Chief coronavirus adviser urges caution in easing restrictive measures

Ljubljana – Infectious diseases specialist Bojana Beović, the head of the government’s coronavirus task force, responded to calls for an easing of coronavirus restrictions by saying extra caution was needed in planning any potential relaxation. The epidemic has been plateauing in Slovenia for weeks and could deteriorate at any time, she warned.

Beović said that the high share of positive tests, which stood at 34% on Tuesday, was a sign that the epidemic was not calming down yet. “We are on a plateau where we have been for almost three weeks,” she said, noting that the number of new patients in hospitals was also level.

To some extent, the share of positive tests was pushed up by rapid tests, which are being double-checked with PCR tests if they are positive. Given that testing is thus more extensive, and that many of those tested with PCR tests had already tested positive with rapid tests, it is expected that a greater share of tests will be positive overall.

She would not comment on whether her task force may propose any easing of restrictions to the government. “The situation is not good. As medical experts, we cannot propose any mayor opening. But if the government decides to open some safer activities with known risks, this is of course possible,” she said.

These are activities that can be arranged in a way to enable social distancing. She said shops were safer than bars if only a few people are allowed to enter at a time. But the task force was concerned by contacts among staff.

Medical experts would be “very very careful” in easing restrictions, Beović said. “We are on a plateau, which means the situation could improve, but on the other it can deteriorate at any time,” she said, warning that a wrong decision could possibly lead to a “disaster for the Christmas and New Year holidays”.

Several business chambers said on Tuesday that analyses and surveys had shown that jobs were not the main source of infections, calling on the government to reopen the economy under strict conditions. Economy Minister Zdravko Počivalšek is expected to present their demands to the government and the task force shortly.

He told yesterday’s session of the government’s Council for a Competitive Business Environment that given the latest statistics, the current approach was obviously not very effective, which is why he would call on the government to consider changing its strategy.

A few days ago, the Economy Ministry sent a proposal to ease restrictive measures to the Health Ministry, but Minister Tomaž Gantar indicated today a relaxation was not in the cards yet.

Speaking ahead of a meeting of a government task force in the evening, Gantar said relaxation should hinge on the number of available hospital beds and discharges of patients since the health system needs a buffer before a relaxation may occur.

“We all want an easing of restrictions. But it we want to spend Christmas and New Year’s slightly more relaxed, there is simply no other choice but to abide by the rules,” he said.

Slovenia sees new surge in coronavirus cases, 57 deaths

Slovenia recorded 2,429 new coronavirus cases for Tuesday, the third highest daily increase in infections since the start of the epidemic, as the test positivity rate hit 33.8%, and 57 more patients with Covid-19 died, according to government data. The overall death toll has passed 1,500.

Tuesday is typically the day of the week that sees the highest number of cases, peaking at 2,611 on 27 October, with 2,492 confirmed the following day.

The latest cases come from 7,178 tests, fewer than the record 8,063 conducted a week ago when 2,226 cases were confirmed for a test positivity rate 27.6%. The rate stood at 22% this Monday, as 1,292 infections were confirmed.

According to Nuška Čakš Jager from the National Institute of Public Health, today’s increase in the number of new infections may be attributed to the introduction of rapid tests. Positive test are double-checked with PCR tests.

Addressing the daily government press briefing, she said as care homes were introducing rapid tests this would reflect on the number of cases detested there.

The number of patients hospitalised with Covid-19 dropped by 14 from the day before to 1,285 after 88 patients were discharged home yesterday, 114 were newly admitted while the rest died. The number of patients in intensive case dropped by 11 to 199.

With 57 more fatalities, Slovenia’s death toll among patients with Covid has reached 1,547.

In the last two weeks, Slovenia recorded 981 infections per 100,000 people. Since the start of the outbreak, a total of 79,563 infections have been confirmed.

There are currently 20,569 active infections in the country. The regional situation is similar as last week, with some improvement in the northern Gorenjska region.

Government spokesperson Jelko Kacin, speaking at the press briefing today, said that the new hotspots are Krško with 97 infections, Slovenska Bistrica with 73, Novo Mesto with 77, and Koper with 66. In Ljubljana 219 new infections were recorded, and 165 in Maribor.