagerly," said Lejko Zupanc, adding that additional beds were being prepared at the orthopaedic clinic. A total of 20 beds have been prepared, and the capacity will be further expanded, if necessary.

She said that it was hard to predict how things would develop and that more would be known next week. "The next week will be critical, and then it will be easier to assess the situation," but "the end will not come over night."

Lejko Zupanc noted that all patients undergoing intensive therapy needed several weeks to be unplugged from artificial ventilation. Patients in other wards also need oxygen and hospitalisation takes a long time, which is why the number of patients in increasing.

She added that doctors at UKC Ljubljana spent a lot of time on duty and that they were under immense stress, but that they remained very optimistic for now.

The UKC Maribor hospital reported that 19 patients were being treated there, including four persons in intensive care, who are connected to ventilators. Two patients are also in intensive care in the Golnik Clinic for Respiratory and Allergic Diseases.

Nine Covid-19 patients are currently hospitalised in Celje, with one in intensive care, the Celje general hospital said on Twitter.

A total of 36 new Covid-19 cases were confirmed on Wednesday, bringing the total number to 562. A total of 17,294 tests have been conducted so far.

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Survey: Slovenians quite optimistic about coronavirus situation

STA, 26 March 2020 - Slovenians are still worried about the coronavirus epidemic, but an increasing number (57%) believe the situation is improving, a survey carried out by pollster Valicon between 23 and 25 March shows. Only a week ago, over 50% of those polled said the situation was getting worse.

While 3% even think the situation is improving considerably, the number of those who believe it is much worse than it was has dropped from 8% last week to only 3%.

And while 84% of the 566 polled respondents are worried, two points up from last week, only 25% are very worried, a drop of two points.

Almost 50% of those polled perceive the situation as rather negative, labelling it as "unpleasant or tiresome", but over 50% gave more positive answers such as "acceptable or manageable".

The respondents are still most worried about their families (74% as opposed to 81% a week ago), followed by being worried how long the epidemic will last (54%) and the consequences it will have for the economy (46%).

The majority (51%) approve of anti-coronavirus measures taken by the government, 46% said they were partly adequate or partly inadequate, with 3% seeing them as outright inadequate.

The number of those who believe the measures are not strict enough has fallen from over 50% to 40% in a week, with 53% describing them as appropriate.

Forty-three percent of Slovenians believes schools and kindergartens will be closed and public life at a standstill for another two months, whereas around 30% believe this will change in a month.

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Slovenia's stock of protective gear sufficient for at least a week

STA, 26 March 2020 - After Slovenia received several shipments of protective gear in the past few days, its current stock should suffice at least for a week, chief of the civil protection service Srečko Šestan told the press. New orders have also been placed, so there should be enough protective gear in the future as well, said Aleš Cantarutti of the Economy Ministry.

Slovenia currently has over 7,500 protective suits, 26,000 FFP3/N95 masks, 790,000 surgical masks, 100,000 IIR surgical masks and 7.7 million pairs of gloves. Provided that the gear is used up at a similar pace as it was in the past week, this will suffice for at least one week, Šestan said, noting that additional shipments were expected.

He said health institutions - hospitals, community health centres, retirement homes, pharmacies and dentists - had priority in the distribution of protective gear. Some 30% of the gear is intended for other providers of crucial services such as funeral services, taxi drivers, security guards, prisons etc.

The Civil Protection and Disaster Relief Administration has between 2,000 and 5,000 people working in the field every day, including helping with border checks and distributing aid to people's homes. Šestan said they were also ready for a potential increase in demand for their services.

Some 100 employees of the Financial Administration (FURS) and FURS vehicles were also helping with the distribution of the gear, the chief of the civil protection services said.

According to Economy Ministry State Secretary Aleš Cantarutti, the first Slovenian-made masks have already been delivered as well. Given the number of companies making face masks in Slovenia now, Cantarutti believes the country will eventually reach a certain degree of self-sufficiency in this respect.

Nevertheless, the Commodity Reserves Institute has made several new orders in the past days, and the delivery of those items, including 326 additional ventilators, is expected in the next 60 days.

Additional ventilators have also been ordered by the UKC ljubljana and Celje hospitals, and together with a donation by the power utility HSE, the health system should get an additional 472 ventilators shortly.

But since it is not clear what the demand for these devices will be, another 100 will be ordered. They should be in Slovenia in the next four to six weeks.

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Top officials pledge effective and democratic action

STA, 26 March 2020 - Slovenia's top officials met on Thursday to discuss the functioning of political institutions and joint action during the coronavirus crisis. They said action must be effective but also democratic so as to prevent a decline of trust in democratic institutions.

"The way we survive the crisis will determine how we live after the crisis," President Borut Pahor said after talks with Prime Minister Janez Janša and the heads of both chambers of parliament, National Assembly Speaker Igor Zorčič and National Council President Alojz Kovšca.

Pahor said the intention of the meeting was to determine whether adjustments may be needed so that all decisions are taken fast and in line with the constitution and the law.

"It is of utmost importance that this crisis - health and social crisis - be tackled in a democratic manner with due respect for all standards," he said.

He said the government was doing a good job while the general atmosphere in politics was favourable with differences in views reconciled without hampering the efficiency of measures.

Janša said the government was working efficiently and lawfully, with the measures realistic and feasible, adding that it was "fighting a battle against time".

Zorčič mentioned the possibility of shortening the time frame after which new bills and legislative changes that may not be challenged in referendum take effect, with Pahor saying that the currently valid period of eight days remained in place.

If there is a need to change this so as to allow more effective decision-making, the rule may be changed in line with the rules of procedure by means of democratic procedures, Pahor said.

Zorčič said that some legal experts believed solutions to this could be found within the existing legislation, "but I believe nobody has said that this could already be done today and without risk. And when it comes to emergency laws we really do not want to risk having them declared unconstitutional because they had taken effect to quickly."

The upper chamber president said that the councillors would make an effort to make decisions as fast as possible, noting that the National Council had already waived the right to veto the most recent package of emergency measures drafted by the government.

Talking to the STA after the joint statement, Kovšca said that in the future he would inquire with councillors whether they were thinking about vetoing any bill discussed in parliament and in case of a critical number of affirmative answers, inform the speaker and the president about this.

"Democracy, its standards and norms do not make effectiveness impossible. But in such extraordinary situations they do require more coordination, foresight, cooperation and understanding," Pahor said.

Zorčič said that one of the main challenges was to "prepare for MPs falling ill and get everything ready so that at least a part of their work could be done from home". This is not allowed in the rules of procedure, but the speaker believes that there is political will to change that. The National Council has meanwhile already video-conferenced its sessions, said Kovšca.

Janša and Pahor also expressed hope that EU countries will learn from this epidemic. Pointing to the migration crisis, Pahor said that the global pandemic had shown for a second time in a short time that the EU was unable to fight together. He hopes the bloc will draw a lesson from the situation so as to strengthen the trust of the people.

The prime minister echoed this. His government is "making a list of things that need to be prepared if Slovenia is faced with another epidemic in the future. As far as we're concerned, we'll be a hundred times better prepared that we were now."

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Pahor endorses govt coronavirus action

STA, 26 March 2020 - President Borut Pahor has endorsed the government action to contain the coronavirus outbreak in Slovenia as well as the EUR 2 billion stimulus package it set out on Tuesday. In a televised interview last night, he commended citizens and the opposition for responsible conduct.

In an interview broadcast on the late night Odmevi news show on TV Slovenija, Pahor said the composition of the group of experts advising the government on the crisis measures inspired great confidence, and the measures themselves were a step in the right direction.

"I'm not saying they are ideal or that they won't need amendments and adjustments on the go, but I feel they are being taken on time and are such that no one will be left behind," he said about a legislative package to aid businesses and people, to be adopted by the government on Friday.

The president finds action to contain the epidemic appropriate. He praised in particular health staff and the health system as a whole. "They've managed to flatten the curve of infections and the sick to an extent the system can manage."

He in particular noted a "responsible attitude" by the opposition: "They have their opinion, criticism, but they are doing it in a responsible way."

He also lavished praise on the citizens for "exemplary" abiding by the measures imposed. "I'm proud of our homeland and our people, how we've responded in this serious situation to the recommendations and instructions of the competent services."

Asked whether the lockdown measures were taken on time, he said neither South Korea nor Singapore claimed they had taken all the necessary measures on time.

"No country in the world, not even China, has reacted right away. There's no rule book for such a situation. It's an unprecedented situation. Perhaps Slovenia should have taken some steps sooner or differently as well, but we'll be all wise after the event.

"Fact is we've caught the last train for those radical, partly excessive measures that I've welcomed so that we've flattened the curve. While we cannot project the peak, we may be optimistic that due to the right action Slovenia is on top of the situation."

Pahor expects the health crisis to be followed by a recession where it would be important to take measures that would not generate inequality. "I find it important that there won't be differences at the level of countries or between countries that could provoke disappointments, even anger, which would then reduce politics' potential to manage the situation."

The latter issue would be the topic of the four leaders' meeting today, as Pahor hosts PM Janez Janša and the speakers of both houses of parliament. "I find it important not to focus only on measures aimed at reducing the number of infected and sick, we must also take on the consequences so that everyone gets the feeling they were not left behind in this crisis."

Pahor reiterated his support for invoking a special clause of the defence act to give the army limited police powers, so that it could alleviate the burden on the police on the south border.

However, he finds it important that deputy factions are consulted. "It's essential to keep the sense of democracy, democratic standards despite the state of emergency (...) We must convince the needed majority in parliament with arguments that this is a necessary measure."

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Slovenians returning from Spain to be put in strict quarantine

STA, 26 March 2020 - Some 100 Slovenians will return home on Thursday on evacuation flights arranged by the Foreign Ministry. About 50 have already been flown in from Warsaw and Prague, while 50 are to return on a flight from Madrid this evening. Coming from a high-risk area, the latter will not go into self-isolation but will be quarantined in a hotel.

Apart from the Slovenian passengers - among them is reportedly also basketball player Zoran Dragić - the flight from Madrid will also carry a handful of Austrian citizens.

The Slovenian citizens have been informed by the embassy in Spain that they would not be self-isolating at home. The decision to place them at a separate location was made by health experts because Spain is a high-risk country, the Foreign Ministry said.

They will be placed in Paka Hotel in Velenje, which has been made available to the state free of charge by Hisense, the Chinese-based owner of household appliances maker Gorenje.

The Foreign Ministry is currently organising a second flight from Madrid, with take-off expected on Saturday. The ministry also called on those who want to return to get in touch with the Slovenian embassy in Madrid as soon as possible.

This flight from Spain will follow the same quarantine protocol, the Foreign Ministry said, adding that the Health Ministry and the National Institute of Public Health (NIJZ) are in charge of quarantine.

The previous night 50 Slovenians returned on a flight from Warsaw that made a layover in Prague, where the plane was also boarded by a group of seven retuning from Vietnam. Meanwhile, the flight from Ljubljana to Warsaw carried 12 Poles and two Czech citizens.

Moreover, there is also a possibility of an evacuation flight from Helsinki next week, sometime between Monday and Wednesday. The flight may make layovers in other Nordic countries, the Slovenian embassy in Denmark has said on its website.

The embassy in Brasilia is meanwhile getting everything ready to get Slovenians out of Ecuador. Three flights have been planned: one on Friday from Quito to Frankfurt with a layover in Guayaquil, and two on Monday, both from Quito to Madrid with layovers in Guayaquil.

These will be special flights and ticket bookings will only be possible through embassies.

A crisis team at the Foreign Ministry has been working tirelessly for days on end to ensure Slovenians abroad can return home, as global passenger transport has been gradually shutting down. Slovenia has suspended regular air passenger traffic last week, however, evacuation flights may land and take off.

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Coronavirus crisis particularly hard on Roma without access to drinking water

STA, 26 March 2020 - Several informal Roma settlements in Slovenia remain without drinking water and are thus struggling particularly hard in the face of the coronavirus crisis. Efforts are under way to equip them with emergency water tanks, while solutions are also being sought to include more Roma children in distance learning.

The Forum of Slovenian Roma Councillors, comprising Roma municipal councillors, has warned that the tough living conditions for the Roma mean this population is paying an even higher toll due to the epidemic and social distancing measures.

While it is particularly hard to stay at home when living conditions are inappropriate, the key problem is that individual settlements remain without drinking water, the councillors wrote.

The head of the forum Darko Rudaš has told the STA that a fresh appeal had been made to secure water access, an appeal that is this time "not based on the Slovenian constitution that secures drinking water to all citizens or on the protection of human rights, but on the threat of an infection that would be impossible to control in a settlement without drinking water".

"It would not be realistic to demand systemic solutions and we are not doing that, since it could take too long," Rudaš said, while explaining the idea was to install water tanks. "We are not demanding that this be free of charge, only that is financially accessible for these people," he added.

Rudaš explained talks on this had been under way with the Government Office for National Minorities and that water tanks could be arranged within a week.

The office's head Stane Baluh confirmed efforts had been started with several Roma organisations and that a call to protect the Roma had been sent in recent days to several institutions.

Rudaš said that no cases of Covid-19 had been confirmed yet in Roma settlements in Slovenia, that the community had been informed about the needed protective measures via a TV report in the Roma language and was behaving responsibly.

He also highlighted problems with the inclusion of Roma children into distance learning schemes set up by schools as a result of the crisis.

"The schools have made a huge effort and are establishing contact with Roma children and their parents. The importance of Roma assistants became particularly clear in this situation," he said, but stressed that, in particular in the south-east of the country, lack of computers and limited internet access was an issue.

Rudaš pointed out that distance learning was tougher for children living at close quarters and that some of the parents were too poorly educated to help them. Serious efforts will need to be invested to help them catch up after the crisis.

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