Ljubljana – Interviewed by a coalition-led parliamentary inquiry looking into the previous government’s handling of the first stages of the coronavirus epidemic, former Prime Minister Marjan Šarec denied on Monday the allegations about his government being slow to react to Covid-19 developments in early 2020.
Replying to several members of the commission, who wondered whether the previous government had declared epidemic too late, Šarec said that his government had acted in line with the little information on the coronavirus available at the time.
“Today we have over 5,000 deaths from Covid-19, but no epidemic has been [formally] declared,” he added.
He repeatedly compared the performance of his government with that of the current Janez Janša government, which was sworn a day after its predecessor in office declared epidemic.
This was not to the liking of the commission’s chair Suzana Lep Šimenko, an MP of the ruling Democrats (SDS), who repeatedly urged Šarec to restrict his answers to the period that is the subject of the commission’s investigation, that is the period before the current government took office on 13 March 2020. Šarec then stressed that each period could not be considered in isolation but in comparison with another period.
He presented the timeline of the then government’s actions in response to the coronavirus outbreak, including the launch of an interdepartmental coordination group for communicable disease control at the Health Ministry in late January 2020 and a press briefing on the coronavirus in February 2020.
According to Šarec, the epidemic was declared by the Health Ministry on 12 March 2020 at the proposal of the National Institute of Public Health (NIJZ), a step that was within its powers. The ministry had much greater powers under the then law on infectious diseases than it has today, the former prime minister and head of his namesake party said.
Responding to Lep Šimenko’s comment that government sessions in the run-up to the epidemic declaration had been relatively short, Šarec said that preparations for the meetings, coordination and discussions had been ongoing all the time, which is why the sessions could last for a shorter period of time. “The quality of work is not measured by the time spent,” he added.
He said that the purchase of personal protective equipment (PPE) had not been under the purview of the Agency for Commodity Reserves at the time, but of the individual health institutions.
“In my opinion, the myth of empty warehouses was created so that protective equipment could then be purchased through the Agency for Commodity Reserves, which was not intended for this purpose,” he said, referring to allegations about PPE procurement wrongdoing and the current government’s role in the matter.