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Prime Minister Janez Janša: Easing measures no longer linked to regions

At today's press conference at Brdo pri Kranju, Prime Minister Janez Janša, together with Deputy Prime Ministers Matej Tonin and Zdravko Počivalšek, talked about the situation concerning the coronavirus.

Prime Minister Janez Janša, together with Deputy Prime Ministers Matej Tonin and Zdravko Počivalšek, talked about the situation concerning the coronavirus

Prime Minister Janez Janša, together with Deputy Prime Ministers Matej Tonin and Zdravko Počivalšek, talked about the situation concerning the coronavirus | Author Kabinet predsednika vlade

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"Yesterday and today, the Government made their usual weekly assessment of the epidemiological situation in the country, the effectiveness of the adopted measures and, in particular, the forecasts. We established that the epidemiological situation in Slovenia is still serious. In Europe, we still rank at the very top regarding the number of infections per 100,000 people in the last week. Similarly to other European countries, Slovenia is also faced with the dilemma of how far-spread are the new strains of the coronavirus, which are more infectious and spread faster. One of these strains has been officially confirmed and is affecting the course of the epidemic. More specifically, it has recently reduced the positive trends that were already showing in forecasts a week ago," said Mr Janša at the outset. "What has changed significantly with regard to the situation of a few weeks ago is that the disparities in the spread of the virus in different statistical regions have reduced considerably," said the Prime Minister, adding that not so long ago the 14-day or 7-day average in the number of confirmed infections varied greatly among regions. "The ratio was 1:3 or even more, while now the differences are small. This was the main reason for our decision, as well as the fact that the whole country, although still in the red phase according to the colour-coded roadmap for easing measures, has come closer to the orange than the black phase," stated Mr Janša. He added that both these elements lead to the decision that easing measures will, for the time being, no longer be linked to regions.

"Amendments to individual ordinances that were or will be adopted this week will apply to the entire country," explained Mr Janša. In practice, this means that the pupils of the first three grades of primary school will be able to return to classrooms throughout the country under the conditions that have already applied to red regions. "The same will apply to pre-school education and the easing of measures in the manufacturing and service industries that has until now only been possible in red regions. In short, there are no black and red regions. The entire country is in the red phase and closer to orange than black. This allows us greater flexibility, regardless of the concern and risk regarding the spread of the new coronavirus strains, due to which many European countries are tightening measures, even though they have a better epidemiological situation," emphasised Mr Janša.

He continued: "A special meeting with representatives from the business sector will be held in the evening to discuss possible room for manoeuvre with regard to the relaunching of activities subject to pre-testing, which is currently being shown across Europe as a niche possibility that allows the more normal operation of certain sectors or milder measures than otherwise required. I regret that this measure, which allows a certain relaxation of restrictions, is being discredited in Slovenia without doing any realistic comparisons of the use of this same measure in other countries, which have already been applying this effectively," added Mr Janša.

"Yesterday, the coalition held a meeting to thoroughly evaluate our work in the past year with regard to the commitments under the coalition agreement. Everything that was done and everything that, mostly due to the epidemic, we were not able to even start. Based on the discussion, the bodies of all three coalition parties will analyse the situation, approximately by 15 February, then the meeting will continue to discuss any tightening of priorities in the future," said Mr Janša about yesterday's coalition meeting.

The Prime Minister also talked about the constructive vote of no confidence announced by the opposition parties yesterday. "We believe that the so-called constructive or destructive vote of no confidence, which has been forthcoming since last April, must not hinder the work of the Government and the coalition, as this would be irresponsible," he commented. He added: "We understand that those who painted themselves into a corner must finish what they are doing. In the current situation it is maybe right to see where we stand. However, it is clear that nothing will come of all this and that after this vote, which will be unsuccessful as regards the wishes of the proposers, Slovenia will still face the same problems. We will still be in the middle of an epidemic and still in a situation where we should actually be joining forces to develop a strategy for exiting this epidemic, which nobody wanted and which has significantly slowed down many things we were planning to do in the past year or past period," stated the Prime Minister. He highlighted that this is why the coalition decided to again put forward the proposal it made last May, when it invited all parliamentary parties to cooperate with it, including the option to coordinate key systemic and legislative solutions without the opposition parties having to commit to any obligations in advance. "In the beginning of next week, all presidents of parliamentary parties will formally receive the partly amended proposal made in May last year," said Mr Janša. He emphasised that they do not wish to waste time in any way. "A very important project and a great responsibility awaits Slovenia in the second half of the year; that is the presidency of the Council of the EU. Any instability, not only during the implementation of this project and the preparations for it, which are increasing in scope and urgency, constitutes irresponsible conduct by the state. We are an EU Member State and every twelve years each country assumes this responsibility, when it has to take care of others. The first time we carried out this task successfully, and it would be very strange and would raise many questions, if the second time we failed," said the Prime Minister. Therefore, he stressed that the responses to the first call for cooperation issued in May last year were mostly negative. "The two national community deputies and the Slovenian National Party decided to sign a cooperation agreement without any obligations. If you ask them, their experience of this cooperation has been good and maybe this will lead some members of the opposition to reconsider," added Mr Janša.

He continued that this afternoon the Government discussed by ordinary procedure the proposal for the approval of places for enrolment in universities and independent higher education institutions for 2021/2022. "We have not yet concluded the discussion, as we would like to hear the opinions of representatives of the education and business sectors. However, we have shed new light on many details of this topic and if you follow the discussion, which will be public, you will see, where we are, where are the advantages and where the weaknesses of the Slovenian education system, where additional places need to be urgently provided considering the situation and the experience bitterly gained last year when our problems in fighting the coronavirus were exacerbated significantly by the shortage of staff in healthcare, social care, care for the elderly and all other support activities."

The Prime Minister then took questions from the press.

"Next week there will be a discussion on the proposals, also in light of the fact that if we are optimistic we can hope to reach the orange phase and then some of these proposals will automatically become facts, while for other proposals we will have to hear the opinion of experts from other fields. For example, there is a dilemma about which grades should return to school. Educators would, for obvious reasons, give priority to students in the last grades of primary and secondary school, and the two groups of experts will have to coordinate on the matter. It should also be said that Mr Fafangel is the acting head of the Communicable Disease Centre at National Institute of Public Health; the advisory group of the Minister of Health includes many other epidemiologists and experts and, because their opinions differed, we expect them to reconcile their opinions and give balanced proposals. We will, however, respond in accordance with the plan, as any significant deviation from the plan can lead to confusion and we do not want the longest epidemic in Europe," answered the Prime Minister to the question about the potential additional easing of measures in the coming weeks.

"Since the very beginning we have been aware that the data on the number of daily infections are not completely accurate and we have never relied on them to be. It would have been irresponsible to assume that a piece of information obtained five minutes before midnight is relevant, and irrelevant if obtained later, which is why we have always taken the whole picture into account and considered the testing technology itself, the analysis of result and data collection, and the actions of the Government did not change because of a few cases that have been reported." Regarding taking into account rapid and PCR tests when it comes to easing measures, the Prime Minister said, "Data on rapid and PCR tests are collected separately and we have always taken this into account and have also always checked the average. If deviations occur, they occur from one day to the next; the results even out at the level of seven or fourteen days," said the Prime Minister and repeated that no one ever claimed that rapid tests were 100% as reliable as the PCR tests and added, "we also do not regard them in the same way when it comes to reliability. In the consideration of tests, we act in accordance with European guidelines that, regarding response and border crossing, equate rapid tests which meet the defined parameters with PCR tests. This is the European norm and we are simply following it," said Prime Minister Janez Janša.

"About the delays in entering data into the system, Mr Fafangel promised yesterday that the matter will be resolved, that delays will no longer occur and that it will also be clear that when someone has been tested with a rapid test and given one result, and then tested with a PCR test, the last result counts, not only because it is the latest but also because it is more reliable," added Mr Janša.

When answering questions regarding the Democratic Party of Pensioners of Slovenia (DeSUS) and the cooperation of coalition and the party, the Prime Minister highlighted that DeSUS is an independent party, as are its deputies, who are bound by the Constitution to vote by their conscience, and the voting is up to the deputies. "We will consider the responses of the parliamentary parties that have not yet accepted the proposal for cooperation when we receive them. Our hand of cooperation in well-intentioned, as it was in spring. You should ask the persons who signed that agreement whether they are satisfied with the cooperation or not. Let it not be a matter of taking someone's word for it, but let it also be a test that we hopefully passed and credibility that can easily be tried," said the Prime Minister.

"This extended hand of cooperation is offered by the governing coalition that holds a majority and can adopt laws on its own. You have seen the result of the voting on the eighth anti-corona package, and that's what counts. As evident from the adoption of this package and the seven previous ones, where the decisions were extremely complex, difficult and fateful, there are no problems as far as majority is concerned. The coalition with the majority extends a well-intentioned hand of cooperation to those without the majority and with fewer and fewer votes for the tragicomedy called the vote of no confidence," said Mr Janša and added that everyone can benefit from this cooperation, most of all the opposition. "In 2008, the Social Democrats party led by Borut Pahor accepted a similar cooperation and as we all know they benefited greatly from it in the elections, and I believe that this is a good example to follow. When we formed the opposition, we proposed to the governing coalitions to repeat this example of good practice, but they have never extended a hand of cooperation, even though we were always willing to cooperate constructively. Therefore, if the response in positive, we will all welcome it, and if it is negative, the situation stays as it is," said the Prime Minister. Regarding the position of DeSUS, whether they are part of the opposition or coalition, the Prime Minister said that the answer was clear in the casting of votes for the eighth anti‑corona package. "It is not important to us what was happening on farm stays, when this was still possible, or in the background. What counts is the voting in the National Assembly, as this voting directly affects people’s living conditions," he added.

When asked about the plan, the Prime Minister said that the plan was adopted in cooperation with and on the proposal of the epidemiological experts. "The Government did not come up with the plan on its own. We studied similar approaches in other European countries where similar plans were adopted based on expert opinions and since this is about the same virus, experts everywhere should be on approximately the same wavelength," he said.

When asked about the doubts regarding testing, the Prime Minister responded, "Whenever doubts or complications arise, and at ten thousand tests there are bound to be a few problems, both competent authorities respond – the agency responsible for the quality of the material and the health inspection service." He added that every Wednesday, when the Government discusses COVID‑19 topics and measures, they are presented with a report by the health inspection service and provide guidance regarding any specific issues. "When complications arise, problem-solving begins before the complications are even reported," said the Prime Minister.

About appointing the Minister of Health, the Prime Minister said the candidate would be presented and appointed within the time limit. "It is right to first count the votes and see where we stand," he said.

Regarding the meeting with representatives from the business sector about relaunching activities in accordance with the traffic-light approach, the Prime Minister said that the plan clearly defines which activities are to be relaunched when the country is in the red phase, for example. "However, there was room for manoeuver. We did not take full advantage of it, because according to the experts' assessment, some activities can only be carried out under certain conditions that have not yet been established. One of the options is pre-testing, which some sectors do not have. The measures in the orange phase will depend on the differences between individual regions. If there are no differences between regions, the measures will be the same for the whole country. However, if there are significant differences between regions, the easing of measures will first take place in the regions with a better epidemiological situation."