Govt in dilemma about new coronavirus variants and new lockdown

Ljubljana – New variants of coronavirus pose a dilemma whether to proceed with the planned colour-coded exit strategy or impose stricter lockdown for a short period of time, PM Janez Janša said in parliament on Monday, as he answered a coalition MP question whether the government was planning any new measures in connection with Covid-19.

He said experts were now checking whether it would be possible to at least partly reopen schools for secondary school students even if Slovenia is still in the orange phase of the epidemic.

Scenarios seeing first, second and third year students going back to school alternately on a daily or weekly basis are being studied, explained Janša, saying that unlike primary school and final-year secondary school kids, these students “have not been at school in person for months”.

He said that the government would discuss the possible scenarios on Wednesday or Thursday.

However, a potential fast spread of the new coronavirus variants in the coming weeks could also bring a dilemma of weather to tighten the measures for a short period of time to the level of lockdown, as was the case in Great Britain and the Czech Republic, Janša told the National Assembly.

This is after the first, and so far the only case of the South African coronavirus variant was confirmed in Slovenia on Friday.

Janša said this was not just a scientific but also a political decision “because it entails much severer restrictions, albeit for a shorter period”, while the healthcare capacity situation is currently much better than in the past.

“While we are probably closer to the red than orange stage in terms of new infections, we are closer to the yellow than orange stage in terms of healthcare capacities, and it’s possible that we’l be able to help some other EU member with these capacities because they are asking for help in the coming two weeks.”

Janša at the same time warned the situation could change. In this case “a decision will have to be made whether to opt for much severer restrictions for a short period of time or strike a balance on the brink of capacity of our health system”.

Answering a question from the opposition, Janša said the restrictions were less effective in the second wave because people did not take them as seriously as in the first one and because “their violation has been intentionally encouraged”.

He also criticised the opposition for opposing certain restrictions, adding that the virus had no political affiliation and spread by its own rules.

The prime minister said the more actively people respected the restrictions, the lower the price, or the milder the restrictions can be.

“But this is not happening,” he said, pointing to crowds on ski slopes at the weekend.

Janša also denied Slovenia was the world leader in terms of Covid-19 death toll, saying statistics would have to be looked at and compared once the pandemic was over.