Health minister: Everybody should behave as if they are contagious
Ljubljana, 17 March - Health Minister Tomaž Gantar warned Slovenians on Tuesday that everyone should behave as if they were contagious as he said that the number of those infected with the novel coronavirus was likely five-fold the official number of confirmed cases, at 275, including five in intensive care.
The minister, addressing reporters in Ljubljana, said that not everyone who had symptoms of respiratory ailments was being tested, as there was no point in doing that.
"The sensible thing is to follow expert advice in which cases this should be done. The population would not be any safer if we had everyone tested."
The minister said the health system was not adapted to the problems faced during this epidemic, but also said that the situation was still under control.
The authorities are hoping the rate of increase in those infected and ill with Covid-19 will stabilise so the system will be able to cope, as gravelly ill patients are spread over a longer period of time.
"Organisational measures are required," Gantar said, mentioning the possibility of mobile testing units that could swab people at their homes or at nursing facilities.
Special attention is being dedicated to nursing homes and chronically ill patients with the idea being to pull all persons at risk out of work process.
"The situation had been underestimated from the get go, it was an error of judgement not only in Slovenia but also elsewhere to treat this as a slightly aggravated flu," said the minister.
Gantar pointed his finger at the National Public Health Institute (NIJZ) arguing that Slovenia lost precious time to act because of its misjudgement. "We're a week or ten days late taking right measures."
Just today the government replaced its representative on the NIJZ council, which appoints or dismisses the NIJZ director, but Gantar would not say whether he would seek the dismissal of director Nina Pirnat.
Meanwhile, Bojana Beović, the infectious disease expert affiliated with the government coronavirus crisis response team, said that despite organisational changes pertaining to testing, the number of those had not been reduced.
On the contrary, she said that about a thousand tests were being taken daily.
Swabs are being taken from everyone in need of a check-up for potential admission to hospital.
Also tested are nursing home residents with respiratory infections and patients that may have been admitted to hospital due to some other diagnosis and also have a respiratory infection, or patients already in hospital that develop such symptoms.
However, those with only mild symptoms that may have caught a cold anywhere or caused by some other virus, are not being tested because they are best put at home, she said.
"People with a cold should not go anywhere, neither to work or into the health system. They must stay at home to prevent passing on the infection," she said.
Commenting on calls by experts and officials, including European Crisis Management Commissioner Janez Lenarčič and the WHO, for wide testing, Beović said that Slovenia had a high rate of tests per capita.
Commenting on Slovenia's changed approach to testing, Prime Minister Janez Janša said the decision on that was taken by experts rather than the government.
"Mass testing was not being conducted when the infection was imported from the neighbourhood. The problem was capacities and other delays. Some measures work at a certain stage, but no longer later," he said.
The Health Ministry later said it had issued a new rule under which lab tests would be performed in patients who will be or have already been admitted to hospital, as well as in health workers and residents of nursing homes or social care institutions with an acute respiratory infection with or without a fever, regardless of whether they need hospitalisation or not.
NIJZ data show that a total of 7,587 tests have been taken, 257 turning positive, 145 of them in men and 130 in women.
Most of those infected, 102, are in central Slovenia, 48 from south-eastern Slovenia, 38 from the Savinjska region in the north, 25 from Podravje in north-east, 17 from Gorenjska in north-west.
Other regions have recorded ten or fewer cases.
Six of those who tested positive for coronavirus are foreign citizens.
Most of the infected, 96, are between 30 and 49 years of age, 60 are between 16 and 29, and 56 are aged between 50 and 59, while 44 are above 60. Only 19 are children or youths.