Ljubljana related

16 Oct 2020, 13:10 PM

STA, 16 October 2020 - Ljubljana Marathon, due next weekend, was cancelled on Friday, as new coronavirus restrictions took effect in parts of Slovenia with the highest incidence of new cases, including Ljubljana.

"Unfortunately, the second wave and the high rise in cases is happening just in time for the Ljubljana Marathon and has prevented us from carrying out the event safely," Ljubljana Marathon director Gojko Zalokar said in a press release.

What is usually the largest running event in the country had been significantly downsized and had received the go-ahead from the National Institute for Public Health (NIJZ) in early September.

No more than 450 participants and 50 organisers would have taken part in each of the three races: 10k, 21k and the marathon. This would have been significantly fewer than the usual 14,000 runners, running not just in the three categories but a number of other events for children and students as well.

As coronavirus cases in Slovenia continue to rise, new restrictions took effect today, among them a ban on events, while in red regions, which includes Ljubljana, there are also restrictions in place for recreational sports.

The runners who registered and paid their admission fee will get reimbursed by the end of the month, either through direct transactions or via PayPal, depending on how they carried out the payment.

However, the cancellation does not mean that runners cannot run the Ljubljana Marathon this year. Like many running events, the organisers decided to hold a virtual race next week, extending registration until 19 October.

All our stories on coronavirus and Slovenia

16 Oct 2020, 10:27 AM

STA, 16 October 2020 - Wide-ranging restrictions are taking effect across Slovenia on Friday, with a number of regions going into partial lockdown as a response to a high number of new coronavirus cases over the past fortnight. Among other things, socialising will be restricted to no more than ten people and remote teaching will be introduced for older students.

CLASSIFICATION OF REGIONS

Based on the coronavirus infection rates in individual statistical regions, these are being designated either orange or red. No region has been designated green, as all have a 14-day average of cases per 100,000 residents above 40, the limit at which a region is designated orange. Regions with an incidence of over 140 per 100,000 are designated red.

Seven of Slovenia's 12 statistical regions are currently red: Gorenjska, Koroška, Osrednjeslovenska, Posavska, Savinjska and Zasavska, or 117 of 212 municipalities.

The list will change based on official infections data released by the National Institute of Public Health (NIJZ) at least once a week; the first will be posted on Friday.

The list, in Slovene, can be found here

GATHERING OF PEOPLE

Temporarily, gathering of people is being restricted to ten persons. Moreover, these are only allowed to meet if a minimal required safety distance prescribed by the NIJZ can be observed.

Exceptions apply to close family members and members of the same household, as well as groups of up to six co-workers commuting to work together, but only if they wear protective masks.

Red regions

A general ban on events, rallies, weddings and religious ceremonies has been put in place in the red regions. Some events which have already been approved by the NIJZ will have to be cancelled.

Exceptions apply to one-time events, such as concerts, that have already been approved by the NIJZ, but not to recurring events, such as film screenings at cinemas, said Interior Minister Aleš Hojs.

INTER-REGIONAL MOVEMENT RESTRICTIONS

Red regions

Red-region residents are no longer allowed to leave their region.

However, a number of exceptions have been put in place: going to work, agricultural and forestry work, providing healthcare and property protection services, care for a family member, access to a pharmacy, healthcare services and hospitals, access to foreign diplomatic and consular representation and access to emergency services, among several others.

Residents of red regions may also cross over into an orange region if they own a piece of property there, or if they are travelling to a foreign country, meaning that a red region's resident may travel across regions to cross into a neighbouring country.

Moreover, people who have previously booked a holiday may also travel across regions, although the government advises against it and has also said that it would extend the tourism voucher scheme beyond 31 December.

People are also allowed to leave a red region to visit a grave, but this is discouraged. Slovenians flock to cemeteries on 1 November, All Saint's Day, often meeting family and friends as they visit the graves of their their loved ones.

To be able to leave a red region, people will need to show some formal proof if they get pulled over in a random police check.

Orange regions

Orange region residents are free to move across regions and may also enter red regions, albeit this is not advised.

Grounds for movement restrictions described above are determined by the government every seven days.

MASK USE

Red regions

Masks are no longer obligatory only indoors, but also outside and in cars, when carrying persons who are not members of the same household.

Exceptions include children up to the age of six, primary and secondary school student in their home class, preschool teachers and teachers up to grade 5 when working with children, and university teachers when using a protective screen; persons in one-on-one fitness training sessions provided that a safety distance of three metres can be observed.

Orange regions

Masks remain obligatory indoors.

EDUCATION

Remote learning will be reintroduced on Monday for students in 6th grade and older. Currently, the plan is for this to remain in place for a week, until the one-week autumn vacation.

Remote teaching will also be in place at music schools and higher vocational schools, in case of the latter until end of October.

Institutions and schools for children with disabilities will continue in person.

Universities have decided to switch to remote teaching wherever possible.

RECREATIONAL SPORTS

Red regions

A ban will take effect on Saturday on services in fitness centres and sports facilities, as well as group exercises.

School gyms will be closed to outside users, exceptions being competitions and club members with registered athlete status training at the facilities.

Orange regions

Fitness centres and other sport facilities remain open, however attendance is capped at 1 person per 20 square metres.

PROFESSIONAL SPORTS

The restrictions do not apply to athletes with registered athlete status without regard for their location, Educations and Sport Minister Simona Kustec said.

BARS AND RESTAURANTS

Red regions

Bars, restaurants, coffee shops and pastry shops will close their on Saturday. They may still prepare food, but only for take away or delivery services.

Tourist accommodation facilities may still serve food and drink, but only between 6am and 10.30pm and only to guests.

Orange regions

Serving of food and drink is allowed between 6am and 10.30pm. Guests are only served at tables, which must be appropriately spaced.

HAIR AND BEAUTY SALONS

Red regions

Only one client will be allowed in the salon as of Saturday.

Orange regions

The number of clients in the salon is capped at one person per 20 square metres.

All our stories on Slovenia and coronavirus

16 Oct 2020, 10:11 AM

STA, 15 October 2020 - The National Assembly passed in a 48:29 vote on Thursday the fifth package of legislation designed to help the society at large, and the healthcare system in particular, cope with the coronavirus epidemic.

One of the principal measures of the legislation, which is estimated at EUR 420 million, is an extension of the furlough subsidy scheme for companies until the end of the year.

The state will continue to cover sick pay for workers in quarantine, including when they are on sick leave to care for quarantined children.

Sole proprietors and freelancers will once again be eligible for a monthly basic income, a measure that was already in place in the spring.

From October until the end of the year they will be able to get EUR 1,100 per month if their revenue in 2020 is 20% lower than last year.

The state will provide funds for personal protective equipment and other equipment for public health institutions and care homes and will also cover loss of income for these institutions due to vacant capacities. A task force will be established to advise the institutions in case of infections.

New bonuses will be introduced for workers in healthcare and social security. Those working directly with patients in grey and red zones, respectively for those with confirmed or suspected infections, will get 30% bonuses, and those assigned to new posts will get 20% higher pay.

Several inspectorates will have the power to monitor compliance with measures related to the epidemic. Police and traffic wardens will be able to complete small offences procedures without having to forward cases to the Health Inspectorate.

Quarantine decisions will be simplified. The National Institute of Public Health will be able to order people to quarantine in the event of contact with an infected person, while police officers will have the power to do that on the border for arrivals from high-risk countries. The quarantine orders may be oral, a solution that the opposition objected to.

The bill introduces free flu shots for everybody with a health insurance and aims to bring some relief to the healthcare system by allowing up to three days of paid sick leave three times a year without having to see a GP.

According to Elena Zavadlav Ušaj of the coalition Democrats (SDS), this will reduce the workload on community health centres.

As of 1 January doctors employed by public institutions will no longer be allowed to work for more than eight hours a week in private practices.

Another healthcare-related solution, an effort to cut waiting periods, is allowing private practitioners without public concessions to apply for public funds. EUR 42 million will be available in a public call in which public and private health care providers will compete on equal terms.

Primož Siter of the of the Left said that nothing will have changed for patients, but a lot of money will go to owners of private healthcare providers. Vojko Starović of the Alenka Bratušek Party (SAB) believes that public funds should be used to fill up the capacity of public healthcare providers.

Defending the motion, Labour, Family, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities Minister Janez Cigler Kralj said the government wanted to make use of any available capacity in healthcare.

"If previous solutions that only saw money being given to the system made no significant changes in cutting waiting periods, in fact they grew longer, it would be foolish to expect a better outcome if we used the same manoeuvre once again," said Cigler Kralj, adding that the measure focused on the patient, who will get fast access to good services.

The opposition National Party (SNS) meanwhile believe this measure to be an experiment which will have no effect whatsoever. "If public healthcare institutions have available capacities, they should work, we don't need a public call for that," said MP Dušan Šiško, who believes the biggest problem is not money but poor organisation and understaffing.

SDS deputy Mojca Škrinjar said: "I don't care if the health service is rendered by a private provider, concessionaire or a public community health centre or public hospital. What I want is fast, quality health service when I need it."

Some of the decisions were decried by the opposition as having nothing to do with the epidemic. One such measure is the repeal of a law that fixes the prices of books for a certain period. Following protests by the opposition, the final solution was that the repeal will be temporary, lasting only until the end of April 2022.

The law also provides the legal basis for a new mobile application for exposure notification. The new app will include a functionality that will inform users about preventive measures.

All our stories on Slovenia and coronavirus

15 Oct 2020, 15:48 PM

STA, 15 October 2020 - Bars, restaurants and sports facilities will close in most Slovenian statistical regions on Saturday as part of tightened coronavirus measures, Economy Minister Zdravko Počivalšek told the press on Thursday.

While the government decree on the ban will enter into force on Friday, the Economy Ministry explained for the STA that the measure will be enforced as of Saturday, since the National Institute for Public Health needed to first publish updated official data on the epidemiological situation in the individual regions.

The bars and indoor sports facilities ban will apply for all regions designated red, which means all regions in the county bar a few in the west, south-west and north-east which are presently in the orange stage in terms of the 14-day incidence rate per 100,000 residents.

The hospitality ban excludes bars and restaurant at facilities that also provide accommodation, but services will be limited to guests staying there.

Take-away and delivery will be allowed everywhere, the ban applies only to service on location.

Hairdressers will still be allowed to provide services, but the number of clients allowed at a time is one per room.

In orange regions, bars and restaurants will be allowed to stay open from 6am to 10:30pm.

Fitness centres and indoor sports facilities will stay open in these regions as well, but visitor numbers will be limited to one person per 20 square metres. The same restriction will apply for hairdressing and beauty salons.

Počivalšek said he was aware of the impact the restrictions would have on business and announced another stimulus package would be adopted if necessary.

The extension of the tourism vouchers scheme into 2021 has already been announced.

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15 Oct 2020, 13:17 PM

STA, 15 October 2020 - Slovenia has logged yet another coronavirus record as the daily tally hit 745 for Wednesday, following 707 the day before, bringing the total case count to well over 10,000.

Government spokesman Jelko Kacin, speaking at a press briefing now under way, said that a record 5,287 tests were performed yesterday, with 14% of the cases returning positive, just slightly below 14.4% the day before.

Hospitalisations increased by twelve to 222 despite 20 Covid-19 patients being discharged home on Wednesday. As many as 40 are in intensive case units, five more than the day before.

Both figures are close to thresholds the government set for declaring an epidemic again, after a third criteria, that is the rolling 14-day average, has already been passed days ago.

The 14-day incidence per 100,000 residents is now 230, up from 203 the day before. The so-called phase-red threshold is 140, along with at least 250 hospitalisations and at least 50 intensive care patients.

Slovenia has so far confirmed 10,683 coronavirus cases, of which 4,818 remain active, data from tracker site covid-19.sledilnik.org show.

After another fatality on Wednesday, the Covid-related death toll has increased to 176.

Kacin said that epidemiologists were overwhelmed with new cases, so they were no longer able to conduct enquiries on all new cases in a single day. Out of 707 cases on Tuesday they managed to process about 500 yesterday.

Infections continue to spread among staff in healthcare and at care homes. Tracker data show 26 new infections were among health staff, 18 among care home residents and 13 among staff in the homes.

By far the highest number of new cases, 119, was confirmed in Ljubljana, whose per capita infection rate has risen to 0.271% with 797 active cases.

After a total of 134 municipalities reported new cases for Wednesday, only five remain that have not had any infection yet. Črna na Koroškem in the north continues to have the highest infection rate, at 0.914%.

Older primary school, secondary school students switching to remote learning

STA, 15 October 2020 - Primary school children as of the 6th grade and secondary school students will be schooled remotely as of Monday for at least one week, Education Minister Simona Kustec announced on Thursday as the government has adopted additional restrictive measures.

Children attending the first five grades of primary school will meanwhile continued to go to school, Kustec told the press. Kindergartens will continue to operate normally.

Children up to the fifth grade are exempt because they have only started their education and they need to be taught in-person, while they also have the same teacher all the time so mingling is restricted, she added.

For the time being, remote learning will take place next week, after which primary and secondary school students go to week-long autumn holidays. A reassessment will be made after the holidays.

If the epidemiological situation improves after the holidays, schooling may be back to the system used at the moment, the minister said.

Vocational colleges will switch to remote learning next week all the way until the end of October, according to the letter the Education, Science and Sport Ministry has sent to schools.

Music schools will also be working remotely next week, while all programmes of institutions and schools for children with special needs will be implemented in person.

Sport facilities operated by schools may only be used for competitions and training by registered athletes in the senior and junior categories, Minister Kustec also announced.

All afternoon and extracurricular activities in schools are suspended until further notice.

Apprentices should continue their apprenticeships in line with instructions and measures taken their employer.

It has been left to higher education institutions to decide how they will organise their academic processes. "As we have noticed, this usually means transitioning to remote learning," the minister said.

Dormitories for secondary school students will continue with their work normally, but residents are encouraged to leave them for their homes in order to provide a safer environment to those who do not have conditions for remote learning at home.

Fitness centres and indoor sport facilities will need to secure 20 square metres for a single person during exercise or trainings, Kustec added.

The minister said the infection rate among primary and secondary school employees and students was 0.09%, and the share of quarantined persons is above 1%.

"Perhaps this is a low number, but when compared to the entire epidemiological picture, we can see that it increases at a comparable rate, and this was the main reason for the measures," she added.

At the beginning of September, the ministry distributed 4,000 computers to schools to help them organise remote learning. If there is need for more equipment, the ministry will help, Kustec concluded.

Representatives of associations of head teachers and trade unions expressed surprise at the government's decision not to use a regional approach and introduce the measure only in the red-listed statistical regions.

"Why are the restrictions across-the-board?" wondered the head of the Association of Primary School Headteachers, Gregor Pečan, adding that the measure was disproportionate as it had been envisaged for the epidemic declaration phase.

Branimir Štrukelj of the SVIZ trade union of teachers added that the "government decisions lack consistency" and that he had the feeling that it had no serious strategy for schools and kindergartens.

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14 Oct 2020, 21:48 PM

STA, 14 October 2020 - PM Janez Janša announced additional restrictive measures to contain the spread of coronavirus on Wednesday, including remote learning from the fifth grade of primary school as of Monday, an inter-regional movement ban, limited gatherings, and mandatory masks outdoors in red-listed regions as of Friday.

Janša said that given the latest epidemiological situation, the government had to take additional measures, one of them being activating reserves in the healthcare system.

Another measure will be restricting direct work in schools, meaning that children from the fifth grade of primary school up will continue school remotely as of Monday at least until the autumn holiday, when an evaluation will be made.

The week-long autumn holidays start the last week of October.

The same will apply to secondary schools, and colleges and universities are also urged to do as much work as possible remotely.

As for regional measures, the prime minister said that seven out of the 12 Slovenian statistical regions had already exceeded the threshold of 140 cases per 100,000 residents in a 14-day period.

In these seven red-listed regions, inter-regional movement will be banned, and gatherings capped at 10 persons. Masks will be mandatory outdoors, and certain services activities and sport activities will be cancelled.

These regions are Central Slovenia, Gorenjska, Koroška, Zasavje, Posavje, Savinjska and South-eastern Slovenia.

As for inter-regional travel for red-listed regions, Janša said exceptions would be listed in the relevant decree, including work and basic services.

The government also wants to extend the validity of tourism vouchers beyond their current expiry at the end of 2020, Janša said, and this will be added to the fifth stimulus package, which will be discussed in parliament on Thursday.

"Those who have not spent their vouchers should thus not be afraid that they will not be able to do so in the next year," he added.

Janša added that the government had evaluated the latest epidemiological situation and its possible development to assess that "we are between the orange and red phase" as the number of infections was increasing.

The decree detailing the measures which will enter into force either on Friday or Monday is to be published tomorrow, when relevant ministers will also provide explanations of the measures to the press.

A total of 707 new Sars-CoV-2 cases were confirmed in Slovenia on Tuesday, almost a doubling of Monday's figure and a new record by far, which comes on 4,902 tests, a new high as well. The positivity rate hit a record 14.4%.

Janša also called on citizens who have not downloaded the national contact tracing app to do so, saying that consistent use of the app could help avoid certain restrictive measures.

The prime minister said the government had a plan ready in the event the situation deteriorates further, including formally declaring an epidemic.

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14 Oct 2020, 19:12 PM

STA, 14 October - Slovenia's reproduction number, showing how many people one infected person will pass the virus on to, has climbed to 1.93, while the epidemic has been spreading with the doubling time of 7.4 days, the Jožef Stefan Institute (IJS) said on Wednesday.

If the number of positive tests for Wednesday, which will be in tomorrow, is lower than 665, the reproduction number will drop somewhat and the doubling time will slightly increase, and if it is higher then the former will increase and the latter decrease.

The IJS has also assessed that the key defence wall preventing the further spreading of the virus, the epidemiological service, is under enormous pressure and is starting to show cracks, which is reflected in the rapid increasing of the reproduction number and the shortening of the doubling time.

The criteria for declaring an epidemic and introducing new measures is having the incidence rate of more than 140, that is infected persons per 100,000 people in 14 days, more than 250 people in hospitals, of whom more than 50 are in intensive care.

The milestone for the incidence rate was exceeded on Friday, while the number of hospitalised Covid-19 patients is expected to top 250 on Saturday and a day later at least 50 people are expected to need intensive care.

If the reproduction number stays the same, the number of daily positive tests will range from 100 to 900 in the future. Currently, the country records 499 new cases a day on average, says on the IJS web site.

If the reproduction number reaches 2, there will be some 600 Covid-19 patients in hospitals at the end of next week, including 100 in intensive care. If these trends continued, there would be 400 patients needing intensive care by 11 November.

A reproduction number of 2.5 would mean 250 people in intensive care units at the beginning of November and soon after that their number would exceed 600, the IJS forecasts.

All our stories on coronavirus and Slovenia

14 Oct 2020, 18:08 PM

STA, 14 October 2020 - Austria extended on Wednesday border control on its borders with Slovenia and Hungary by another six months, until 11 May 2021. Austria's Interior Minister Karl Nehammer listed migration pressure, safety concerns and Covid-19 as reasons for the move.

Nehammer informed European Commission vice-president Margaritis Schinas, European Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson, President of the European Parliament David Sassoli and interior ministers of EU and Schengen zone countries of the move, the Austrian Interior Ministry said in a press release.

Austria introduced border control on Schengen zone's internal borders in 2015 amid a surge in migrations. Germany did the same on its borders with Austria, France, Sweden, Denmark and Norway, which is not an EU member.

Under the Schengen zone rules, reintroducing border control within the Schengen zone is possible for six months in case of a serious threat, and the measure can be extended based on approval from the European Commission.

The current period of Austria's border control would expire on 11 November.

Slovenia has been protesting against Austria's border checks, arguing that the external border of the Schengen zone was well protected by Slovenia.

All our stories on coronavirus and Slovenia

14 Oct 2020, 12:11 PM

STA, 14 October 2020 - A total of 707 new Sars-CoV-2 cases were confirmed in Slovenia on Tuesday, almost a doubling of Monday's figure and a new record by far, which comes on 4,902 tests conducted, a new high as well as the positivity rate hit a record 14.4%, government data show.

"Today's data show the situation is getting increasingly serious (...) The situation calls for action, measures taken so far have not done enough to prevent the spread of the virus," government spokesman Jelko Kacin told the Covid-19 briefing as the government is meeting in the afternoon to adopt new restrictions.

According to him, Slovenia's incidence rate, a key EU-wide indicator that shows the number of infections per 100,000 residents in the past 14 days, has increased to 202.75 from 178.91 the previous day.

Covid-19 claimed two more lives, increasing Slovenia's death toll related to the disease to 175.

This was as the number of Covid-19 patients in hospitals increased by 30 to 210 despite 17 being discharged. As many as 35 patients, four more than the day before, now require intensive treatment.

Data from tracker site Covid-19.sledilnik.org shows that Slovenia has currently 4,248 active infections out of a total of 9,938 coronavirus cases confirmed so far.

Kacin said the outbreak was spreading at care homes with several aged-care facilities across the country reporting new infections.

Data from the tracker site indicate that a total of 15 new infections were recorded among care home residents and another 4 among staff, as well as 45 new infections among healthcare staff.

Matjaž Jereb, head of the intensive care unit at the Department of Infectious Diseases at the UKC Ljubljana hospital, said the estimate was that one out of every 150 Slovenians was infected.

He warned that hospitals were running out of intensive care beds, and in particular qualified staff to care for the critically ill.

"Ten percent of Covid-19 require hospitalisation and 20% of those intensive care," he said, projecting that out of 700 plus cases confirmed yesterday 70 will need hospital treatment and 15 of them intensive care in ten days.

He described intensive care units as a "bottleneck", considering those patients require intensive treatment for two weeks and longer.

"We have 16 critically ill at our [Covid-19] unit in Ljubljana who require mechanical support and ventilators (...) no one is immune, we have a 42-year-old patient without serious underlying conditions," said Jereb.

Asked about potential measures, including regional lockdowns, Kacin said lockdowns would depend on the region's incidence. "Seven regions are now red and three are still yellow," he said as an indication of what the the government may be expected to decide.

The worst affected region at the moment is now Gorenjska in the north-west with 266 infections per 100,000 residents over the past fortnight.

Six more are above the 140 limit, one of the threshold factors between phase orange and red, which triggers the declaration of epidemic and harshest restrictions.

Marija Magajna, acting director of the Healthcare Inspectorate, said that a decree has been drawn up to suspend some of the health services, announcing that preventive activities would be suspended first, but with a series of exceptions such as those concerning children and youth and cancer screening programmes.

Suspension or delay of non-urgent hospital services would depend on how many beds and other capacities need to be adapted to take Covid-19 patients.

Measures have also been drawn up to reduce the scope for coronavirus transmissions inside health institutions with Magajna indicating that the providers would need to monitor the health condition of their employees.

Covid-19 tracker site data show that 100 of the latest cases were confirmed in Ljubljana, which has now 698 active infections for a per capita infection rate of 0.237.

A further 38 cases were recorded in Kranj in the north-west, which has 173 active infections for an infection rate of 0.305%. But several smaller municipalities have much higher rates, the hardest-hit remaining Črna na Koroškem with 0.853%.

The latest statistics on coronavirus and Slovenia, and the latest police news on red, green and yellow list countries. All our stories on coronavirus and SloveniaCan I transit Slovenia? Find out from the police...

13 Oct 2020, 14:12 PM

STA, 13 October 2020 - The parliamentary Labour Committee prepared the fifth stimulus package bill for passage late on Monday. A few changes were made compared to the original proposal but the main tenets of the bill remain unchanged.

The bill extends the furlough scheme and the state will continue to cover the sick pay for quarantined workers, even when they are on sick leave because their children are in quarantine.

Sole proprietors and micro companies will once again be eligible for monthly income support, just like during the epidemic.

New bonuses will be introduced for workers in healthcare and social security. Those working directly with patients in grey and red zones, respectively for those with confirmed or suspected infections, will get 30% bonuses, and those assigned to new posts will get 20% higher pay. The opposition tried to increase these bonuses but was unsuccessful.

Several measures are planned to help prepare healthcare and social security institutions for a second wave of infections. One of them is the creation of a task force that will advise the institutes in case of infections.

The state will finance the purchase of protective and other equipment needed to curb the spread of Covid-19 in these institutions and also cover the loss of revenue if they are not able to implement all of their regular programmes.

The coalition fully adhered to the opposition calls for scrapping the transitional period for restrictions for doctors working both in public health and for private practitioners. Thus, doctors working in public institutions will be allowed to work for no more than eight hours a week in private practices as of 1 January 2021.

The committee also scrapped the provisions regarding obtaining and processing of personal data from the different databases of the Health Ministry and the National Institute for Public Health.

The opposition, however, failed with its calls to scrap provision allowing the government to restrict the gatherings of people not just in public but also in private spaces.

The coalition argued that the spread of the virus was not confined to public spaces. Several inspectorates will monitor the implementation of the measure, while police and security guards will get more powers.

To reduce the workload of GPs, the bill initially envisaged the option of sick leave of up to three days without a visit to the doctor, but the legal counsellor of the National Assembly opposed this. She argued that employees themselves could not set diagnoses, only doctors could.

The bill also introduces free flu vaccine for all citizens with health insurance.

To cut waiting times, the bill introduces a national call for applications enabling both public and private health providers to provide services financed from public funds.

The opposition sees this as a concealed attempt at privatising healthcare, but the coalition argued the main goal was to provide patients with fast access to medical services. The parliament's legal department finds the call controversial, and a step away from the public health service, which would be unconstitutional.

The opposition also objected to the proposal that only two labs in the country would be allowed to conduct microbiological coronavirus tests, saying this was creating a monopoly.

The government also heard criticism that the bill contained quite a few provisions that have nothing to do with coronavirus. One of them is the annulment of the single price for books act. According to a Culture Ministry official, this is to help publishers.

The opposition's proposal to scrap the provision failed, but opposition MPs did manage to water down the measure: it will be temporary and apply only until the end of April 2022.

Other measures from the bill are aimed at helping education, agriculture, infrastructure and prisons.

The state will finance the purchase of protective equipment for companies, educational and science institutions, while the self-employed who are unable to do their work during quarantine will be partly reimbursed for the loss of income.

The coalition also proposed a six-month extension of the guarantee scheme for liquidity loans to companies, i.e. until the end of June 2021.

Bus operators which were unable to work during the epidemic will be compensated by the state, while those offering public transport services will receive subsidies for the purchase of protective equipment.

The fifth stimulus bill also creates the legal framework for a new contact tracing app for mobile devices, which will also give recommendations to users on how to prevent the spread of the virus.

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