STA, 20 April 2021 - Mario Fafangel, the head of the centre for communicable diseases at the National Institute of Public Health (NIJZ), has resigned from the team advising the government on measures to contain coronavirus, saying decisions taken are often in disagreement with the epidemiologists' opinion and protocols.
Fafangel, who had already resigned from the previous line-up of the advisory group under the leadership of Bojana Beović, joined the new team appointed by Health Minister Janez Poklukar and headed by Mateja Logar. Both Logar and Beović are experts on infectious diseases.
"When I received your invitation to rejoin the expert team I honestly believed things would be different this time around. They are different indeed, worse," Fafangel said in his resignation letter to Poklukar, stating his decision is irrevocable.
"In the advisory group to the Health Ministry the voice of the epidemiological college that I represent continues to be in minority and represents but one vote," he said.
He went on to say that he was distressed by the decisions that were often contrary to the epidemiologists' opinions. "Therefore I cannot and will not take part any longer."
"Continuously drawing attention to decisions that do not make sense and undermine established procedures of the epidemiological service and writing dissenting opinions for the record of the advisory team's meetings makes no sense and is unproductive," Fafangel added.
He was particularly critical of the way the 11-day circuit breaker lockdown at the beginning of the month was implemented, saying he found it horrible having to decide how or how many individuals could freely express their opinion about anything in a public space. "I do not want to play God," he said.
Minister Poklukar regretted Fafangel's resignation, thanking him for his contribution, while asking epidemiologist Irena Grmek Košnik to take his place in the group.
The Health Ministry said Grmek Košnik had accepted the invitation and would take over the role immediately.
Responding to the resignation, the advisory team said that its purpose was for leading experts to exchange opinions, and to make proposals on that basis, while final decisions were the competence and responsibility of the decision-makers.
"Every opinion in the group is appreciated, which is why we regret every decision by renown experts to no longer participate in looking for best solutions," adds the statement sent to the STA by the head of the group Mateja Logar.
MEP Tanja Fajon, the president of the opposition Social Democrats (SD), said Fafangel enjoyed a lot of public trust and added that she would "much rather see the government resign instead of Fafangel".
Fajon also said on Twitter that the resignation of the only epidemiologist from the expert group meant that something was very wrong and that the government exposed the reality of situation being out of control.
Prime Minister Janez Janša retweeted Fajon and added that this was the "latest proof that some do not differentiate between epidemiology and political science. They think that these are two different departments at the Faculty of Social Sciences."
STA, 20 April 2021 - Slovenia's curve of coronavirus infections keeps on its downward trajectory; 718 people tested positive on Monday to push the rolling 7-day average down further by 48 to 737, data released by the government show. Five patients with Covid-19 died.
Marking the sixth day that the daily increase in infections declined from the same day a week ago, the latest cases were confirmed from 3,537 PCR tests, for a positivity rate of 20.3%. In addition, 39,436 rapid antigen tests were performed.
When can I go to the pub? What the numbers mean for getting back to normal…
Covid-19 hospitalisations dropped by three to 649 after 71 patients were admitted and 69 were discharged yesterday. The number of patients in intensive care dropped by one to 156, Maja Bratuša, the government's Covid-19 spokesperson, told the daily press briefing on Tuesday.
Yesterday, Mateja Logar, the government's chief Covid-19 adviser, told reporters the effects of the 11-day lockdown around Easter should reflect in hospitals in about a week.
The cumulative 14-day incidence per 100,000 residents rose to 584 from 563 the day before and the 7-day average is at 246.
Infections are again reported at care homes despite most of the residents and staff being vaccinated against Covid-19.
Cveto Uršič, a state secretary at the Labour Ministry, said outbreaks were reported at care homes in Trbovlje, Domžale and the Ljubljana Fužine borough, while there were no infections in other regions.
In the week from 12 to 18 April, 47 care home residents were infected and 26 staff, up from nine residents and 19 staff in the week before.
"The number is very low considering there are about 18,900 residents and 12,200 staff in all care homes in the country," said Uršič.
Out of the 28 infected in the Trbovlje home, 26 had been vaccinated with two doses, while one had had Covid-19 before. The source of the infection has not been established.
The infected residents have been isolated, and Romana Martinčič, the director of the Trbovlje general hospital, said they all had mild symptoms and were not expected to require hospital care.
Martinčič believes they were likely infected with a new variant of the virus because transmissions are spreading fast. Samples are still being analysed to establish what the mutation was.
The Domžale care home has seven confirmed infections, including in a new resident. Most are not displaying symptoms, while one of the infected residents whose condition had been bad before caught the virus has died, said Uršič.
All residents in the home except one who had recovered from Covid-19 before had received two jabs of the Covid-19.
Eleven residents also tested positive in the care home in Ljubljana's Fužine borough. Six of them had been inoculated twice and two once, while three had neither been vaccinated nor had had the disease before. The source of infections has not been established yet.
Data from the National Institute of Public Health (NIJZ) show a total of 374,730 people have received the first dose of a vaccine against Covid-19 and 146,355 have received two, which means 7% of the population has been fully immunised.
Slovenia has reported 233,033 coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic, of which 12,306 are active cases, according to NIJZ.
STA, 16 April - Gatherings of up to 100 people indoors or outdoors will be permitted under a government decree adopted on Friday in response to a Constitutional Court decision staying the blanket ban on public assembly.
Indoor up to 100 people will be able to gather, assuming there is at least 30 square metres of space per person or per members of one household. Masks will be mandatory.
Outdoors, one person per 10 square metres will be allowed to gather and a distance of 1.5 metres between persons must be observed, Interior Minister Aleš Hojs announced on Friday.
The decree is expected to be published in the Official Gazette tonight and will enter into force on Monday.
Hojs however stressed that any gatherings must be registered with the authorities under the law, but special permission from the National Institute of Public Health (NIHZ) would not be necessary.
The minister also said the Constitutional Court would now be held responsible, having apparently decided that the right to public assembly takes precedence over public health.
As for the previous public assembly rules, Hojs said the government's desire had been to reduce the number of contacts, infections and deaths, and reduce pressure on hospitals, leaning on expert studies that showed such a measure was effective at preventing transmission.
In staying the government decree yesterday, the court held the new regulation had to take into account not only the human rights aspect but also the fact that gatherings are an important means of expressing political positions.
According to the court, the government should weigh between potentially harmful consequences of gatherings and their constitutional importance, whereby it has a variety of tools at its disposal to strike a balance.
Hojs said the government had considered rulings by the French and German constitutional courts in setting the 100-person ceiling, though he was quick to point out that those rulings were made at a time when the prevalence of coronavirus in the respective countries was mush lower than it currently is in Slovenia.
Next week, the government will also examine how to regulate other types of assembly, such as weddings. As Hojs said, there is no reason why there should be differences between different types of events.
All our stories on coronavirus and Slovenia
STA, 16 April 2021 - Final-year secondary school pupils will have a chance to get vaccinated against Covid-19 as early as next Friday ahead of the school-leaving examinations due to begin in May under an upgraded national vaccination strategy adopted by the government on Thursday.
The upgraded strategy, presented by Health Ministry official Vesna Kerstin Petrič at Friday's press briefing, placed matura students and staff involved in the examinations that has not yet been vaccinated among priority groups, along with over 60-year-olds and people with chronic conditions.
Kerstin Petrič said that parents of particularly vulnerable chronically ill children have also been listed among the priority groups in the latest change to Slovenia's vaccination strategy.
"We want the pupils to prepare for the maturity examination in the most relaxed way possible and that they sit for it in a safe environment," she said in explaining the rationale behind the latest change in strategy, although she admitted it came a bit late.
Noting that vaccination is voluntary, the official urged pupils wishing to get a jab to apply today or by noon on Monday at the vaccination centre of the community health care of their permanent residence.
Pupils aged 18 and over will be inoculated with the AstraZeneca jab and those under 18 with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
About 17,000 final-year secondary school pupils are to sit for the matura examinations, which are due to start with a Slovenian essay on 4 May. There have been some indications the test might be postponed, but Kerstin Petrič said she was not in a position to speak about the examinations.
Mateja Logar, the head of the Covid-19 advisory team, confirmed for TV Slovenija yesterday the group had proposed moving the essay exam to the end of May to allow pupils to develop immunity against Covid-19 after vaccination. However, the Education Ministry said matura would proceed as planned.
Bojana Beović, the head of the national advisory committee on immunisation, said the body had not been acquainted with the idea to vaccinate matura students and that it was a political decision.
STA, 16 April 2021 - Slovenia recorded 860 coronavirus cases for Thursday, as the daily case count dropped significantly for the second straight day compared with the same day a week ago. As a result, the rolling 7-day average of new cases fell to 871 from 931 the day before, fresh data from the government show.
Five Covid-19 fatalities were reported for Thursday, and hospitalisations rose by 15 to 639 this morning despite 50 patients being discharged yesterday. The number of intensive care unit (ICU) cases rose by two to 152.
Slovenia's largest hospital, UKC Ljubljana is treating 177 Covid-19 patients, half fewer than at the peak of the second wave in November, while the number of ICU patients, at 51, is nearing the peak seen late last year, the hospital tweeted.
A total of 4,253 PCR tests were performed yesterday, of which 20.2% returned positive results, and 24,220 rapid antigen tests.
The cumulative 14-day incidence per 100,000 residents dropped by a further 15 to 601 and the 7-day incidence dropped to 290 from 310 the day before.
Data released by the National Institute of Public Health (NIJZ) shows an estimated 12,685 of active cases in the country, out of a total of 230,828 confirmed since the start of the pandemic.
The most recent death toll was released by NIJZ on Monday, showing that 4,411 people had died within 28 days of testing positive by Sunday. The government has reported 21 more fatalities since.
According to NIJZ, 360,450 people have received their first dose of a vaccine against Covid-19 and 136,582 have received two, which means that 6.5% of the population has been fully immunised.
What do these numbers mean for things re-opening? Find out here…
STA, 15 April 2021 - The government has made several changes to border restrictions, including to expand the exceptions for quarantine-free entry into Slovenia to people vaccinated with the Russian Sputnik V and the US Johnson & Johnson jabs against Covid-19, provided they have received the first dose at least 21 days ago.
Quarantine- or test-free entry is already possible for those producing certificates proving they have been inoculated with Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna or AstraZeneca vaccines.
At its session on Wednesday, the government also extended the time allowed for transiting Slovenia from six to 12 hours, and added business reasons to the list of urgent reasons that allow quarantine- or test-free entry into the country.
Over 15-year-olds attending school across the border on a daily basis and those bringing commuting pupils or students across the border will no longer need to test weekly if they return right after dropping them off.
The exception for those owning or leasing land in the border area is being expanded to include their close family or same household members when they travel together.
Quarantine-free entry into Slovenia with a negative test taken within the last three days is also being allowed to citizens of EU or Schengen area countries who have been to one of those for up to 48 hours to provide care or assistance to family members or persons in need of care, or to do maintenance work at a private property they own, lease or use.
The exception pertaining to maintenance work on private property also includes household or close family members when travelling together with the eligible person.
The red list of countries was amended to remove Portugal and the UK, while there have also been changes to administrative units of Denmark, Finland, France, Italy, Norway and Spain.
All our stories on covid and Slovenia, and the regularly updated police page on crossing the state border during the epidemic
STA, 14 April 2021 - Hospitality establishments in eight of Slovenia's twelve statistical regions will be allowed to serve guests at outdoor tables from 7am to 7pm for a week starting from Monday under a government decision.
Beer gardens and restaurant and cafe terraces will be allowed to reopen in the Goriška, Gorenjska, Obalno-Kraška, Pomurska, Posavska, Podravska, Koroška and Zasavska regions between 19 and 25 April, reads a message posted on the government's Twitter account.
"We are extending the currently valid exceptions and in eight orange regions we are opening terraces and gardens of restaurants and bars between 7am and 7pm. The hospitality industry will be able to breathe more easily and we are yet another step closer to the life as we used to know," Economy Minister Zdravko Počivalšek said on his Twitter profile.
Precautionary measures issued by the National Institute of Public Health will have to be observed. So far this included the wearing of masks by guests and staff except when seated at tables and weekly testing for the staff.
The government took the decision during a session at Brdo estate on Wednesday dedicated to a weekly review of coronavirus restrictions.
STA, 14 April 2021 - Voluntary self-testing for secondary school pupils for coronavirus will not be launched on Friday as initially planned but at some later point, the Health Ministry said on Wednesday. The reason is a delay in the supply of test kits, and schools and kids will be notified of a new date in due course.
Slovenia has ordered 300,000 rapid antigen test kits as part of a common EU procurement.
It was announced on Tuesday that secondary school pupils would start self-testing on 16 April, to be then repeated every Monday.
Primary school pupils in years six to nine - the last four years - would meanwhile start self-testing after May Day holidays.
If a pupil tests positive, they will be isolated and the school will inform their parents, who will contact the pupil's GP to arrange for a PCR test.
The pupil's classmates who have tested negative will have classes at school.
STA, 13 April 2021 - Voluntary self-testing of secondary school pupils for coronavirus will be launched on Friday, while year six to nine primary school pupils will start to self-test after May Day holidays, a Health Ministry official has announced.
Addressing Tuesday's Covid-19 press briefing, State Secretary Franc Vindišar said self-testing would be performed in schools ahead of classes and will take about 15 minutes. After Friday, it will be repeated every Monday.
If the pupil tests positive, he or she will be isolated and the school will inform their parents, who will contact the pupil's GP to arrange for a PCR test. The pupil's classmates who have tested negative will have classes at school.
If the positive student gets back a negative PCR test, they will return to school. If the test is positive, the student will stay at home, while the classmates will attend classes in school.
Vindišar said self-testing was voluntary and underage pupils will need the parents' consent to self test. However, he said it was possible those pupils who would not self-test would have classes remotely.
Pupil screening is aimed at creating a safe school environment, detect infections on time and thus prevent their spread. Research has shown that regular rapid testing reduces infections by half.
The tests, which are on their way to Slovenia, are easy to use, said Vindišar. The student will insert the swab about 2 to 2.5 centimetres into their nose. The Health Ministry has prepared a video and a poster with instructions, which will be sent to schools, as well as set up a helpline.
Despite self-testing, all preventive measures will remain in place and classes will continue to be held in bubbles.
Vindišar underscored that self-testing was intended for healthy pupils without Covid-19 symptoms. Anyone displaying those should stay at home and contact their GP.
Self-testing has been cleared by the National Medicine Ethics Commission, which has noted that the testing is simple, non-invasive and effective.
The entire population of secondary school pupils, about 80,000 could have been tested on Monday after the half attending school in person this week could get self-tested on Friday. However, initial inquiries suggest only about 20% of pupils are ready to get self-tested.
The ministry is planning to expand self-testing to other groups in education who have expressed their interest. Talks are under way with student organisation representatives so that students could start self-testing as early as May.
Marko Pokorn, the medical director of the Ljubljana Paediatric Clinic, welcomed self-testing in the efforts to allow pupils to return to schools, which he said was vital considering the emotional distress they are witnessing in children and youths.
Since 19 November the clinic has screened over 5,200 children and those accompanying them with rapid antigen tests, 43 of whom tested positive. On checking the positives with PCR tests about half returned positive.
The test that will be used for self-testing at schools has been checked by the Paediatric Clinic and Pokorn said it was safe and could be performed correctly by a six-year-old when supervised.
STA, 13 April 2021 - Slovenia's largest two vaccination centres witnessed massive cancellations by those due to get an AstraZeneca jab last week. Half of those invited turned down the jab in Maribor and a third in Ljubljana.
Under the valid national vaccination strategy, AstraZeneca is being currently administered to over 60-year-olds, while the national immunisation advisory body has approved the vaccine for use on everyone over 18.
The Maribor Community Health Centre has been inviting 60-65s to be inoculated with the jab.
However, the centre's director, Jernej Završnik said they had been noticing people having second thoughts. If someone refuses a particular jab, or does not respond to the invitation, "we call the next one on the list".
Half the people invited to get the jab turned it down, while in case of the other two available vaccines about 10% are turned down, Završnik told the STA on Monday.
So far, the Maribor centre vaccinated 10,400 people with the AstraZeneca jab. In all they had inoculated 41,200 with the first dose and 11,230 with both doses. They expect they will have inoculated all over 60s this week.
Meanwhile, the Ljubljana Community Health Centre saw 1,646 of the 5,040 appointed (33%) to get vaccinated with the AstraZeneca jab fail to appear for their appointment last week. Those due to get other vaccines all turned up.
In case of cancellations, the centre has reserve lists of persons in the target group planned for immunisation. "If we are vaccinating over the 60s, over 60s are entered on the reserve list as well," the centre said.
Health Ministry State Secretary Franc Vindišar told reporters on Tuesday that those who turn down a certain vaccine are placed on the bottom of the waiting list, which means their turn will come once there is enough of the desired vaccine available.
"All the vaccines that have been endorsed by the European Medicines Agency are safe and effective," the official underscored.
Last week, the EU medicines regulator said that unusual blood clots should be listed as a very rare side effect of the AstraZeneca vaccine, but also said the benefits of the vaccine outweighed the risks.
Bojana Beović, the head of the national immunisation advisory commission, expressed surprise at the vaccine being turned down by the over 60s, considering the vaccine involves no risk for the age group on principle.
"It's the cohort where the risk of the vaccine is minimal compared with the risk of the disease. In the past week or ten days everyone who died from Covid-19, that is about ten people, were in fact over 60 years of age, except individual exceptions," she said.
She believes GPs should talk to their patients to better explain the risks and benefits involved.
The advisory group's decision that the vaccine can be used for all age groups of adults as approved by the EMA means that those who have received the first dose of the vaccine, that is teachers, will get the same jab again.
Beović said that as far as she knew everyone over 60 who had wished so had been vaccinated, so the vaccination rollout could move down to the next priority tier.
Data from the National Institute of Public Health show 101,027 people have received their first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine and 218 have received two at the national level. In all, 334,706 have been inoculated with the first dose and 122,185 are fully vaccinated.