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Slovenia to declare an epidemic and temporarily close kindergartens and schools

Prime Minister Marjan Šarec today said that Slovenia would declare an epidemic pursuant to Article 7 of the Contagious Diseases Act due to the increasing number of coronavirus cases. The Civil Protection Service of the Republic of Slovenia, which is already participating, will be activated; it will be able to perform its tasks more effectively on the basis of the order issued by the Minister of Health. The Government also adopted a decision to temporarily close kindergartens and schools.

At today's session the Government adopted a decision banning gatherings of people in educational institutions and universities. Educational institutions for adolescents with emotional and behavioural disorders referred thereto by a court are excepted from this measure. The Minister of Health, Aleš Šabeder, will issue an order for the detailed implementation of this decision, including the duration of the ban. This measure is aimed at reducing the risk of occurrence of this infectious disease in Slovenia. Schools will be closed between 16 and 29 March 2020. The Minister of Education, Science and Sport, Jernej Pikalo, recommends that tomorrow schools adapt their activities and organise them outdoors and, where possible, advises children to stay home tomorrow.

According to Prime Minister Šarec, the closure of kindergartens and schools will have many consequences, such as issues regarding childcare, as for many children this entails losing the only warm meal they get in a day, an increased risk of infection for grandparents looking after children, and a change in the organisation of public transport and public transport services, which will be switching to holiday timetables. There are approximately 300,000 people in the school system, and the impact of the closure of educational institutions will therefore be felt by all other subsystems, Minister Pikalo stressed.

According to the National Institute of Public Health guidelines, individual kindergartens and schools will be able to offer organised childcare, but only for emergencies or for the children of those parents who are employed in emergency services.

The Prime Minister highlighted that the Government has hitherto adopted a number of appropriate and timely measures and dismissed allegations that the Government's actions were premature or too late. Thus far, Slovenia has been able to handle the situation; therefore, one should have confidence in the experts and other people involved in crisis resolution.

In order to preserve jobs under the current market circumstances resulting from the coronavirus outbreak, the Government today adopted the proposal of the Act on the Intervention Measure of Partial Wage Compensation. Ksenija Klampfer, Minister of Labour, Family, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities, stressed that the key objective thereof is to preserve as many jobs as possible, to preserve the rights of employees and thus reduce the pressure on open unemployment, on the one hand, and to facilitate the position of employers since the virus outbreak has already impacted the Slovenian economy, on the other.

Parents who will stay at home to care for their children in the coming days will be entitled to 50% wage compensation, explained the Minister. The legal framework for this measure is the Employment Relationship Act, which determines that if an employee cannot perform his or her work due to force majeure, the risk will be shared by both the employee and the employer, thus reducing the burden of wage compensation with regard to other cases in which such compensation equals one half of the payment to which the employee would be entitled to receive for actual work performed, but not less than 70% of the minimum wage.

According to the Minister of Health, Aleš Šabeder, the increase in the number of coronavirus cases was to be expected. There are two new coronavirus cases in health regions where no cases had previously been recorded: one in the Nova Gorica and one in the Kranj health region.

The Minister of Health again appealed to health care professionals to avoid coming to work if they are ill or have coronavirus symptoms.

He informed the public of the newly adopted Order Restricting Certain Rights of Healthcare Professionals and Associates. Healthcare professionals are banned from entering infected areas or areas at immediate risk of coronavirus outbreaks, i.e. the countries with identified coronavirus cases. This Order lays down the duty of healthcare professionals and associates to perform their activities under specific circumstances, such as the ban or restriction on taking annual leave and the restriction of the right to strike and to training in coronavirus-stricken areas.

The restrictions will apply until the coronavirus outbreak risk subsides; they will be enforced by the management of health care providers.

Minister Šabeder noted that the public will be informed of postponed medical examinations, and that hospitals will be providing regular care to patients suffering from life-threatening emergencies.

He again urged the public to be tolerant of people who have fallen ill.

According to the Director of the National Institute of Public Health Slovenia, Nina Pirnat, the number of confirmed cases is rising beyond the level considered normal, which has also been expected. She reiterated the need for increased hand and cough hygiene, to keep people with respiratory infections at home, and to avoid close contact.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has warned that different control systems are in place at the border crossings with Slovenia, with the aim of maintaining public and individual health. Travellers should comply therewith. A long column of trucks has started forming at the Slovenian-Croatian border and the Ministry is closely working with neighbouring Croatia to address the situation. As regards the US Presidential decree to ban all flights from Europe, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs warns all citizens planning to travel to the USA to abandon this intention and all those currently in the USA to secure the fastest possible way home.

Regarding the growing number of travel reimbursement questions, Mr Andrei Šter from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs explained that the declaration of an epidemic or pandemic was sufficient reason to initiate appropriate procedures with insurance companies and consumer protection organisations to reimburse travel expenses already paid.