Slovenia declares coronavirus epidemic
Ljubljana, 12 March - Slovenia declared a coronavirus epidemic on Thursday as the number of cases continued to surge with 96 persons confirmed to have fallen ill, almost double the number from the day before. A number of measures were taken to contain the spreading, from school closures to cancellations of virtually all public events, with additional measures announced.
The declaration of the epidemic, which took effect at 6pm, gives the government and public health authorities more leeway in organising the response effort and coordinating the actions of the civil protection and emergency services.
A national emergency response plan will be set in motion and the admission and treatment of patients will be changed.
To help the health system cope with the influx of new cases, all but the most urgent procedures at all health institutions have been cancelled as of Monday, including all prevention, Health Minister Aleš Šabeder said.
The authorities have decided to start admitting patients to regional hospitals since major health centres are becoming overwhelmed.
A special decree has been adopted that in effect suspends most labour rights of health staff, who will not be allowed to go on strike, take annual leave or travel abroad.
Another major decision is the closure of all educational establishment across the entire country. The shutdown becomes effective on Monday and schools have been told to skip regular instruction on Friday in favour of providing a basic care service for the children as they prepare to move classes online and reorganise the curriculum. Some schools will close tomorrow.
Companies and public institutions have been advised to organise telecommuting to the maximum extent possible to contain the spread.
Since many businesses will be strongly affected by the gradual winding down of public life, the outgoing government has adopted a bill under which it will co-finance the pay of workers who will be temporarily laid off or quarantined.
EUR 50 million has been set aside and more will be provided as necessary. Outgoing Labour Minister Ksenija Klampfer said that the legislation would be fast-tracked in the National Assembly.
Major sporting events have been cancelled as well. The Alpine Ski World Cup event, scheduled to take place in Kranjska Gora at the weekend, was cancelled and the Ski Flying World Championships at Planica, scheduled for 19-22 March, postponed. The Football Association has suspended all games.
The measures put Slovenia ahead of the curve of most other European countries and given the proximity of European coronavirus hotspot Italy they are seen as essential to slow the epidemic, but many have criticised the response as inadequate.
Infectious disease specialists at Slovenia's largest hospital, UKC Ljubljana, issued an urgent appeal for public life to be brought to a standstill. They want bans on all gatherings in public including in cinemas, museums and bars, and urged people to stay indoors in order to prevent the epidemic from unfolding the way it has in Italy.
Additional measures are bound to be adopted soon as Janez Janša, the new prime minister, endorsed the appeal and announced new measures as soon as the new government takes office tomorrow evening.
One of the first things the government plans to do is set up a dedicated crisis headquarters to manage the coronavirus response. Due to the closure of kindergartens and schools, daycare would be provided as a matter of priority for employees working in critical industries such as healthcare, energy, public utilities and security services.
Military capabilities including two field hospitals will be activated as well since the health system is expected to be overstretched soon, providing additional beds for patients, according to Matej Tonin, the incoming defence minister.