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Prime Minister Janez Janša: We are at a point in time when the light at the end of the tunnel is getting stronger

The first shipment of a vaccine against COVID-19 arrived in Slovenia yesterday, and today the first vaccinations of the most critical groups began across the country. Prime Minister Janez Janša today visited the Danica Vogrinec Home for the Elderly in Maribor, where they are at the moment still facing an aggravated epidemiological situation and where the first married couple was vaccinated.

The couple accompanied their decision to be vaccinated with a statement that it was a special act of new hope. The vaccination was attended by Prime Minister Janez Janša, who described the couple as at the vanguard, while also talking to them about their experience of the coronavirus crisis. Mr Janša also discussed the fight against the coronavirus with the director of the Danica Vogrinec Home for the Elderly, which is the largest such home in the country. They also talked about the long-term care system.

After visiting the home for the elderly and attending the first vaccinations of residents, Prime Minister Janez Janša said in a press release that the final third of the fight against the epidemic had begun that day. According to the Prime Minister, in the absence of this vaccine, we would have waited, through the current measures of lockdown and restrictions of public life, for the end of the epidemic until the end of the April, and, moreover, that there would have been no guarantee that the epidemic would not have recurred at some later time. "So we are at a point in time when the light at the end of the tunnel is getting stronger, but it is also a time when it will sometimes be more difficult to remain careful, because many people think it is already all over. But it’s not over yet, although we can roughly estimate when we are going to win. Until then, it is necessary to keep a clear head and combine the new possibilities offered by the vaccine, and, where rapid tests allow it, at least partial mitigation of measures after the New Year, while also combining the measures we have adopted so far to curb the epidemic," said the Prime Minister.

"The arrival of the vaccine in Slovenia and throughout Europe, in the same quantities for all EU Member States, regardless of their size, is both a major success of Western science in this first phase and a confirmation of the reasons for the existence of the European Union. The distribution of vaccines, the schedule and the overall logistics were coordinated at the last session of the European Council, and I am pleased that this agreement is being honoured," stressed the Prime Minister. "The vaccines that that have just arrived are only the first shipment, as every week from now on, Slovenia will receive over 16,000 vaccine doses, and with each such shipment our chances in the fight against the epidemic will be strengthened," stressed Prime Minister Janez Janša.

"The vaccine that we have started to use, together with the vaccines that will be available in January, are largely the result of the efforts of science and decision-makers in Europe and partly in America. The vaccine we are using was produced in this part of the world and not in China or Russia, which says a lot, not stressing only who has been first and who is using a particular vaccine for promotion, but saying a lot above all of the standards. When it comes to such important things as human lives, it is not just about who will be first, but about who will be safe, whom we trust, and about applying high ethical standards in using vaccines and similar interventions. All of this is the hallmark of the European Union and Western civilization, and we must be aware of this in the face of various challenges that we will have to address in the future," said Prime Minister Janez Janša.

Prime Minister Janša also thanked all those who have worked in recent days and weeks to ensure that the population groups most at risk can be vaccinated everywhere in Slovenia today. "Our sincere thanks go to all the staff at the Ministry of Health and the National Institute of Public Health who have made every effort to make everything run smoothly today, and to the hundreds of staff in health centres and the management teams of homes for the elderly," said the Prime Minister. 

He also pointed out that the Danice Vogrinec Home for the Elderly was the largest such home in Slovenia and also a home where they faced a major challenge during the epidemic, which they were addressing bravely, and congratulated the brave residents who were among the first to be vaccinated today and who felt good following their vaccination. "Today, tomorrow and the day after that, all the residents in homes for the elderly and similar institutions where the coronavirus threat is greatest, and who have not yet had the COVID-19 disease, will be vaccinated," stressed Prime Minister Janez Janša.

Finally, the Prime Minister also pointed out that the fight against the epidemic in homes for the elderly was further aggravated by the fact that little had been invested in care for the elderly in the last 15 years. "Public resources must be channelled where they are most needed. I do not think it is acceptable that we have not built any new homes for the elderly in the last 15 years and that we have improved relatively little the standards of the existing ones," said Mr Janša, adding that if the capacities and the standards had been higher, there would have been fewer victims of the epidemics and infections among the residents. "The Government will do its utmost to ensure that investments are significantly increased in the future, which is why we have provided a large part of the European funds for this purpose," concluded the Prime Minister.

When asked when he himself intended to be vaccinated, Mr Janez Janša said that vaccination follows a settled order of priority as unanimously determined by experts not only in Slovenia, but also in the EU, and that he would get the vaccine as soon as it is his turn.

Prime Minister Janez Janša then proceeded to compare the situation in the homes for the elderly in the spring and during the second wave of the epidemic. "In the spring, there was a high incidence of infections in some homes; such homes remained few, so in the spring we were able to help them through interventions. In the second wave, however, residents in most homes have been infected almost simultaneously and interventions have simply no longer been possible because the required capacities simply do not exist," said Prime Minister Janša. He reiterated that there was a shortage of capacities in the field of long-term care, "a shortage that has not occurred in a few months but has been building up over the last 15 years". The Prime Minister also pointed out that only one home for the elderly in Slovenia is free from infections.

"According to the expert conclusions, 70% of the EU population needs to be vaccinated to reach herd immunity," answered the Prime Minister to the question as to when the vaccine would bring relief to society. "According to our assessment, vaccination readiness is relatively high in our country. It is important that this readiness is high also in the categories most at risk, and I believe that once the effects of the vaccine are directly visible in the environment where we live, this preparedness will be even greater," said the Prime Minister, adding that vaccination has nothing to do with political belief, "as it is a question of common sense and confidence in science, and I am convinced that Slovenians are among the more common-sense nations."

Asked when it would be possible to return to normal life as we knew it before the virus, the Prime Minister said that "as far as the effects of the vaccine that will already have a direct impact on our daily lives and on the possibility of mitigation of measures through the opening of various activities are concerned, they do not depend wholly on the vaccine doses that we are receiving under the joint European procurement agreement, but also on those that we know will be approved soon. At least two more vaccines are well on their way to being distributed in the EU Member States in January or February. We do not yet know exactly what the quantities will be, but we expect that, if the forecasts are approximately as realistic as they seem to be, vaccination alone will make it possible to lift a number of measures at the end of February," said the Prime Minister.

However, he pointed out that even after the situation improves significantly after the vaccination, certain restrictions will have to be kept in place, particularly at the EU’s external borders. It is our common duty to dedicate in solidarity, once we have conquered the worst, part of these quantities of vaccines that we have reserved for ourselves to others as well, especially to the EU’s neighbourhood, as this is not only a matter of our solidarity, but also of our safety," concluded Prime Minister Janez Janša.