COVID-19 & Slovenia, Night 30 March: New Measures, Austria, Stimulus Package, Rising Anxiety, Protective Equipment

By , 30 Mar 2020, 20:22 PM Politics
COVID-19 & Slovenia, Night 30 March: New Measures, Austria, Stimulus Package, Rising Anxiety, Protective Equipment Natasha Villone

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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 and artists in Slovenia. Today it’s Natasha Villone. You can see more of their work here.


Stricter measures to fight coronavirus in effect

Slovenians put into quarantine after returning from Austria

New stimulus package in parliament on Wednesday

Unions, businesses welcome mega stimulus bill, expect more from another

Poll finds increasing anxiety about coronavirus

Staff reinforcements and protective equipment urged for nursing homes

Stricter measures to fight coronavirus in effect

STA, 30 March 2020 - Strict new measures to contain the coronavirus epidemic entered into force on Monday, as movement has been additionally restricted and shopping rules tightened to protect the most vulnerable groups.

Starting today Slovenians will be confined to their home municipality for most daily activities except to go to work, to do farm work, provide assistance to persons in need of care, and access emergency services, pharmacies, diplomatic missions and judicial authorities.

Police will control whether a person has justifiably left own municipality, so it advises people to have a note proving the necessity of going to another municipality, although no such note is explicitly mentioned in the decree. "This should make it easier for the police and shorten the procedure for the people," it said on Twitter.

Within their municipality people will still be allowed to go to shops and access services that are provided despite the sweeping lockdown, and if such services are not available in their municipality they will be allowed to go to the nearest place where they are available.

For most people public parks have been the only nature they have been able to enjoy during the lockdown and the new decree stipulates that people may only access parks within their own municipality. Mayors may introduce additional restrictions.

A number of mayors have told the STA that they are in favour of the new measures, deeming them necessary, most notably for tourist spots in the country.

Some are planning to ramp up the measures by restricting movement at the most popular destinations if people keep flocking to them.

Janez Fajfar, the mayor of lakeside resort Bled, said that the government had acknowledged warnings and calls for stepping up measures by municipalities that saw an influx of visitors over the weekend.

"The measure, as strict as it is, has come at the right time," he told the STA, adding that police officers, security officers as well as volunteers would ensure that the restriction was heeded at Bled.

For those who do venture to shops, face masks, even ones made at home, or equivalents such as scarves that cover the mouth and nose will be mandatory along with protective gloves; the decree stipulates that masks and gloves need to be worn in indoor public spaces.

The Murska Sobota civil protection service is to provide the protective gear for the locals in cooperation with shops, banks, post offices and other public institutions. The city in the north-east has ordered 10,000 face masks from a local producer to secure the supply.

Shops are also subject to new rules. In the first two hours after opening, from 8am to 10am, shops are reserved for pensioners, the disabled and pregnant women, groups that are seen as being at particular risk. What is more, pensioners will not be allowed into shops after 10am at all.

Another new rule, which took effect on Sunday, requires the managers of all multi-apartment buildings to disinfect at least twice a day frequently touched surfaces such as doorknobs, light switches and elevator buttons.

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Slovenians put into quarantine after returning from Austria

STA, 30 March 2020 - A group of Slovenians returned to Slovenia from Austria's Tyrol on Sunday evening, after having spent two weeks in quarantine in the neighbouring country due to the coronavirus outbreak. Upon their return to Slovenia, all 27 of them have been put into state-administrated quarantine in the north-east.

They are all feeling well and are being taken care of, Edith Žižek Sapač, the head of the Murska Sobota health centre has told the STA. The citizens have been tested for coronavirus infection, with the results expected presumably on Tuesday.

Most of the group is made up of persons who work in Austria. They were transported to an inn in Dolga Vas (NE) immediately after having their samples taken.

The Slovenians worked in some of the Austrian hotspots and they are all residents of towns in north-eastern Slovenia.

Lendava Mayor Janez Magyar has said that they are not patients but locals as well as taxpayers who have been on temporary work in Austria where they were already quarantined for two weeks.

Lendava stepped up so that they have been placed into 14-day quarantine close to home. One of the locals has offered his inn to serve as quarantine site, while the local civil protection service, Red Cross and the town itself helped out with providing protective gear and sustenance.

Their repatriation was coordinated by the Slovenian embassy in Vienna in cooperation with the Austrian authorities and the Croatian embassy. Along with the 27 Slovenians, 13 Croatian citizens were evacuated as well, and have continued their journey home.

Meanwhile, a group of 40 Slovenians who returned to Slovenia from Spain on Saturday and were then placed in mandatory 14-day quarantine in a hotel in Postojna were tested again today, Postojna Mayor Igor Marentič told the STA.

They are all feeling well and none had any signs of infection during the travel. They all tested negative for coronavirus while being quarantined in Spain. Right before the end of the two weeks in quarantine, their samples will be taken again.

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 New stimulus package in parliament on Wednesday

STA, 30 March 2020 - Parliamentary Speaker Igor Zorčič has announced that the new stimulus package, adopted by the government on Sunday to mitigate the impact of coronavirus, will be discussed and voted on in the National Assembly on Wednesday.

A day earlier, the legislation will be discussed by the Finance Committee, Zorčič said on Monday after the college of deputy group leaders meeting which determined the agenda of Wednesday's emergency session.

The measures supporting companies, self-employed, pensioners and other vulnerable groups will be fast tracked in parliament.

Estimated at EUR 3 billion, the package includes bonuses for vital staff and a pay cut for public office holders, and support measures for companies like pay compensation for temporary lay-offs, and tax and loan payment deferrals.

It also includes loan guarantees and financing of social contributions, temporary basic income for the self-employed and allowances for pensioners, large families and students.

Government secretary general Božo Predalič said ahead of today's meeting that the government was aware of the problems faced by citizens and businesses due to the epidemic, which he labelled "one of the hardest tests since WWII".

The government proposes that the package mitigating the epidemic and preventing its spreading is processed in the National Assembly in a fast-track procedure as the "measures need to be taken resolutely and immediately."

All deputy groups bar the opposition Left, which abstained, agreed that the package should be fast-tracked, while there was less consensus on when the session should be held.

The entire opposition except the National Party (SNS) said it would like to have more time to examine the legislation and file possible amendments, proposing that the session be held on Thursday.

A representative of the parliamentary legal service also said some additional time would be welcome, but added that an opinion would be nevertheless delivered in time.

Part of the opposition is of the opinion that the package should be divided into a part dealing with financial assistance to individuals and the economy and a part dealing with police powers, including regarding the enforcement of quarantine.

Zorčič said at the meeting that the package contained an article saying that it was not possible to call a referendum on it, based on the constitutional provisions which stated that referendum was not possible on certain laws.

"If the wording remains the same when the law is passed, I'm inclined to the idea of sending it immediately to the president of the republic to promulgate it," he added.

Also on the agenda of Wednesday's session will be the appointment of two replacement MPs as Jelka Godec and Franc Breznik of the senior coalition Democrats (SDS) have been given posts in the government.

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Unions, businesses welcome mega stimulus bill, expect more from another

STA, 30 March 2020 - Trade unions and businesses have welcomed the EUR 3 billion bill to help the economy and society cope with the coronavirus crisis as a step in the right direction meant to avert massive layoffs. However, the unions say certain groups have been left out and criticise the government for ignoring social dialogue in adopting it.

The intervention package the government presented yesterday brings a number of measures to avert a looming wave of layoffs, but fails to cover all affected groups. Some systemic measures are poorly worded and should be more concrete, ZSSS trade union confederation boss Lidija Jerkič told the STA on Monday.

The bill does not cover all those who lost their jobs before the law, those who due to the Covid-19 situation agreed with the termination of their contract, and many other groups of workers on various forms on non-permanent contracts. Jerkič believes this is an area calling for additional reflection.

According to a statement by confederations represented on the Economic and Social Council (ESS), a compensation for the loss of pay should be given to all workers who have lost their job for business reasons, incapacity or disability, or because their temporary contract ran out after the epidemic was declared on 12 March.

She also pointed to students, who will get only a one-off payment of EUR 150. And while the Slovenian Student Organisation (ŠOS) is happy the government has not entirely forgotten about the students, it considers the amount by far too low, noting an average monthly cost of a student is around EUR 500.

The ŠOS said almost half of all students are forced to work to be able to afford studying, and now they faced months-long loss of income. It also criticised the bill for not covering students who do not have permanent residence in Slovenia, but welcomed the fact they will not have to pay dormitory rent.

Jerkič is happy with the government's coverage of pay for those who have been temporarily laid off and the state's payment of all pension contributions. She also welcomed the special crisis bonus for those who continue to work, but noted a big difference between the private and public sectors.

The head of the largest confederation of trade unions is meanwhile apprehensive about the labour inspection services' ability to control the implementation of the measures, given its understaffing even before the epidemic.

The trade unions understand the bill had to be adopted in a rush, but nevertheless pointed to its being adopted in the absence of social dialogue.

The KSJS confederation of public sector trade unions believes the rush does not warrant neglecting the fundamental democratic processes, and the ZSSS urged the government to appoint its members of the ESS as soon as possible.

The KSJS, although it supports the majority of the measures, believes some of them radically encroach upon workers' rights, including reassigning a public worker without their consent, ordering enormous overtime without securing adequate rest time, or hiring top office holders without calls for applications.

Worried the government might save on the backs of the public sector like during the financial crisis, the KSJS wants the government to publicly say how Slovenia will service its increased public debt resulting from the adopted measures, especially since a recession is expected to hit after the coronavirus crisis.

It moreover highlighted "an enormous burden and responsibility carried by public sector workers, with many exposed to infection on a daily basis", so it expects the government to bear this in mind in the future.

Another confederation of trade unions, KS 90, said the special bonus for those working in a crisis situation should be received by all public sector workers who are working, not just those in the most risky lines of business such as healthcare.

A different view on the monthly crisis bonus - EUR 200 for those who continue to work and whose last monthly pay was below three minimum wages - is held by the Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GZS), saying it should rather depend on the extent of risk and stress a worker is exposed to.

The GZS has welcomed the bill noting it primarily focussed on social issues and keeping the jobs, which is also important for businesses, but it should bring clearer criteria for aid.

In a video statement, GZS director general Sonja Šmuc said the GZS was happy the government would cover the costs of temporarily laid-off workers, sick leave and pension contributions of employees and employers.

The stakeholders will try to influence the final working of the bill before it is passed in parliament later this week.

The GZS moreover has great expectations from another intervention bill the government is about to draft and which should focus on liquidity matters.

Šmuc believes it should contain two key measures: a multi-billion euro fund to provide fresh loans for operating currents assets and for investment and a fund for the purchase of liabilities, to prevent payment default and the crisis being used to the detriment of companies.

The unions taking part in the ESS also highlighted the fact that the bill does not contain the announced cut in fees for members of supervisory boards and for non-executive directors of companies in direct or indirect state ownership.

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Poll finds increasing anxiety about coronavirus

STA, 30 March 2020 - A poll commissioned by the newspapers Dnevnik and Večer suggests that Slovenians are getting increasingly anxious about the coronavirus pandemic with almost 60% worried they will catch the virus.

As many as 86.5% of those questioned in the Vox Populi poll said they were concerned about the spread of the coronavirus outbreak in the country, against 13.3% who were not worried.

The proportion of those concerned increased considerably compared with the situation two weeks ago when the same poll found nearly seven out of ten did not feel threatened by the novel virus.

Asked whether they were worried about getting infected, 56.8% of those questioned answered in the affirmative, against 35.3% who answered in the negative.

Still, a majority (50.5%) have not yet changed their holiday plans because of the pandemic, while 41.8% have, writes Dnevnik in its Monday edition.

Just over 70% deem the government measures aimed at curbing the epidemic proportionate and as many as 86.4% said they fully complied with the measures, with a further 13.2% partly complying.

Based on a cross-examination of data, the paper finds that protective measures are being observed to a smaller extent by male respondents up to the age of 30.

The poll also suggests a radical change in people's lifestyles; 67% reported going to a grocery shop occasionally, and 72% reported not visiting their friends or relatives, while a quarter said they did.

However, 43.4% said that they had taken a walk out in nature quite often in the past week and a further 42.8% did that occasionally.

Six out of ten respondents also reported following news programmes on TV or radio more than usual, and more than half (55.6%) browsing the net more often than they did before the pandemic.

The survey was conducted online among 1,300 people on 25 and 26 March by Ninamedia.

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Staff reinforcements and protective equipment urged for nursing homes

STA, 30 March 2020 - Two associations specialising in elderly care urged the government on Monday to provide sufficient staff and protective equipment in Slovenian nursing homes, some of which have become coronavirus hotspots.

Official data puts the number of elderly persons diagnosed with Covid-19 in nursing homes so far at 109 and the number of staff affected at 24.

The total number of all confirmed coronavirus cases across Slovenia stood at 756 on Sunday.

The Srebrna Nit (Silver Lining) association campaigning for dignified old age asked the government and the Human Rights Ombudsman to activate competent volunteers and notably all precious experts who have been relegated to their homes with the closure of spas, private health institutions etc.

Along with the Association of Nursing Homes, Srebrna Nit has moreover warned about the lack of protective equipment and the need for the costs of equipment to be covered by the state.

The Association of Nursing Homes confirmed for the STA that reinforcements were needed in particular in nursery homes with confirmed coronavirus cases. The homes will start notifying regional coordinators of the shortage and have doctors and other health staff reallocated and coordinated.

Srebrna Nit sees the root of the problem in elderly homes being classified as social institutions even though the nature of their users would seem to render them closer to healthcare institutions that should be given priority considered their vulnerability.

On the other hand, Srebrna Nit also stressed nursing homes must not turn into hospitals. "We cannot accept a small number of employees to focus only on urgent services needed to preserve the health and lives of the users as recommended by the Labour Ministry," it wrote.

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