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The Government coronavirus call centre

A call centre has been operating ever since the declaration of the coronavirus pandemic in Slovenia to provide the public with reliable and up-to-date information on the new coronavirus. Information is available at the toll-free telephone number 080 1404 (+38614787550 for calls from abroad) every day between 8:00 and 20:00.

The call centre has been established and is managed by the Government Communication Office (UKOM) in cooperation with the Ministry of Health (MZ) and the Ministry of Public Administration (MPA), the National Institute of Public Health (NIJZ), the Administration of the Republic of Slovenia for Protection and Rescue, and the Clinic for Infectious Diseases and Febrile Conditions at the University Medical Centre Ljubljana.

Incoming telephone calls are answered by medical students of the University of Ljubljana. About 60 students, under the professional mentorship of Prof. Dr Mojca Matičič of the Clinic for Infectious Diseases and Febrile Conditions, provide advice and answers to any questions. According to Prof. Mojca Matičič, these are senior-year students who have already passed their infectiology exam and the vast majority of them are students of psychiatry, which has proved to be a great benefit in the current situation.

All students completed a short training programme before starting work. The NIJZ and the MZ provided training on the subject of the coronavirus, the spread and the progress of the disease, its prevention, protection against it and more. UKOM's representatives instructed students on how to answer calls and how to communicate with callers. Training was organised by our colleagues from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Students can also refer to psychologists cooperating with the Civil Protection Service for help.

Initially, callers asked for more information on the coronavirus in general, such as the symptoms of the disease and the measures to be taken to prevent infection. These questions were then followed by questions about the government measures adopted to stem the spread of the virus. Call centre advisers can consult professionals from different fields of expertise who try to answer their questions on the spot. For this reason, the mentoring programme involving infectiologists and epidemiologists was joined by other experts from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Education, Science and Sport, the Ministry of the Interior, the Labour Inspectorate and experts in the field of civil protection.

A variety of questions and answers

The callers' questions are answered by up to 15 advisers. UKOM's representatives, however, ensure that answers are obtained from relevant institutions and forwarded to callers. The work of the call centre is organised in two shifts.

On the establishment of the call centre, the UKOM's staff set up a knowledge database which is now regularly updated with all information necessary to assist call centre advisers in answering questions from callers. This is the information on government measures adopted to curb the pandemic, travel information to Slovenians wishing to return home, and contact information for assistance. The call centre advisers have noticed that any new government action results in an increase in the number of calls. The work of the call centre is extremely varied as the situation changes from hour to hour.

Call structure

The duration and the structure of calls varies continuously depending on the situation. If questions were initially related to the virus in general, now they increasingly relate to the measures currently in force. 

The call centre receives an average of 765 calls a day; the longest call lasted one hour and twenty-nine minutes. This is partly due to the fact that callers found students as friendly information providers, as they have a reassuring and optimistic approach.  A number of callers have called to thank the students for their willingness to help.

There are still many questions about the symptoms and testing, but also requests for other advice.  There are many questions about getting exercise in nature, safe handling of food, the use of face masks and their (in)accessibility, economic activities still allowed to be carried out, etc.  Calls by persons in mental distress are answered by a doctor specialising in psychiatry, who provides advice to an average of three callers a day.

Students have been coming across cases of serious and minor distress associated with changes in everyday circumstances. Many people work outside Slovenia's borders, so there are many calls about crossing the border with neighbouring countries, especially Austria, Italy and Croatia.  The centre also receives calls from Slovenian citizens who are currently abroad but wish to return to Slovenia. Topical questions include those about the quarantine, disinfection of multi-dwelling buildings, and the crossing of borders between municipalities.

Everybody in the call centre is doing their best to help callers and give them the right answers. Despite the ban on socialising, callers are encouraged to keep in touch with people, call their parents, grandparents, friends, of course over the phone or by using other modern communication channels.  People can be close to each other even without meeting in person and encourage each other and maintain an optimistic attitude.

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