Covid restrictions stepped up, but no new lockdown

Brdo pri Kranju – Amidst surging infections, the government decided late on Friday evening to tighten Covid restrictions instead of imposing another lockdown. From Monday, the Covid pass mandate is expanded, opening hours of bars and restaurants restricted, gatherings banned and only surgical or FFP2 masks allowed. Students will soon get tested more often.

After a six-hour government session, Health Minister Janez Poklukar presented at a press conference the new restrictions to contain the rapid spread of infections, which seems to be getting out of control this week.

Starting on Monday, the Covid pass will have to be produced by persons older than 12. So far, the rule has had to be observed by individuals aged above 15.

The recovered-vaccinated-tested (PCT) rule will be observed as long as the person produces a valid ID and Covid pass, Poklukar said.

Night clubs will be temporarily closed and gatherings banned, except for family gatherings. Cafes, restaurants and bars will be allowed to operate only between 5am and 10pm, and only table service is permitted to ensure physical distancing.

Responding to this, Blaž Cvar, head of the Hospitality and Tourism Section of the Chamber of Craft and Small Business (OZS), told the STA on Saturday that he missed measures to cover the damage that would be suffered by establishments as a result.

It is also hard for hospitality providers to take on the role of a “repressive supervisor”, he said in reference to Covid pass checks that will now also involve ID checks, adding that there had been no legislative changes to allow them to request IDs in line with the General Data Protection Regulation.

Shops will be restricted to accepting one customer per at least 10 square metres, and required to put up signs telling customers how many of them are allowed to be in the shop at the same time.

Responding to the stricter measures, Mariča Lah, the head of the Chamber of Commerce (TZS), told the STA on Saturday that re-introduction of a limited number of customers was not a major issue for retailers, as they had had experience with this.

“Any measure that can be implemented at not too big of a cost is better than closing shops or shutting down the economy,” she said, adding that the measure in question had proved to be quite effective in the past.

Cloth face masks will no longer be enough whenever mask-wearing is a must, as only surgical or FFP2 masks will be accepted as adequate, Poklukar said yesterday.

Schools will remain open, he noted, however the frequency of self-testing among primary and secondary school students will be increased to three times per week from 15 November.

The students will get tested in schools and not at home as has been the case so far. Each one of them will be entitled to 15 rapid tests per month.

Self-testing will remain voluntary for primary and secondary school students and obligatory for university students, who will be required to get tested three times per week as well.

Students who have been vaccinated will not be urged to get tested, however if they get signs of infection, they should contact their GP.

All students and school staff will have to wear protective masks indoors, either surgical or FFP2 masks.

From next Monday, restrictions will be also stepped up at cultural and sports events. The organisers will have to ensure physical distancing by leaving one seat empty in between spectators, who are still required to wear a mask and observe the PCT rule.

When it comes to religious services, the rules are the same with participants required to heed a 1.5 metre physical distancing.

The cost of rapid testing will once more be covered by the state, said Poklukar, adding that the price per test had been reduced from a maximum of 12 euro to 7 euro.

In public administration, teleworking will be put in place as much as possible. The minister also recommended this regime to all the other organisations.

He highlighted that given the poor epidemiological situation, public life restrictions were a must. “The coming weeks will be difficult, healthcare will be put to the test. The only efficient measure is vaccination, as the adopted measures only alleviate the pressure on hospitals,” he said.

The situation in healthcare is alarming, he reiterated, adding that the measures were considered, including by experts, to help improve the situation quickly. At the same time, the steps are acceptable “given the state of mind in society”.

Poklukar confirmed that the option of a complete lockdown had been another proposal on the table during the session.

He also commented on reports that Slovenia will soon have to send its Covid patients abroad due to limited hospital capacities, saying that the ministry had been in contact with the neighbouring countries and cooperating with them due to the seriousness of the situation.

He has contacted community health centres which have seen long queues forming outside their vaccination sites in recent days, and received assurances that the issue will be tackled, he said, urging people to get a jab.

Milan Krek, the head of the National Institute of Public Health (NIJZ), said that the NIJZ supplies currently totalled more than 700,000 doses of Covid-19 vaccines, adding that additional doses were on the way and there were no supply bottlenecks.

On Friday, the government also green-lit the agreement reached with the nursing trade unions, which means higher wages for nurses, said Poklukar. The results of the negotiations will be presented together at the signing of the agreement, he added.