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According to the first analyses, the UK coronavirus variant has not spread widely in Slovenia

Today’s press conference on the current situation regarding COVID-19 was attended by Nuška Čakš Jager, Deputy Head of the Centre for Communicable Diseases at the National Institute of Public Health, and Tjaša Žohar Čretnik, Director of the National Laboratory of Health, Environment and Food.
Deputy Head of the Centre for Communicable Diseases at the National Institute of Public HealthZ Nuška Čakš Jager at the press conference

Deputy Head of the Centre for Communicable Diseases at the National Institute of Public Health Nuška Čakš Jager | Author Daniel Novaković, STA

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With 5,418 PCR tests performed yesterday, 1,430 were positive, which amounts to 26.4 per cent. With 10,528 rapid antigen tests, 420 were positive, which is almost 4 per cent. The total number of tests amounts to 15,964, of which 1,850 were positive, i.e. almost 200 more than on Monday. Some 1,144 patients were in hospitals yesterday (1,157 on Monday), of whom 172 required intensive care, 20 fewer than a day before. Some 19 people have died in hospitals. The average of confirmed cases in the last seven days at the state level amounts to 1,245. This number was 1,227 on Monday, which means that the number increased by 18.

The data published today by the National Institute of Public Health reveal that the epidemiological situation is worsening in most regions. The data is somewhat more encouraging for the Podravje, Goriška and Primorsko-notranjska regions. The worsening is noticeable in the Central Slovenian region, where 288 cases were recorded today and 272 yesterday, whereby the region is still short of the threshold of 362 which would place it back into the black phase.

The epidemiological situation in Europe and Slovenia

According to the data of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) presented by Čakš Jager, the cumulative number of positive COVID-19 cases is increasing in Europe and the USA. An increase is also evident in Africa, particularly in the Republic of South Africa. More than 94 million confirmed COVID-19 cases were recorded worldwide and two million deaths.

If comparing the 14-day incidence rate of newly reported COVID-19 cases per 100,000 inhabitants in Europe in the first and second weeks of 2021, a noticeable decline in the number of cases is only evident in a few European countries: Luxembourg, Cyprus, Croatia, Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Lithuania and Liechtenstein. All other countries are experiencing an increase in the number of positive cases. The largest increase was recorded in Iceland, followed by Ireland with 190 per cent, Spain with 92 per cent, Portugal with 65 per cent, Malta with 61 per cent, Romania with 49 per cent, France with 37 per cent and Norway with 30 per cent. A fortnight ago, Europe only had little over a one per cent increase in positive cases, but now the EU countries are experiencing a 30-per cent, or in Slovenia’s case, a 31-per cent increase.

The 7-day incidence rate of newly reported COVID-19 cases per 100,000 inhabitants by regions in the country is lower as a drop in the number of cases has been recorded in the last seven days, making the Slovenian average currently stand at 59.3 (26 January) and 79.4 per cent (12 January) 14 days ago. In the last three days, the daily number of positive cases has been increasing again and, as a result, the 7-day average will also increase. In recent days, the Goriška region has experienced a significant increase in the number of positive cases and these are spreading quickly, especially in families and companies.

The UK strain, which was already confirmed on samples in September 2020 in the United Kingdom, is very dominant in the UK, particularly in the south-east of the country. It is highly contagious, but there is as yet no evidence that it causes a more severe course of the disease. But it nevertheless causes more strain on hospitals. Some 1,300 cases were recorded in 23 countries of the EU up to 21 January. And in the United Kingdom, Israel and India outside the EU.

When assessing measures to prevent the spread of the virus, many factors come into play, which is why it is mathematically impossible to display which measures are effective or what percentage of efficiency can be attributed to an individual measure. The fact is that countries do not know or cannot prove scientifically which measures actually contributed to the decline in the number of positive cases. Each country decides on the measures with regard to several circumstances, which also include the culture and habits of its citizens, and the situation in the health, political and economic fields.


Test results for the UK coronavirus variant

On Saturday, 23 January, the National Laboratory of Health, Environment and Food managed by Director Žohar Čretnik, collected 2,400 test kits in Bratislava, which were a donation of the Slovakian Government, intended for detecting changes in genetic variants of SARS-CoV-2 that could reveal the so-called UK strain marked with B.1.1.7. Some 1,200 confirmed cases of the basic virus variant will be checked with the donated test kits.

On Sunday, the National Laboratory of Health, Environment and Food distributed the test kits between its six regional microbiological laboratories operating in Maribor, Celje, Ljubljana, Kranj, Novo mesto, Koper and the laboratory of the Institute of Microbiology and Immunology of the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Ljubljana. The analyses commenced at all locations on Sunday.

On every tenth PCR positive sample kept by the laboratory and treated in the last fortnight, i.e. from 11 January onwards, the laboratories performed an additional two PCR reactions to identify the two genetic changes present at a high proportion in the UK versions of the strain. The collection method among the stored classical virus samples was completely mathematical: every tenth positive test was selected, i.e. ten per cent of all positive cases. The screening will continue in the same scope.

Up to Monday afternoon, a total of 877 samples of the "classical" virus had been tested in all laboratories and a positive test result for the UK strain was established in 16 samples, i.e. 1.8 per cent, of which eight positive samples were determined in the National Laboratory of Health, Environment and Food in Ljubljana, two in Novo mesto, and one in laboratories in Maribor and Kranj. Four positive samples were found at the Institute of Microbiology and Immunology.

The implemented PCR testing is not final verification that the UK strain was present in all 16 samples, but it is highly likely. The final verification will be established by the sequencing process, which takes from 7 to 14 days. It is not possible to determine whether these 16 confirmed cases of the UK strain are connected to each other, and it is also not possible to establish the source of infection of these individuals.

An inquiry for an additional number of tests was submitted to the Slovakian manufacturer, while new PCR tests for determining the UK strain are also being launched onto the market. The Slovakian manufacturer, MultiplexDX s.r.o., validated its test in cooperation with the Biomedical Research Centre of the Slovak Academy of Sciences. In 22 of a total of 23 samples, i.e. 95.7 per cent, the presence of B.1.1.7 strain was confirmed by means of sequencing, which was already determined beforehand with a PCR test.

Yesterday, the National Laboratory of Health, Environment and Food obtained data on an additional 776 PCR-tested persons who took a rapid COVID-19 test on Monday. These samples will be added to 934 persons already included in the verification report on the suitability of tests by the supplier, Majbert Pharm. Asymptomatic cases are expected among these additional cases. Some 33 people were positive among 776 cases, presumably at rapid and PCR testing, but the analyses are not yet complete. According to preliminary information, it was determined that the structure of positive PCR samples is still unsatisfactory and thus the sampling will continue.