Surge in vaccinations and protest as Covid pass mandate takes effect

Ljubljana – Slovenia has seen a surge in vaccinations in the run-up to the Covid pass mandate that took effect on Wednesday, but the first day has also brought report of tensions in shops and a large protest in front of Parliament House by groups of antivaxxers and anti-maskers.

After the Covid pass mandate was announced on Saturday, vaccine uptake surged with the number of doses administered doubling week-on-week on Monday and Tuesday as long waiting lines were reported in front of vaccination centres.

Some vaccination centres reported high interest in the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in particular, the single shot providing the fastest way of securing the coveted Covid pass.

Bojana Beović, the head of the Health Ministry’s advisory group for Covid-19, said many were getting vaccinated to avoid having to test, but she said this did not matter since they would nevertheless contribute to collective immunity.

“I would be more pleased if people understood why they have to get vaccinated … but the main thing is that the share of the vaccinated population is increasing,” she said today.

A Covid pass is required for access to almost all services and workplaces and there have been reports throughout the day of store clerks being hassled, of shortages of staff to check the certificates.

Many complaints by disgruntled customers were targeted at petrol stations after the largest fuel retailer, Petrol, made it mandatory to show a Covid pass before people could fill up their tank.

The company abandoned this policy by the end of the day after a series of complaints made their rounds on social media, including most prominently the story of a man who left his car at a petrol station in Brežice in protest at not being able to buy petrol. The car had to be towed.

Many stores however reported things running smoothly, and major shopping centres have set up mobile testing sites where unvaccinated customers could secure a test to go shopping.

The new rule has also led to concern about access to courts, where implementation of the Covid pass mandate has been criticised as limiting access to courts.

Several associations of jurists protested against the Covid pass mandate, arguing that access to justice was at risk.

The Association of Judges said courts cannot possibly fall under the purview of the new regulation, since courts are not service providers and parties to proceedings are not service users. They fear many parties may take advantage of the rule to hamper proceedings.

A Covid pass is also mandatory for access to health services, except for emergency care. Community health centres have instituted a strict policy of compliance, while hospitals have offered on-the-spot testing for those who do not have a Covid pass.

The new rules have also been met with outrage by prominent Facebook-based groups of opponents of vaccines and masks, who staged a rally in the centre of the capital that social media posts indicate attracted several thousand people.

Speakers there demanded an end to the Covid pass mandate, arguing that their right to freedom, work and education is being denied.

Some protesters expressed doubt about the very existence of coronavirus, or downplayed it as a seasonal flu despite an abundance of evidence that it is far more dangerous.

The tightening of restrictions comes amidst a rapidly deteriorating epidemiological situation, with cases surging and hospitals filling up quickly.

Daily cases have exceeded 1,300 for two days in a row now, levels last seen in April, while the 14-day incidence per 100,000 population now stands at 533, one of the highest rates in Europe.

While vaccine uptake has improved, the vaccination rate remains low. In the general population only 45% are fully vaccinated, among adults the share is 53%.