Slovenia’s chief epidemiologist with mixed views about current measures

Ljubljana, Cankarjev dom. Novinarska konferenca glede aktualnega dogajanja v zvezi z novim koronavirusom. Predstojnik Centra za nalezljive bolezni v NIJZ Mario Fafangel.

Ljubljana – Mario Fafangel, Slovenia’s chief epidemiologist, has mixed feelings about the current measures to curtail the spread of coronavirus. In an interview with Mladina, he singled out mandatory masks outdoor and ban on movement between municipalities as having questionable utility, but warned that overall, the measures must be relaxed gradually.

The chair of the Centre for Communicable Diseases at the National Institute of Public Health (NIJZ), Fafangel said it was “very difficult to take a position on which measures may be excessive” since there is no room for error at this point.

“When this period is over and the number of new infections is brought back to a manageable level, I would certainly do certain things very differently than so far,” he said.

In spring Fafangel was one of the signatories of a letter by NIJZ epidemiologists who protested against their profession being sidelined.

“I don’t have a problem saying that under my leadership, epidemiologists will not become a repressive body and will not issue binding quarantine decisions.”

Asked which measures were currently least likely to contribute to curtailing the epidemic, he singled out mandatory masks outdoors saying there were no studies at this point showing that countries which instituted mandatory masks outdoor were more successful in fighting the epidemic.

He acknowledged, however, that such a blanket rule rendered it unnecessary to more precisely regulate mask use, and it made supervision of compliance easier.

One recent example that gained a lot of traction in media and on social networks was the fining of a food delivery worker who had lunch in the centre of Ljubljana and was fined for not wearing a mask.

“I think this is unproductive. Such a repressive approach may be effective in a situation that lasts a month or two at most, but what it mostly does is it triggers resistance to compliance.”

In a similar vein, Fafangel thinks the ban on movement between municipalities does not make much sense.

“The epidemiological situation does not warrant restrictions on movement around the country since infections are spread fairly evenly and we don’t have less affected areas that we would have to protect.”

He noted, however, that the goal of this measure was “to reduce the movement and mingling of people in all possible ways”.

Another questionable rule is the ban on some non-food products in grocery stores, a measure he said that only made people angry, even if it is designed to reduce contact between people and hence the probability of transmission.

Overall, he said the measures needed to be relaxed “very cautiously” while those that will remain in force longer must be more targeted.

A resident of Trieste, he said that having experienced the total lockdown in Italy, “in the end you only wait how to make up for everything you have missed and create extra reserves for the new lockdown”.

He said the situation was particularly difficult for young adults, who feel very much deprived. “It is necessary to emphasise all the time that this is for the good of the community, for protecting the vulnerable, but at the same time we should not expect perfection from youths and be indignant at their irresponsibility every time they transgress.”