Minister calls for organisational changes in face of Omicron spread

Ljubljana – Health Minister Janez Poklukar on Wednesday urged those in charge of critical infrastructure, companies and the rest of society to organise work and other processes in a way to minimise contact among people so as to prevent certain activities to be stopped at one point due to Omicron infections and quarantines.

He said work and other processes should be conducted by two or even three teams who do not have contact with each other. “That is the only way we can prevent certain activities from stopping at one point because of the infected and quarantined,” he stressed.

Projections show that at some point there could be up to 400,000 people who will be ill or isolating, which is almost a quarter of the population, he said.

This is why he believes contacts at work must be limited as much as possible, and people should work from home as much as possible.

Poklukar also told the press today that a panel of epidemiologists at the National Institute of Public Health (NIJZ) had proposed cutting the 10-day quarantine to seven days, as almost 95% of infections showed within that period.

He said the government was expected to decide on the proposal this week, so that it could take effect next Monday.

In line with the proposal, the quarantine would end without a PCR test and the list of exceptions would be expanded. Apart from those who have received a booster shot, those who have recovered from Covid and had been vaccinated beforehand, and those who have had Covid in the last 45 days would not need to quarantine.

In the face of a growing number of infections in Slovenia, the minister again urged citizens to get vaccinated against Covid as well as against flu, to remain in their social bubbles and get tested as frequently as possible when socialising with other people.

As the fifth wave of infections is looming, epidemiologists and the Covid-19 task force stress the importance of self-testing, rapid anti-gene testing and PCR testing, he said.

Some testing points are already reporting increased workload and the minister said solutions were being sought. Slovenian labs are currently able to analyse up to 16,000 PCR tests a day.

Miroslav Petrovec, the head of the Institute of Microbiology and Immunology, said their lab confirmed the Omicron variant in 67% of the positive samples. He expects the variant to prevail by the end of this week or the start of the next.

Poklukar urged all citizens to avoid crowds as much as possible, including in public transport, shops and bars and restaurants.

He reiterated that all measures were currently being discussed, from lockdown to PC+ rule, under which access to certain activities would only be allowed to those who have recovered from Covid or have been vaccinated and tested.

Visits to care homes will be restricted to one healthy person who meets the recovered, vaccinated or tested (PCT) rule.

The minister also offered some statistics on Covid hospitalisations and fatalities, noting that since 27 December the number of patients at Covid wards dropped by 46 to 542 this morning with 160 in intensive care.

The capacities are being adjusted on a weekly basis; the bed occupancy rate is currently at 79% at regular Covid wards and 83% at ICUs, which is still high considering the country is entering the 5th wave.

In the fourth wave the Slovenian healthcare system secured twice as many intensive care beds per million population than any other European country, he said.

In terms of mortality per infection Poklukar said Slovenia ranked among the world’s best, comparing to countries such as Sweden but doing better than Italy or Germany for example.