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Economics ministry provides additional clarifications regarding operation of food service establishments

Today’s press conference on the current situation regarding the COVID-19 virus was held by State Secretary at the Ministry of Economic Development and Technology Simon Zajc, Commander of the Slovenian Civil Protection Force Srečko Šestan and Natalija Bevc, a Slovene who lives in Germany, who spoke about experiences during the epidemic in Germany.
Commander of the Slovenian Civil Protection Force Srečko Šestan

Commander of the Slovenian Civil Protection Force Srečko Šestan. | Author Tamino Petelinšek, STA

4,556 PCR tests were carried out yesterday, with 910 new positive cases confirmed (20%). 19,723 rapid antigen tests were also performed. 623 patients were in hospital yesterday, 4 more than on the previous day, of whom 114 were in intensive care, which is 2 fewer than on Wednesday. There were 7 deaths, all in hospitals. According to data released today by the NIJZ, the seven-day average number of positive cases is 748, while yesterday this figure was 768.

The data on new positives indicate that various epicentres around the country are once more becoming stronger. Municipalities posting significant numbers yesterday: Domžale (21), Kamnik (18), Gornja Radgona, Ilirska Bistrica and Ormož (10), Trbovlje, Velenje, Škofljica (11), Šentjur and Postojna (12), Rogaška Slatina (16), Jesenice (14), Kranj (39), Nova Gorica (17), Novo mesto (13), Koper (62), Izola (14), Ljubljana (94) and Maribor (29).

According to Šestan, under the Protection Against Natural and Other Disasters Act, the outbreak of an epidemic is the only “natural or other disaster” that is not managed by the Civil Protection Force, which merely provides support to the healthcare system, whose activities are defined in the Communicable Diseases Act.

Activities carried out by the Civil Protection Force during the first wave:

  • receipt, storage and distribution of personal protective equipment, of which more than 35 million items were distributed, with the participation of a large number of members at all levels
  • 143 containers were set up at healthcare institutions and nursing homes
  • members of the Slovenian Red Cross assisted the police at border crossings
  • at the municipal level, members of the Civil Protection Force provided assistance to vulnerable groups
  • larger firefighting units carried out disinfection of buildings

A total of more than 206,000 members participated in these activities, mainly in the receipt, storage and distribution of personal protective equipment.

During the second wave, the activities of the Civil Protection Force were focused on assisting the healthcare sector at all levels, and providing assistance to nursing homes at the municipal level. Their specific duties included:

  • providing material assistance, primarily in the form of establishing increased capacities of personal protective equipment
  • provision of additional staffing moved from the national level to the municipal level, primarily at nursing homes and various healthcare centres, via nurses from the Red Cross first aid teams at the two university hospitals and the regional hospitals
  • at the local level, the Civil Protection Force assisted in the organisation and establishment of red zones, both inside and outside of nursing homes
  • assistance in the setup and organisation of mass testing sites and other structures in the great majority of municipalities, and in the past week also providing assistance to the medical staff during testing at the Ljubljana Fairgrounds
  • distribution of rapid tests at all healthcare centres in the country, on several occasions

Due to the appearance of false positive tests in certain environments, the activities of the Civil Protection Force were also subjected to criticism regarding the reasons for those results, as it was alleged that the tests could be damaged during transport. This possibility was excluded at a meeting between the Ministry of Health and other professionals.

Despite the huge amount of work and the fact that the national plan has now been active for 124 days, slightly over 170,000 members had been included in the activities as of Friday, which is still fewer than in the first wave. The average number of members volunteering in the first wave was 2,600 a day, while it is just over 1,300 a day in the second wave. The implementation of the national plan will be called off on the day that the epidemic is declared over. Slovenian President Borut Pahor also expressed support for the work of the Civil Protection Force while visiting regional civil protection headquarters and learning about the situation in the field.

Bevc, a Slovene who lives and works in Germany, spoke about her experiences regarding the imposition of restrictive measures during the time of the epidemic in Germany.

The economics ministry’s ordinance on the provision of services to consumers has remained the same throughout this period. Its exceptions include cooperation between legal persons, e.g. in order to provide lunches for company employees at food service establishments, explained Zajc.

If a restaurant signed an agreement with just one company, the establishment would not be defined as a public space, so the restrictions on public assembly pursuant to the Ministry of the Interior’s ordinance regarding the number of people permitted in the space would not apply. Of course in this case it is important to abide by all of the NIJZ recommendations regarding indoor gatherings.

If a restaurant signed an agreement to provide lunches with several companies, the establishment would be considered a public space, where the Ministry of the Interior’s ordinance regarding the number of people permitted in a public space at the same time would apply. This figure was zero for many months. This Monday, it was changed to 10, after having been raised to 6 in November.

Therefore, the operators of food service establishments have also made different decisions regarding their activities. Some have remained closed and have applied for State aid. Others have decided to open for business, i.e. serving lunches for one or more companies. Due to the complete ban on public assembly, providing lunches for several companies has simply not been possible for a long time. As of this week it is now an option.

Zajc admits that the details of the ordinance could have been communicated in a much more clear, direct and proactive manner over the last few months. The case in which an official at the ministry stated in November that offering lunches was not an option was perhaps insufficiently accurate, and in particular did not include a statement indicating that it was also necessary to study the ordinances adopted by other ministries. All subsequent responses have included a statement to that effect.