Address to the nation by Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Janša regarding the coronavirus epidemic.
From the very beginning, ever since our declaring of independence and the war, Slovenia has never faced a more serious crisis.
Yesterday, the head of the World Health Organisation labelled the coronavirus an “enemy against humanity”. The danger is worse than in a traditional war, except when biological weapons are used.
Until a vaccine becomes available, our only option is to slow the spread of the virus. We are therefore in a race against time. The current Government was sworn in on Friday evening. Governments usually have 100 days to develop their teams and prepare for regular operations. We had half of Saturday, and most of the ministers not even that much.
We were therefore forced to establish a Crisis Staff, which is basically the Government and key experts and operatives. It will remain operational until the Government is completely up and running. I would like to sincerely thank everyone involved, particularly those who warned the public of the danger on time. If it weren’t for those lone voices in the wilderness, we would be in an even more difficult predicament today.
In Europe today, there are countries that have already been critically affected by the epidemic, countries that due to the epidemic and due to delays are on the edge of chaos and have declared a traditional state of emergency and a state of war, two countries that had adequate defences against epidemics in place, and the majority of others that are improvising, although this is being done by well-established and mostly well-organised state apparatuses.
In Slovenia we were late to react. We were watching the events unfold in northern Italy and we didn’t believe that the virus could get here faster than Rome or Sicily. Even during the school holidays we failed to provide any of the necessary advice to our citizens. We heard that we had a national plan for an epidemic, but they didn’t tell us that it was a plan for a flu epidemic. We heard that we have enough protective equipment, but in reality the warehouses were practically empty in relation to the demand. There were no lists of national-level requirements, no joint appropriations plans, not even a uniform opinion among the professionals. Chaos was waiting for us.
We publicly demanded the convening of the National Security Council as early as the middle of February, but the meeting was only held on the ninth of March. For more than three weeks, not only the former government, but also the most important media outlets ignored the demands of the party with by far the largest support of the voters. Therefore, with all the criticisms regarding the measures that are being hurled at this Government which is just a few days old, each of you should first look at yourselves.
The Government is in a position where there are no preparatory measures in place to combat the epidemic. Every order, every decree, every resolution has to be written from scratch. Some countries are simply enacting orders that they prepared weeks or months in advance, while we have to think them up, write them down, harmonise them and adopt them in a single day or even just a few hours. And every hour in this battle is precious. Therefore we are also following the conduct of the countries that had measures thought out and prepared in advance.
Our healthcare personnel are among the most overloaded and sacrificing even in normal circumstances. It is now our turn to give them the time they need to further reorganise and to call up reserves, and for us to provide additional protective equipment, medical equipment and medicines. They of course have to continue to take care of everyone else who requires regular treatment, medicine and emergency care. I would like to express great thanks to them and to everyone at the most vulnerable places in this crisis, and to tell them that everyone who works double shifts will also receive double pay.
One of our priorities today is to resolve the issue of our supplies of protective equipment. They were not ordered in time, and therefore many shipments have encountered administrative and transport hurdles. The countries that have declared a state of emergency or a state of war have disregarded a series of national and European regulations in doing so. State and in some places also local authorities are conducting seizures of such equipment. Normal procedures are not functioning in many places. Countries outside the union are adopting similar measures, which either obstruct or hinder direct air deliveries. The European guidelines adopted for this situation are not yet in effect. We are solving individual cases, but the situation will not be wholly resolved for some time. Therefore we will be forced to continue to use our internal reserves for a few more days and direct them to the most urgent priorities. We are increasing internal production, as are practically all countries. Fairly soon there will be sufficient protective equipment available in Europe and in Slovenia, and finally, no space technology is needed to produce it.
Therefore we are focusing on providing additional critical medical equipment and medicines, which will be a more significant challenge in the medium term. We will do everything we can.
Certain measures, such as the complete ban on public transport and restrictions on various other activities, will be able to be partially lifted in the coming weeks, when there is enough protective equipment and when more in-depth procedures have been prescribed.
We have substantial reserves of food and other necessities, and we will be adding to them. Slovenian agriculture is highly capable. We will not starve. Cargo transport will at least partially function during the crisis, as will the production of many other basic necessities. Therefore I would like to sincerely thank all of the workers and businesspeople who are maintaining production in these difficult times.
Dealing with this epidemic will require not only the already adopted measures but also long-term measures, mainly financial and economic, which the Government began working on yesterday. The combined corona legal package has two objectives: first, to ensure every possible potential is mobilised to be able to successfully challenge the epidemic, and second, to provide every one of you and the economy with a financial cushion so that we can overcome the crisis.
With its decisions yesterday, the European Central Bank created sufficient manoeuvring room so that our government can now act in a timely and effective manner.
We have to remember that people are an essential part of economic processes, and that humanity and economic flows are two sides of the same coin. However, at this point in the crisis it is clear that the health and lives of people must take absolute priority.
We are also going to make mistakes; in this situation and this state of preparedness they will be impossible to avoid. We ask you to let us know about them and we will correct them in turn.
At the last meeting of the National Security Council, all of the political actors in Slovenia reached a high level of agreement on the need to cooperate and for fast and effective action. I thank everyone who contributed to this and who is continuing on that path. Constructive bilateral preparedness to cooperate in the adopting of legal measures in the National Assembly is one of the most important guarantees of a successful fight against the epidemic.
The crisis hit us at a moment when some of the most vital instruments of the state are exceptionally understaffed and lacking the resources to fight it. The Slovenian Army will therefore begin expanding its units over the next few days with members of the volunteer reserves. Everyone with a command of military knowledge and skills and is not working in a critical job is invited to volunteer to join the collective effort to provide general security.
Finally, I would like to give sincere thanks once again. To our healthcare personnel, doctors, nurses. Workers in laboratories and hospitals. At homes for the elderly. At working manufacturing plants and in public services. To everyone who worked themselves to exhaustion during the reorganisation of key sectors of the healthcare system. To everyone who despite unclear instructions remained calm and worked in a composed and focused manner.
I would also like to say thank you to all the mayors of the municipalities, who have taken care of thousands of things over the weekend and in these last few days. I would especially like to thank the Mayor of the Municipality of Šmarje, who took the initiative and closed the school when it was necessary.
Thanks are due to the members of the Civil Protection Service throughout the country, and to all of the members of the Crisis Staff, who responded without hesitation to my request to cooperate.
Thanks to all of our fellow citizens, the volunteers who organised themselves in the regions they live in and offered assistance to the elderly and the sick, who are the most vulnerable. Human solidarity is being put to the test. But I am happy, because I see that it will emerge victorious.
Thirty years ago we created and defended our country so that one day we could live in it freely. Restrictions on movement are fundamentally opposed to the essence of our lives and aspirations. But at this moment they are imperative if we want to save many lives. Therefore I ask that everyone strictly comply with the restricted movement order that the government adopted on the basis of the Communicable Diseases Act, which will enter into force at midnight tonight. At our hospitals we also have young people who have contracted the virus, so we should not underestimate the danger.
If you are at home, use the time that you have been given for your family, for studying, for recipes, for working in your garden or field. Read that book that has been sitting on your shelf, and call an acquaintance or friend that you haven’t talked to for a long time. Think about the personal and professional challenges that await us after the crisis has passed. There are a lot of useful things that we can do for ourselves during this time. There are also a lot of little but pleasant things that you could never find the time for. Let us keep the ill and those protecting their lives in our thoughts and prayers.
Once again I repeat, hand on heart: the most important thing is that we are aware that even the most drastic measures will not work if we fail to realise that each one of us is both a part of the problem and a part of the solution. The virus can only be spread by us as individuals. And it is also only as individuals that we can at least slow its spread.
My fellow Slovenes, countrymen, compatriots!
The coronavirus pandemic has changed the world. It is already a lot different to what we were used to, and tomorrow it will be even more different. It is impossible to know how long the crisis will last, but certainly we are not talking about days, but at least weeks and months. But if we do everything we must, then we will undoubtedly overcome this danger, and at some point we will be able to live normally again.