Ljubljana related

31 Aug 2020, 19:51 PM

STA, 31 August 2020 - A team of researchers at the Ljubljana-based Chemistry Institute has developed a coronavirus vaccine that has produced a high immune response in mice. Tests have shown that the antibodies neutralise the virus just like with other vaccines and just like the antibodies in patients who have recovered from infection.

The team led by Roman Jerala, biochemist and synthetic biologist, has developed the vaccine based on the plasmid DNA that contains the code for the virus proteins and triggers the production of virus proteins in human cells. These respond by creating anti-bodies and the protective T cells, Jerala told the press today.

He said different coronavirus vaccines based on the plasmid DNA were already being tested in clinical reasearch in the US, Japan and South Korea.

The advantages of such vaccines are low costs of production and high stability, also outside freezers, while their downside is that they cannot enter cells as efficiently as viruses.

But Jerala's team has overcome this problem by modifying the virus's proteins into nano parts that are reminiscent of viruses, which improves the response of the immune system.

The team has prepared five varieties of the virus's receptor binding domain (RBD) that is in charge of recognising the cell's receptor.

Tests in mice have shown the best performing variety of the vaccine was the one where a short segment was added to the virus protein to trigger the production of large clusters.

In that case, the response was a hundred times better than that of the monomer protein used in some other vaccines.

The tests have shown that the anti-bodies neutralise the virus's attachment to the human receptor in concentrations that are comparable to other vaccines and the anti-bodies in patients that have recovered from an infection.

Moreover, T cells were produced, which destroy the cells producing virus proteins.

Jerala stressed though that these were only pre-clinical studies, and that the path to the actual use of the vaccine was still long. Comprehensive clinical studies would need to be conducted on humans before it could be used widely, he said, noting that developing the vaccine further would made no sense if another safe and efficient vaccine was made available soon.

Nevertheless, a consortium of researchers from the Veterinary Faculty, Faculty of Pharmacy, the infectious disease clinic of the UKC Ljubljana hospital and the Golnik clinic joined by the company Jafral will continue to work towards preparing the vaccine for clinical studies.

Borut Štrukelj from the Faculty of Pharmacy said this vaccine should definitely be developed further, especially as other vaccines being developed at the moment might not prove to be safe or effective in the long run.

Štrukelj also noted that the vaccine had been developed with ten or hundred times less funds than such projects receive in the US or China.

The article on the preclinical studies is currently available at is https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.08.28.244269v1. The team will also present its results to the European Medicines Agency.

If the agency responds quickly, clinical studies on humans could start in December, Štrukelj said.

Jerala estimates that enough vaccine for the entire Slovenia could be produced in an industrial fermenter in a week provided that the procedure is optimised.

31 Aug 2020, 19:43 PM

STA, 31 August 2020 - Slovenia recorded 18 new coronavirus infections from 588 tests performed on Sunday, fresh data from the government show.

The latest figures bring the total national case count to 2,883, of which 454 remain active, according to the tracker site covid-19.sledilnik.org.

A total of 25 Covid-19 patients are currently in hospital, three of them requiring intensive treatment, that is one more than the day before.

No new fatalities have been reported, leaving the national death toll from Covid-19 at 133.

Eight of the latest cases were recorded in Ljubljana, which has now 89 active cases out of a total of 518 recorded since March.

Another four were in Sevnica in the east and two more in Domžale near Ljubljana. Four other municipalities saw one new case each.

Three of the cases confirmed in the past week were among staff at the Ljubljana Oncology Institute, the country's main cancer treatment hospital.

The institute said none of the infected staff had been working with the patients so services involving patients were running undisrupted. The staff in contact with the infected colleagues tested so far have returned negative results.

So has the Kranj maternity hospital confirmed that one of its employees tested positive for Sars-CoV-2 on Saturday, with the tests taken on her contacts coming back negative.

The employee caught the virus in a domestic setting. She has not shown any symptoms of the novel disease and had been wearing personal protective equipment while working with the patients.

The employee is in self isolation and her contacts have been quarantined.

30 Aug 2020, 11:05 AM

STA, 30 August 2020 - Slovenia registered 31 new cases of coronavirus on Saturday, a figure which marks a decline over the previous two days but is still fairly high for a weekend day. A total of 738 tests were conducted.

Just over 4% of all tests were positive, which is significantly higher than earlier in the week but still broadly in line with the trend since mid-August, according to data from the coronavirus tracker covid-19.sledilnik.org.

National Public Health Institute Recommends Masks for All Primary School Children

There are now estimated to be some 450 active cases in the country, with 24 people in hospital with Covid-19, one more than in Friday, and two in intensive care, the same as the day before.

New cases were recorded in 16 municipalities yesterday. The highest numbers were confirmed in Ljubljana (8) and Tržič (3), with two each in Šentjur, Kranj, Rogaška Slatina and Slovenske Konjice.

Serbia moved to yellow list, Croatia remains red-listed

STA, 30 August 2020 - Serbia is no longer on the red list of high-risk countries as of Sunday and has been moved to the yellow list, having more than 40 infected persons infected with coronavirus per 100,000 inhabitants. Croatia remains on the red list, so quarantine is still required for most travellers returning from the country.

There is a quarantine requirement for travellers from countries on the yellow list as well, but there are many exemptions.

There are no changes on the green list of 19 countries seen as being less dangerous. Almost all are in Europe.

The government made the decision on Saturday after assessing the epidemiological situation in the EU countries, Schengen zone, the Balkans and Italian regions, and the criteria for classification of countries based on the epidemiological situation of the National Institute of Public Health (NIJZ).

The cabinet also reviewed the Covid-19-related procedures at the border, and check points inside the country, and decided that the current regime will remain in place.

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30 Aug 2020, 10:11 AM

STA, 28 August 2020 - Slovenia's health authorities have recommended that all primary school children wear face masks in corridors and shared premises as the new school year starts next week. The relevant minister has suggested that the government will respect any new recommendations the National Public Health Institute (NIJZ) may give.

The most recent recommendation from the NIJZ is an upgrade to the earlier recommendation that only students of the age of 12 and older were to wear face masks in shared premises in school.

The NIJZ has decided for the move because "the average daily number of confirmed cases in local transfer in the last seven days in the country exceeded 20", says Friday's press release.

It has also recommended that children up to and including the age of five do not use masks in shared premises in kindergartens, and that children aged 6-11 use them in healthcare institutions and in public transportation.

Children aged 12 and older should use face masks in accordance with the government ordinances valid for adults.

The NIJZ told the STA that these were recommendations for next week, and that instructions for the use of masks in schools would from now on be made weekly based on the epidemiological risk assessment.

Education Minister Simona Kustec told the STA earlier that as the epidemiological situation had deteriorated somewhat on Thursday, she would not be surprised if the NIJZ provided additional guidelines before the start of the new year. "If it does, we will simply need to respect them," she added.

The ministry has already informed primary schools and music schools about the new recommendations.

28 Aug 2020, 12:45 PM

STA, 28 August 2020 - 42 new coronavirus cases were confirmed in Slovenia on Thursday when a total of 1,338 tests were performed, the government said as it released the most recent data on Friday. This brought the total number of cases to 2,797, with 428 being active infections, according to the national tracker Covid-19.sledilnik.

The biggest number of new infections, 5, was confirmed in Maribor and 4 in Ljubljana. 22 people were in hospital yesterday, with one requiring intensive care.

Nobody died on Thursday, which leaves the total death toll at 133.

Epidemiologist Maja Grgič Vitek told the press in the afternoon that the figures were not showing any sign of the situation calming down.

Of the 42 new cases recorded yesterday, 22 were transmitted within the country and six came from abroad: two each from Croatia and Kosovo and one each from Austria and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Whereas weeks ago, the majority of new cases came from abroad, mostly Croatia, the situation has reversed, said Grgič Vitek, pointing out that transmissions within Slovenia surpassed cases from abroad four times.

Meanwhile, the Črneče nursing home has two residents who had tested positive, as well as a staff member. The first case was a new resident who got the infection from her sister before moving in. The second was another resident in the same ward and the third was a nurse who went into quarantine after Covid-19 was confirmed among residents.

The UKC Maribor hospital also said that four employees had been infected, all are members of the administrative staff and do not work with patients.

Men more likely than women to see lockdown as easy

STA, 28 August - A third of Slovenians perceived the coronavirus lockdown to be tough, a survey conducted by the pollster Mediana has shown. But nearly 30% of respondents, most of them men, said the situation was simple or that it improved their everyday lives.

Nearly 20% of the 506 respondents found that the lockdown was very easy and had even improved their lives, while another 20% said it was rather easy.

On the other hand, 20% said the lockdown was hard, while 10% said it was very hard and had tested their mental and physical health.

While significantly more men then women said that lockdown was easy, significantly fewer women agreed with this view.

Nearly 50% of the respondents said TV was their main source of news during lockdown, followed by online news portals, which were the main source of news for about 30%.

The Mediana survey was conducted online between 9 and 10 July.

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28 Aug 2020, 09:31 AM

STA, 27 August 2020 - Slovenian primary and secondary school students will start the new school year in classrooms on 1 September, the government decided on Thursday after assessing the current epidemiological situation.

The decision means all students will start instruction in class, though they will have to observe guidelines issued by the National Institute of Public Health (NIJZ).

Schools and teachers are ready, Education Minister Simona Kustec told the press after the government session.

Slovenia has had several possible scenarios for return to school depending on the extent of the coronavirus epidemic and the one confirmed now is known as model B.

It involves social distancing for pupils from different classes, regular washing of hands and regular ventilation of classrooms.

Classes are recommended to be divided into smaller groups, if possible.

Face masks will not be obligatory in classroom for pupils, whereas teachers will have to wear them if an adequate distance could not be maintained.

26 Aug 2020, 17:34 PM

STA, 26 August 2020 - Testing for the novel coronavirus was ramped up to 1,439 on Tuesday, resulting in 36 new cases. There were no Covid-19 deaths recorded yesterday, with the total death toll remaining at 133, the latest data from the government show.

There were 20 persons in hospitals yesterday for Covid-19, but none required intensive care. One person was discharged from hospital.

According to the national tracker covid-19.sledilnik, there are currently 419 active cases, out of the total of 2,722 cases recorded so far in Slovenia.

The biggest number of infections, nine, was recorded in the 45-54 age group, followed by the 25-34 age group (seven) and the 15-24 age group (six).

The data from covid-19.sledilnik also shows that two infections were confirmed among health workers and one in a resident of a nursing home.

The nursing home in Črneče in northern Slovenia could possibly become a new hotspot as infection has been detected in another resident after the first one was detected recently. The first one was admitted to the nursing home last Friday.

Several employees of the nursing home are currently in isolation and the institution has stopped accepting new residents and prohibited all visits and contacts between residents.

Nuška Čakš Jager of the National Public Health Institute (NIJZ) meanwhile told the press that an exceptionally high rise in the number of infections developed in persons in quarantine had recently been recorded in Slovenia.

Infections develop in 10% of persons who have been ordered to quarantine, which means that it is an important measure for managing the spread of infection, added the head of the infectious diseases centre at the NIJZ.

According to her, the number of new confirmed cases among health workers is not increasing drastically, while a high rate of infections among young people could be detected.

Out of the 36 cases confirmed yesterday, seven were imported, of which two each from Croatia and Germany, said Čakš Jager, adding that there were a total of 323 such imports in recent weeks, mostly from Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia and Kosovo.

Considering the latest statistics on infections, it cannot be concluded that the number of new infections will drop in near future, she said.

Government spokesman Jelko Kacin added that the government would get acquainted with the current epidemiological situation in the afternoon and continue the discussion on the preparation of institutions for the expected expansion of infections in the autumn.

25 Aug 2020, 19:22 PM

STA, 25 August 2020 - Slovenia recorded 21 new coronavirus cases on Monday after conducting 1,370 tests, fresh official data show. A total of 17 persons were hospitalised with Covid-19, same as the day before, none requiring intensive care. There were no Covid-19 related fatalities.

Two persons were discharged from hospital yesterday. The latest cases were detected in 14 municipalities, most in Ljubljana and Velike Lašče in the south (each 3).

Government Covid-19 spokesperson Jelko Kacin said at today's daily briefing that the number of imported cases had been slightly decreasing. Slovenia recorded only one imported case, from Croatia, yesterday, while 13 cases are still being investigated.

He said the government would review the coronavirus situation in Slovenia and abroad in more detail tomorrow, and discuss preparations for autumn.

Based on the past 14-day period, the number of infections per 100,000 residents in Slovenia currently stands at 20. "We are somewhere in the middle of the yellow zone, but we are working to reduce this number especially because school starts next Tuesday," Kacin said.

Interior Minister Aleš Hojs noted that no major tailbacks had been recorded on the Slovenian-Croatian border prior to today's introduction of mandatory quarantine for arrivals from Croatia, because Slovenians had been informed about the measure in time and had been gradually returning home.

In the past three days, 226,000 persons entered Slovenia from Croatia, including 63,000 Slovenians, Hojs said, quoting police data.

A total of 2,138 quarantine orders were issued during this three-day period, but mostly for Western Balkan countries that have been on Slovenia's red list for a while, he said. Since the 14-day quarantine requirement was imposed for Croatia, more than 60 orders have been issued, but those were presumably also issued for arrivals from other Western Balkan countries.

Hojs added that in 90% of the cases, a quarantine order at the border is issued in 5-7 minutes, with some of them issued in two minutes and the maximum time being 21 minutes.

The minister said that according to Croatia's data, 30,000-40,000 Slovenians were still in Croatia. Croatian newspaper Večernji List meanwhile puts the figure at at least 45,000.

Slovenia has recorded 2,686 SARS-CoV-2 infections so far, and the national death toll is currently at 133, according to the national tracker covid-19.sledilnik. Active cases meanwhile number 414, the highest daily figure since mid-April.

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25 Aug 2020, 14:27 PM

STA, 25 August 2020 - The Slovenian tourism industry, which has been severely affected by the Covid-19 epidemic, saw an upbeat trend in Slovenian tourist arrivals and nights in July, partly offsetting the low numbers from the first half of the year, show the latest figures released by the Statistics Office on Tuesday.

Over 653,000 arrivals were recorded at accommodation facilities in July, down 27.5% compared to July 2019, with the number of nights down by 18.5% to 2.07 million.

However, the number of Slovenian tourists in the overall number increased by 176% to almost 404,000, and the number of nights they spent there by 155% to nearly 1.4 million.

The number of foreign arrivals meanwhile dropped by 67% to slightly over 249,300, and the number of nights they spent in Slovenia by 66% to over 670,300.

Germans spent the most nights in Slovenia in July, or 33%, followed by the Dutch and Austrians (9% each), Czechs (8%) and Hungarians (7%).

The most popular areas for tourists, domestic and foreign, were mountainous areas, which accounted for 35% of all tourist nights, followed by the coast (29%).

Thirty percent of all nights were made at hotels, 27% at private rooms, self-catering units and houses, and 22% at camping sites.

Although several areas in Slovenia have had a good summer season, Slovenian tourism has been considerably affected by the epidemic, with facilities in full lockdown for several weeks.

The January-to-July period saw almost 1.6 million tourist arrivals, a 54% drop compared to the same seven-month period in 2019. Tourist nights meanwhile dropped by 48% to around 4.6 million.

tourism data flow countries july 2020.PNG

In the first half of the year, arrivals by Slovenian tourists dropped by 5% but a 2% rise was recorded in nights generated by domestic guests compared to January-July last year. The number of foreign tourists arriving in Slovenia plummeted by 71% and the nights they generated by 68%.

The figures are in line with the Slovenian Tourist Board's projections of a 70% drop in foreign arrivals for the year and of a 50% overall drop because of a rise in domestic tourists.

To help the industry survive, the government introduced a special voucher scheme, giving every permanent resident EUR 200 to spend in Slovenia until the end of the year on bed and breakfast, with minors receiving EUR 50.

Presenting the latest figures about the vouchers, Economy Minister Zdravko Počivalšek said Sunday was a new milestone as over 500,000 vouchers had been redeemed.

"In a good two months since this measure was introduced, a quarter of all vouchers have already been spent, while bookings for another 30,000 have already been made."

tourism data flow graph 01 july 2020.PNG

tourism data flow graph 02 july 2020.PNG

Figures from the Financial Administration show that 511,554 vouchers, worth EUR 69.8 million, were redeemed between 19 June and 23 August, whereas the total value of vouchers available is around EUR 357 million.

Počivalšek believes the tourist vouchers have saved the summer season for many tourism companies or helped some survive the epidemic, at the same time enabling many to be able to afford to go on a holiday.

He is also confident that thanks to the vouchers, Slovenians have discovered many corners that have so far been less known and less visited. He hopes the thrill at discovering Slovenia turns into a trend of Slovenians spending at least part of their holidays at home.

Although it is too early to take stock of the summer season, Počivalšek said "we are better off than some comparable countries".

In July and August, tourist numbers at some locations were already on a par with or even better than last year, the only difference being that domestic tourists outnumbered foreign ones, he explained.

He believes these figures could hardly be reached if the epidemiological situation had not been kept under control. He thus urged tourism companies to be innovative in providing for coronavirus safety, so that foreign tourists could soon return in bigger numbers.

As for extending the use of vouchers into the spring of 2021, the minister said efforts were now focussed on encouraging people to use them by the end of the year.

"Should any other measures be needed, I believe we'll take them in time," Počivalšek said at a news conference in Ljubljana.

Over EUR 1 million in vouchers was spent a day in the period between 19 June and 23 August, with the average age of tourists using the vouchers at slightly over 38.

The figures also show over 55,700 people aged an average 64 years transferred their vouchers on family members, meaning many elderly did not go on holiday themselves.

You can see more of this data at SURS

24 Aug 2020, 20:44 PM

STA, 24 August 2020 - Entry into Slovenia from Croatia has continued to run unexpectedly smoothly despite the approaching Monday midnight deadline for returns without compulsory quarantine due to rising Covid-19 figures in Croatia. Interior Minister Aleš Hojs assessed that the returns got dispersed across the past week and that some also opted for quarantine.

The Slovenian police said that traffic on the border had been comparable to previous end of August or even calmer; there were no delays at border crossings in the afternoon.

"There has probably been no excessive pressure on the border crossings because we already started announcing the possibly of Croatia being red-listed the weekend before the last one," Hojs told the STA today.

The minister also suggested that some, although not those tied to school or work, had decided to continue their holiday and accept quarantine after it ends.

He moreover said it was very possible that the estimate of 150,000 Slovenians holidaying in the neighbouring country had been exaggerated.

The ministry does not have the exact data, but estimates now suggest around 50,000, whereas the Croatian Tourism Board put its estimate at 45,000.

Hojs added that police teams on the border had been reinforced and that the issuing of quarantine orders was running smoothly, with the average time to issue one standing at 12 to 14 minutes.

He said more than 800 quarantine orders had been issued on Sunday to passengers who were returning from red-listed countries such as Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

The Croatian Tourist Board has reported that 2.6 million overnight stays by Slovenian tourists were recorded in Croatia from 1 to 23 August, which is 94% of last-year's figure. The Slovenian tourists mostly opted for private accommodation and camping, while 20,000 also stayed in a hotel.

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