1,267 coronavirus cases on Wednesday as hospitalisations drop below 1,000

Ljubljana – Slovenia reported 1,267 new coronavirus cases from 14,545 tests on Wednesday as the epidemiological situation kept improving. Hospitalisations dropped below 1,000 for the first time since early November. Further 16 Covid-19 patients died, fresh official data show.

The number of persons in hospital dropped by 23 to 989, whereas the total of those requiring intensive care stood at 165, same as the day before. 67 were admitted to hospital and 74 were discharged home.

Of the 5,160 PCR tests, 1,009 returned positive for a positivity rate of 19.6%, down from 21.3% on Tuesday and 23.1% a week ago. A total of 9,385 rapid antigen tests were also performed yesterday with the rate being 2.7%.

A drop in hospitalisations below 1,000 means that the first epidemiological threshold for further easing of Covid restrictions has been reached in line with the government strategy.

However, to reach tier orange another requirement needs to be met – the 7-day average of new daily cases must drop below 1,000 as well.

The latter figure stood at 1,179 on Tuesday. The 14-day incidence per 100,000 residents was meanwhile 810, show the National Institute of Public Health (NIJZ) data. The latest figures are yet to be released.

All Slovenian regions are currently in tier red, except for the Posavska and Southeast regions, meaning that the Goriško and Obalno-Kraška regions have moved up from tier black.

Epidemiologists have proposed an immediate launch of confirmatory testing using PCR tests in the event of positive results produced by rapid tests in asymptomatic persons, Mario Fafangel, the head of the NIJZ Centre for Communicable Diseases, told today’s daily briefing.

They have also urged the government to reopen schools up to grade five of primary school in all the regions regardless of their colour according to a colour-coded reopening roadmap, and to lift a ban restricting travel between municipalities and regions.

He explained that such steps would also take into consideration epidemiological fluctuations in smaller regions, thus overriding the government region-based reopening strategy, under which those regions could pass several tiers in a short period of time.

He personally considers the 9pm-6am curfew not as effective as some other measures, such as testing, which he deems crucial. He also thinks that upon the launch of PCR confirmatory testing, mass rapid testing among school staff should take place on Fridays instead of Mondays to give everyone involved more time to prepare for next week.

In the wake of concerns raised over a spate of fake positives produced by rapid antigen tests, Fafangel said such tests were a key instrument in mitigating the situation when the epidemic was in full swing.

Testing providers have been asked to report cases where the result has been disproved. The NIJZ is not privy to the data on fake positives since it does not have the legal basis for such access, Fafangel said, adding that any refuted infection status is manually removed from the relevant database.

That is time consuming but necessary, he said, adding that such manual corrections would stop as soon as the Health Ministry gave a go-ahead for confirmatory testing.

The NIJZ has detected that there had been shifts from the statistical norms in certain areas regarding the total of fake positives and has informed the government Covid-19 task force of that.

The benefit of detecting the infected in the population using rapid tests outweighs the downside of fake positives though, he noted, adding that the quality of such tests was also key.

He reiterated that sensitivity for rapid tests needed to be at least 80% and specificity at at least 97%. If there was high infection prevalence in the population and rapid tests were of such high quality, the reliability of positive results would be above 80%. False negatives are more problematic than false positives, he added.

Since the start of the epidemic, Slovenia has recorded 171,368 cases. The death toll currently stands at 3,580, according to tracker site covid-19.sledilnik.org.