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Prime Minister Janez Janša: First case of the UK coronavirus variant officially confirmed in Slovenia

Prime Minister Janez Janša spoke about the UK coronavirus variant in Slovenia at today’s press conference, and the related measures which need to be adopted.

He initially noted that the epidemic is no longer easing, as in the last period, when we began stagnating in the number of infections, and the first person with the UK coronavirus variant has been officially identified yesterday in Slovenia. “The situation is not easing. The government lifted certain measures in certain regions on Wednesday and Thursday. There are concerns regarding compliance with managing the deteriorating situation, which is why reconsideration will need to be made on Wednesday, or even before then,” said the Prime Minister, and added that the person with the new UK variant of the coronavirus in Slovenia was identified yesterday. It concerns a citizen of Kosovo with temporary residence in Slovenia, who arrived here from Belgium. “We were made aware of the case via the European early warning system, and the Belgian authorities notified us that there is a person in Slovenia who tested positive to the new UK coronavirus variant in Belgium on 16 January. The person left Belgium on that day, and they said they arrived in Slovenia yesterday with a negative test. It was later found that the person had two tests, one negative and one positive, and that only the negative test was probably used when passing other borders between Belgium and Slovenia. The authorities are looking into the case,” said Prime Minister Janez Janša.

“Because most of the other member states have already identified the new UK coronavirus variant, which is said to spread quicker and is therefore more contagious than the variant known to date, we assumed that the variant is present in our country as well. The laboratory which was investigating the matter has found that the variant was not present in Slovenia by the start of December. Official results for later periods are not available yet, while the results which we have received to date definitely do not include any positive cases,” said Prime Minister Janez Janša.

He said that he received very alarming information on the matter at the Thursday session of the European Council as to what is happening in other European countries in terms of the more rapid spread of the UK variant, which is why “we adopted some urgent measures on Friday.” “The Slovakian government sent us a couple of thousand tests following a special request, which are more sensitive to the UK coronavirus variant. The competent persons from NIJZ received the tests yesterday in Slovakia, and we have been testing some samples retrospectively at certain points where the virus had been identified or where we had positive persons. The classic PCR tests do not distinguish between mutations, so special tests are therefore necessary,” said Prime Minister Janša. He also said that samples from all regions will be tested tomorrow, and that we expect to receive the data or results retrospectively on Tuesday at the latest for all Slovenian regions.

Prime Minister Janez Janša then said that extreme caution is needed, especially because schools are opening in certain regions next week, as well as kindergartens for everyone, “which is why we expect tens of thousands of new contacts from Tuesday, and we can say with a high probability that schools will only be safe if we strictly adhere to all the instructions.”

Regarding the dilemma which occurred in the last couple of days and weeks, as to whether schools are ready to be opened again in this situation, the Prime Minister said that the instructions for the models and recommendations for decreased and increased numbers of infections were issued at the start of the school year, as everyone knows, and many professionals, theorists, and practitioners participated in their creation, “there should be no special dilemmas here.” “Especially because some school models have been implemented in line with these instructions until now, which is why we already have practical experience,” said Prime Minister Janša.

“The opening, albeit in a lesser scope and with certain restrictions, is not just a matter for schools, but also for parents and all those who are in any way included in this process, and our actions need to be cautious by complying as much as possible with all the hygienic and other measures,” said the Prime Minister, and added that the precautionary measures are necessary everywhere else as well, due to the situation of the epidemic, which is at a very serious level. “Concerning the wearing of face masks, I ask people to use three-layer or FFP2 masks wherever possible, especially where you believe the contacts you make are very risky,” said Prime Minister Janez Janša, and added that the better the protection offered by the mask, the more it is recommended to be used.

The Prime Minister also said that many countries where many infections with the UK variant had been identified, had raised their concerns at the Thursday session of the European Council. “A study was also presented regarding the rapid spread of the new variant of the virus in the United Kingdom. The rate or the tempo resembles the rate we’ve had in the last couple of months, and this is an additional indication that we might expect a higher number of infections among those who tested positive,” said the Prime Minister.

The Prime Minister also said that one of the laboratories tasked with reviewing the situation retrospectively found two out of 80 cases with an increased amount of the UK variant, “therefore in addition to the identified case who arrived in Slovenia yesterday and presumably had no other contact, although this is not certain, and there are also 2 more suspicious cases. However, we did not identify 8 cases, as the media reported, and there is no official data regarding the matter, those are only rumours,” said the Prime Minister.

“An additional reason for concern is also the forecast that there may be delays in the production of some vaccines, or that some vaccines which we are counting on in the next few weeks and months are in the approval stage, and the approval is not as certain next week as it was previously said. The vaccine in question is that of AstraZeneca, of which the EU has ordered large quantities, and Slovenia has too, but I do stress that the plans that we have already made do not include these unapproved vaccines. Slovenia’s current vaccination plans only include two vaccines which have already been approved, which are the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines,” said Prime Minister Janez Janša.

Regarding all of the above, the Prime Minister said there will certainly be some changes following Wednesday’s COVID session of the government, “if the trends remain as they are, especially in the event of more serious data in view of the new UK variant or virus mutation. So based on the plan which we now have, regarding the tightening or lifting of certain measures and regarding the today’s information, there will certainly be some changes on Wednesday.” “We all want the changes to go in a positive direction, but the data for the last three days does not give us this optimism,” said Prime Minister Janez Janša. He also added that if the samples taken from mass tests since 11 January, which are already in motion and will be carried out on samples from all regions, show serious data, the government will take immediate action, perhaps as soon as Tuesday, rather than on Wednesday.

“If we assume that we have a virus that spreads more quickly and is much more contagious, then strict adherence to the measures is much more important, otherwise we may very quickly be close to or beyond the limits of our health system, and in the situation which the whole of Europe is faced with, practically the entire northern hemisphere, we cannot count on major aid from outside, which is why caution is much more essential,” said the Prime Minister, and thanked everyone who is aware of these facts. “We need to persevere in the next few weeks and comply with the measures in order to get to a situation where we will finally be able to manage the epidemic with the help of the vaccine,” said Prime Minister Janez Janša.

Prime Minister Janez Janša continued by answering questions from the press, where he initially stated that the vaccine quantities coming to Slovenia have not changed, based on the forecasts given a week ago. “These are regular weekly supplies of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines, which are sufficient for vaccinating people for the second time, and to continue applying the vaccines in the first priority group of over 80 years of age,” said the Prime Minister. He added that schools and kindergartens are opening as planned. “The situation in the regions is changing, based on our plan that is a parameter which we will consider on Tuesday by midnight. This will serve as a relevant piece of information to decide on Wednesday, and this information will be considered in deciding on school matters that will apply next week. If we deviated from that, there would probably be chaos. In addition, and regarding all of the discussions in the last few weeks concerning all the measures which were prescribed for safe schools in these first classes, schools will be relatively safe, but we need to actually respect the measures,” said the Prime Minister. He added that if infections are identified in schools, those classes will no longer have live lectures, and in the event of multiple infections, the school will be closed. “Many such combinations are to be expected. This does not mean that the first triad will, even if the system withstands next month in all regions where they are generally open, run by having live lessons, i.e. there will be combinations regarding infections in specific environments. This is still from the perspective of the current situation, and based on the official data on the presence of the UK coronavirus variant, because now we are checking data retrospectively, and we hope the picture will be clearer by Tuesday,” said the Prime Minister. He also officially thanked the Slovakian government, who allowed access to these tests, which are not exactly accessible on the market overnight.

“We will all be relieved if things remain like this, and regarding the person who tested positive on the UK coronavirus variant, if it is true that they came yesterday and had no contacts, then the opening system that was planned will go ahead,” said the Prime Minister, and added that the regions where the situation will get worse may expect stringent measures and not just openings.

“We are faced with times where I ask for a lot of patience, in the sense that we may have different measures each week. Perhaps we will have different measures each week, which will depend on the situation in individual environments,” said Prime Minister Janez Janša.

He further explained in detail that the person who tested positive to the UK variant said that they did not have any contact with anyone else, which is still being checked. “The person was identified, re-tested, and sent to isolation as soon as we received the notification. If this is all true, then the risk was not high, but there are some things that are still being checked,” said Janez Janša, and added that, based on the information received from the NIJZ director, around 10% of all the positive samples in each region will be re-tested. “This means that we will get a picture which will be sufficiently clear as far as the UK variant is concerned, but we are of course talking about additional measures,” said the Prime Minister, and added that all the additional laboratories will be included in searching for the virus, and the country is also purchasing additional PCR tests that are able to identify this virus combination.

“The situation is more serious than it was on Wednesday, when we were changing things as far as measures are concerned, and it is also serious because the situation around us and in the majority of the European countries is also serious. If the government had its session following the session of the European Council, we would have had much more of an issue concerning the lifting of measures, regardless of the advice received from our experts. The key question concerns the extent to which this new mutation of the virus is present here. If there are more variants present, then the situation is very serious. If not, we may manage it with the plans that we have,” said the Prime Minister.

The Prime Minister continued by answering questions concerning teachers who do not want to get tested. “If this happened in Austria, they would lose their jobs, while tests are not legally constituted here. Those who will not get tested in practice, despite being an obligation in line with the law on infectious diseases, they will have the option of teaching remotely,” said the Prime Minister. He also made a statement regarding the relevance of petitions that state that weekly tests damage the mucous tissue. “Everyone in the government and cabinet is tested once per week, and I have yet to meet someone with damaged mucous tissue, so this is therefore not a concerning matter. People in several companies are also tested, as well as care homes, hospitals, I think such calls are very immature. Based on the information that I have received, a large portion of teachers know that it is in their interest and especially in the interest of children that lessons are given when everyone is healthy, that the virus is not spreading, and that by not complying with the measures, we are only postponing the moment when we can return to normal life with regard to schools, and I ask everyone who is responsible and is forming public opinion in Slovenia not to pay any attention to such exotic calls that help no one,” said Prime Minister Janez Janša.

“The expert group and some other institutions are reviewing the models which other European countries have planned rather than implemented, concerning the use of tests which are very simple, and everyone, even students up to the 4th grade, could test themselves with them, because it is a very gentle process with the swabs. It is of course a possibility which would apply especially to higher primary and secondary school students, and if this would be a choice whether to implement such tests or to continue with closed schools, then we will most likely decide for this test method, but we would need a new approach and new tests which are currently not yet sufficiently available. With the current test capacities, this cannot be done for the entire Slovenian school system,” said Prime Minister Janez Janša regarding the tests for children.

“When the virus started spreading in the United Kingdom in December, the government ordered a review as to whether the virus existed and is being spread in Slovenia, and the institute carried out the research which was presented at the press conference weeks ago, and the presence was not confirmed,” said the Prime Minister regarding the UK variant of the virus, and added that they were made aware of the special PCR tests for determining the UK variant at Thursday’s session of the European Council.

“We are faced with very challenging times and weeks, due to the presence of this UK variant, which is spreading more rapidly and is more contagious, and therefore compliance with all the precautionary and hygienic measures is much more important,” said Prime Minister Janez Janša.