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Consistent observance of protective measures even more important as restrictions lifted

Today’s press conference on the latest situation regarding the COVID-19 pandemic was attended by Alenka Forte, State Secretary at the Ministry of Health, Simon Podnar, technical director of the Neurological Clinic at the Ljubljana University Medical Centre, and Darko Černe, head of the Institute of Clinical Chemistry and Biochemistry at the Ljubljana University Medical Centre.

Ms Forte began proceedings by explaining that, in the light of the improved epidemiological situation and in accordance with the Government’s decision to relax certain measures as the country moves from the red phase into the orange phase, schools are reopening their doors today to all primary school students and final-year secondary school students, while all shops and many service sector activities are reopening.

She also warned that people should be aware that the relaxation of measures by no means implies that it is no longer necessary to follow preventive measures to prevent the spread of SARS-CoV-2 infection. Quite the opposite, it is now all the more important that everyone consistently observes these measures, since this is the only way to ensure a reduction in the number of infections and hospitalisations, which in turn will lead to a further lifting of restrictions.

In the case of signs and symptoms of illness (e.g. cold symptoms, general malaise, aching muscles, temperature, cough), people should stay at home, consult their doctor by phone and follow their instructions. During periods of increased prevalence of respiratory infections, avoid enclosed spaces where large numbers of people gather.

Ensure that enclosed spaces are regularly ventilated. Ventilation is one of the key measures to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus. Correct ventilation of premises in which large numbers of people are present is an effective way to remove exhaled air potentially containing virus-laden droplets. People should also continue to observe social distancing rules when meeting others (i.e. maintaining a distance of 1.5 or 2 metres). Hands should be washed regularly and thoroughly using soap and water. Correct cough hygiene should be observed. Masks should be worn.

With regard to rapid testing, Ms Forte said that the Ministry of Health is aware that rapid testing will represent an enormous organisational and logistical challenge for the entire health system in the coming days. It will also require an additional effort from all personnel participating in rapid testing. “We will try to organise rapid testing in such a way that it takes place in an optimal manner, without complications, quickly, as calmly as possible, in an environment and circumstances that will ensure a safe and healthy environment,” she said.

Amendments were also adopted last week that mean that rapid testing will not be required for specific categories. The following do not need to be tested:

  • Individuals who have already received two doses of coronavirus vaccine and present a COVID-19 vaccination certificate proving that at least seven days have elapsed since their second dose of the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine, that at least 14 days have elapsed since their second dose of the Moderna vaccine, or that at least 21 days have elapsed since their second dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
  • Individuals who have already recovered from COVID-19 and are able to present proof of a positive result from a rapid antigen test or PCR test which is more than 21 days but less than six months old.
  • Individuals who have already recovered from COVID-19 and are able to present certification from a doctor that they have recovered from COVID-19 and that no more than six months have passed since the onset of symptoms.

She further emphasised that the Ministry is looking for a solution that will enable the above certifications to be issued free of charge while minimising the burden on the health system and at the same time providing credible data.

Holders of any digital certificate valid in Slovenia can also print out test results (from mid-December for rapid antigen tests and PCR tests and before that for microbiological results of PCR tests) from the zVEM eHealth portal (https://zvem.ezdrav.si), where a summary of tests and microbiological results of tests can be found under the eDocuments tab.

Citizens aged 15 and over can apply for a free SIGEN-CA digital certificate at their local administrative unit on presentation of their identity card. Information on the procedure for obtaining a certificate is available online at https://www.si-trust.gov.si/en/digital-certificates/natural-persons/

Prof Černe of the Institute of Clinical Chemistry and Biochemistry at the Ljubljana University Medical Centre highlighted the positive aspects of rapid tests: a very large number of tests can be carried out in a very short time, the tests are as a rule less expensive, and this diagnostic approach can also have a strong motivational effect (those tested can see the progress of the analysis in real time). In his opinion it is important to focus on the positive sides of a diagnostic or analytical approach in order to find an environment of use in which it is possible to achieve undeniable advantages while attempting to reduce or neutralise any disadvantages as far as possible through appropriate additional measures.

He pointed out that experts in laboratory medicine are of the opinion that rapid tests are useful if carried out on a mass scale. The more widespread their use, the more the positive sides of this diagnostic approach will prevail over the negative sides. With the proper placement of these tests in the system, i.e. the preparation of appropriate clinical pathways, their use can make an important contribution to limiting the epidemic, which is the basis for the further lifting of restrictions and a return to our life from before COVID-19, which is something we all wish for, concluded Prof Černe.

Dr Podnar spoke about the ways the epidemic has affected the work of the Neurological Clinic. “Our hospital was full because we took over patients from the communicable diseases clinic with illnesses related to the nervous system,” he explained. An additional burden during the worst weeks of the pandemic came from the fact that staff were also taken ill – at one point there were 50 people either in quarantine or infected. At present this number has fallen to five or at most ten people, thanks to the fact that most staff have already been vaccinated. “The more of us who are vaccinated, the more people will see that this is nothing to be afraid of,” continued Dr Podnar. “We have seen how the situation in old people’s homes has improved. Until enough of us are vaccinated, all we can do is maintain the basic measures – social distancing, disinfecting hands, ventilation and mask-wearing.”