PM Janez Janša talks about vaccination and the challenges of the epidemic on TV show Odmevi
Prime Minister Janez Janša was a guest on current affairs show Odmevi [“Echoes”] on Tuesday, where he talked about the progress of COVID-19 vaccinations, the joint European strategy for the purchase of vaccines, ongoing measures by the government to contain the epidemic and the current political situation.
The Prime Minister began by saying that the majority of vaccinations will be carried out in the second quarter of this year, which is later than was hoped. He nevertheless considers the approval of the Pfizer vaccine to be a positive step. The approval of the vaccine over the Christmas and New Year period was, in his opinion, a pleasant surprise, since “for a while it looked as though it was going to take much longer.” The Prime Minister pointed out, as he has done many times already, that predictions of a more difficult second wave in Europe are proving to be true: “The fact is, until a certain percentage of the population is vaccinated, we will have to continue to combine unpopular measures, which we have already had for too long, with the hope that the vaccine will work, and given the rate at which vaccines are expected to be manufactured, this situation will certainly continue until the spring.” In the Prime Minister’s opinion, the rate of vaccination of the population depends on when additional vaccines are approved and how soon they can be delivered. “This will certainly not happen before late spring, and probably not before June.”
Asked whether the issue of additional doses of vaccine in the European Union is a case of “every man for himself”, the Prime Minister replied that the European Union’s December agreement on the proportional distribution of vaccines is being respected. Slovenia with its population of 2 million received almost exactly the same number of doses from the first consignments as Germany with its population of 80 million. “Slovenia decided to participate in these joint orders like all the other countries. Some countries have opened separate negotiations with Chinese and Russian manufacturers, but for the time being I don’t believe that any of them has actually purchased these vaccines, even though they are cheaper and some manufacturers are offering them,” Mr Janša explained, before going on to point out that trust is a key issue when it comes to vaccines and vaccination: “From this point of view a lot of people have decided that it is better to wait a week or so until that we can get a vaccine that everybody genuinely trusts, so that we can then actually halt this epidemic in Europe with 70% vaccination.” The Prime Minister reiterated that the European Medicines Agency has very strict procedures for the approval of vaccines, while on top of that every vaccine also needs the approval of all national regulators. One the other hand there is considerable political pressure from countries that are dissatisfied with the European Commission’s approach, so some countries – Slovenia among them – are also seeking direct contacts with vaccine manufacturers, which in the Prime Minister’s view is perfectly normal.
Asked about the timetable of further government measures to halt the spread of the epidemic, the Prime Minister replied that we should not forget that some businesses, such as bars and nightclubs, have been closed since the epidemic was first proclaimed in March last year. The principal problem now in Slovenia is that many people failed to take the measures sufficiently seriously in early autumn, with the result that the virus has spread unchecked throughout the country. The Prime Minister pointed out that some other countries in Europe have imposed tougher restrictions on public life than Slovenia has. “A total lockdown would possibly have halted the epidemic in Slovenia. That is to say, if we had done what certain other countries in Europe have done, meaning everyone staying at home, staying within 50 metres of home when going out to get fresh air, leaving home to go the pharmacy or the shop but not to go to work or to school – if we had done that, in three weeks we would probably have reduced the number of infections to the green tier level. At the same time, however, we have to ask what the overall cost of all this would have been, because there are side effects to such a lockdown, and people also die as a result of side effects.” Mr Janša added that we will have to live with slightly milder measures than these, and also perhaps with slightly stricter measures, at least until spring.
The Prime Minister reminded viewers that the temporary relaxation of measures over the Christmas and New Year holidays was part of a strategy agreed at the European level, and also that the temporary relaxation was properly communicated. “It now appears that we were largely successful in containing this holiday wave,” he said, pointing out that the results of the relaxation could have been significantly worse if rapid testing had not been simultaneously introduced and if people had not taken this opportunity seriously.
“Currently, the only possibility of a gradual relaxation of measures is a regional relaxation,” said the Prime Minister in response to a question about students returning to school. He pointed out that before this can happen, the number of infections will have to be reduced to a level that means we do not trigger a fresh wave of the epidemic by relaxing measures too quickly. Regarding the reopening of schools, priority will of course be given to nurseries and the first three years of primary school. At the regional level, the situation with new infections is slowly balancing out, which is a logical consequence of the relaxation during the holiday season. A final assessment of how this relaxation has affected the progress of the epidemic will be available next week. The Prime Minister pointed out that Slovenia’s neighbour Austria has decided to trial the testing of all primary and secondary school students with tests that are more user-friendly. “Until vaccination has halted the epidemic, it is likely that any further opening of schools will largely be connected to the success of this type of testing in schools,” Mr Janša predicted.
The Prime Minister also answered a question about the solidity of the government and the announcement of a constructive no-confidence motion, which is expected to be filed on Friday. “I hope it is. All this is something of a distraction in the middle of an epidemic and it is diverting attention from the key problems we are facing,” said the Prime Minister. In his view, there is something tragicomic about the attempt to topple the government and the harassment on the part of the opposition at a time of great risk, since a new government can be formed simply by submitting at least 46 votes. “The constructive no-confidence motion procedure is a legitimate one, but at the present moment no procedure is under way, even though it has been announced since last April,” said Mr Janša, adding that successful vaccination and an end to the epidemic are far more important than the filing of a constructive no-confidence motion.