Circuit breaker lockdown to be imposed from 1 April

Brdo pri Kranju – The government has endorsed the proposal of the Covid-19 advisory team to impose an 11-day circuit breaker lockdown from 1 April in a bid to help hospitals cope with an expected influx in Covid-19 patients following an increase in Slovenia’s coronavirus transmission rates driven by the UK variant.

“The suspension of public life will be brief. On 12 April the restrictions easing roadmap will start being implemented again,” Prime Minister Janez Janša said in announcing the measures at Brdo estate on Sunday.

However, he said the success of the measures would depend on their being consistently implemented, in which case additional measures would not be needed.

Describing the situation as a race against time, Janša said the state administration would switch to remote work almost entirely, urging businesses to follow suit as much as possible.

Non-essential shops and services dealing directly with customers will be shut down and schools will switch to remote classes with day care provided to kindergarten and up to year three primary school children of essential workers.

Gatherings of up to 10 people will be no longer allowed, while movement will be restricted to the region of residence, except for Easter Sunday, when up to two households (no more than six adults) will be able to meet, according to Interior Minister Aleš Hojs.

All in-person religious services will be suspended except for spiritual care for persons in need and cultural institutions will no longer provide services in person, Culture Minister Vasko Simoniti said.

Health Minister Janez Poklukar said face masks would again be mandatory in outdoor public spaces except for exercise in green spaces where there is enough space and on means of transport for same household members.

However, Poklukar said that non-Covid healthcare services would not be reduced because of the immense needs.

During the lockdown, public transportation will run on Sunday or holiday schedule, and road worthiness tests and driving lessons are being suspended, while ski slopes will be closed.

Economy Minister Zdravko Počivalšek said exceptions to a temporary ban on retail and services would include pharmacies, services stations, financial and postal services and delivery.

Construction work on sites, houses and flats that are not currently settled will also be allowed, as will preparing food and drinks for takeaway and delivery without mandatory regular testing.

Meanwhile, regular weekly testing will be required for staff in shops selling mainly groceries, personal care and cleaning items, garden shops, plant nurseries, florists’, produce markets, newsagents and technical goods shops.

Presenting details pertaining to her department, Education Minister Simona Kustec said that special needs pupils would continue schooling in classrooms, and sports for professional athletes would be allowed to continue.

Janša said not taking action now would translate into at least 500 additional deaths until June. “The key value is preserving lives,” he said, adding that experiences of other countries had shown partial measures were not producing good results.

The lockdown is also needed to give enough time to vaccinate the most at-risk groups of the population.

Janša suggested the current roadmap out of the lockdown would be resumed on 12 April if the figures should be at least at roughly the level they are today and unless a new, more aggressive variant appeared, which he said was not likely for the time being.

Administration Minister Boštjan Koritnik said the government’s guidance to state administration heads is that no more than 20% employees should be in workplaces.

The government adopted the measures after the Covid-19 advisory team presented their proposal to a cross-party meeting at Brdo, which the centre-left opposition failed too attend.

The majority were in favour, but Počivalšek had initially aired misgivings about the efficacy of a new lockdown given the pandemic fatigue and low public trust.

He told the press after the government session the measures would not be effective should the opposition continue to abuse the epidemic for politicking. Janša also regretted their absence.

Mateja Logar, the head of the Covid-19 advisory team, welcomed the government heeding their recommendations, saying the experts were united in their position that resolute action was needed to prevent the virus from overwhelming the health system again.

This was as the 7-day average of new daily cases rose to 944 on Saturday, from 927 the day before after standing at 808 a week ago. Of 499 Covid-19 patients in hospitals, 105 are in intensive care.

Slovenia has reported 212,679 coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic with an estimated 12,311 still active infections, data from the National Institute of Public Health (NIJZ) show.

The most recent NIJZ data on the death toll, released on Monday, show 4,258 had died within 28 days of testing positive by Sunday. Since then the government has reported 42 more deaths.

A total of 229,553 people have received their first dose of a vaccine against Covid-19 and 112,087 have received two.