The Slovenia Times

NIJZ chief Krek says each uninfected person counts

Health & MedicineSpotlight

Ljubljana - If people do not become more consistent in abiding by anti-coronavirus measures, the second wave of the epidemic could last until March, the director of the National Institute for Public Health (NIJZ), Milan Krek, said in an interview with the STA. This means the third wave would start immediately after the second one, he warned.

This is why it is important to have as many uninfected persons as possible. "Every single one matters. Every person that remains uninfected is important," he said, calling for reducing contacts and taking preventive measures. "Everything we do to reduce the risk of infection transmission contributes to better results," he said.

He deems it is not good that people are divided - that some are very consistent in implementing protective measures, while others deny the virus's very existence. He thinks politicians are partly to be blamed for that.

"All political parties should unite and send the same message to the people," he said, adding the situation in healthcare was critical. "This is not within the limits the health system can manage. We are managing it because of the ethics, morality and good people who understand we need to endure now and work."

But he warned that medical staff was at the verge of collapse. There is no more reserves, as medical staff is falling ill too. "We cannot send to a bed someone from a different sector, we need qualified staff."

Krek had announced a strong second wave of infections in the summer and received quite a few death threats because of that. The last one arrived on Friday, and he is also being followed every time he leaves the NIJZ offices, he said, warning that the NIJZ was not introducing any measures but merely advising the government.

Krek believes the government was not late in taking restrictive measures but that the problem is that people did not follow them as they did in the spring.

Slovenia was in a worse situation than for example France or Spain when autumn started, as a small outbreak was recorded in summer already with the transmission of infections from the Balkans. Then the second wave came, he said.

If restrictive measures had not been introduced at the Slovenian-Croatian border at the time, the situation would have been much worse.

Krek assessed the government-sponsored restrictions introduced in recent weeks had been successful in preventing the infections from going out of control. "But now we're stuck at a point when we're expecting the curve to turn downwards like in all other European countries."

If everyone adhered to the measures, the number of new daily infections could drop significantly by New Year's. However, should the epidemic maintain the current pace, the situation could stabilise only in March.

But if the third wave starts in other countries then, Slovenia will be in a much more difficult situation again. "I do not want to spread fear, but that is one of the worst-case scenarios."

He believes Slovenia has not managed to bring the curve down like some other countries also because of pandemic fatigue. "People are tired of everything. The situation is very difficult for everyone."

People also probably socialised on 1 November and St Martin's Day, and the situation deteriorated when infections started in care homes, among medical staff and at companies, Krek said, pointing to the issue of asymptomatic transmitters.

One in four infected person told the NIJZ they had probably got infected at work, he said, noting that this was difficult to check given that epidemiologists can no longer keep track of infections.

Krek again called for as many people as possible to work from home. Companies that took all the necessary precautions, adjusted their work, and started testing their employees, are seeing very good results, he said, pointing to poultry producer Pivka Perutninarstvo, where an outbreak had been successfully contained with the help of the NIJZ.

Krek himself was caught not wearing a mask at a petrol station this autumn, for which he will pay a fine. He said he always wore a mask but that that incident had been a consequence of fatigue and that he had put on the mask when he entered the shop.

It is crucial that experts in public health adopt this new, preventive way of behaviour, he said, drawing parallels to the AIDS epidemic a few decades ago. "What we learned then should be considered now as well. Everyone you meet is potentially infected. When we realised that with AIDS and started practising it in health and everywhere else, we started to control the virus. Before that, the situation was very sad," he said.

One of the solutions to the Covid-19 situation could also be a vaccine. Krek expects 50-60% of the population to be vaccinated by summer months. It is wrong to think that a massive wave of infections will provide for herd immunity, as research has shown that the immunity is dropping, so a person can catch the virus again, he warned.


More from Health & Medicine