Prime Minister Janez Janša: “We are not choosing between positive and negative, we are choosing between taking action which will have negative consequences and inaction which will have even more negative consequences.”
Today at Brdo Congress Centre, Prime Minister Janez Janša attended a meeting of the presidents of parliamentary parties, heads of deputy groups, the minister of health and the minister’s expert group for the containment and control of the COVID-19 epidemic. At the meeting, the minister of health and head of the expert group presented their proposals for measures to contain the third wave of the COVID-19 epidemic ahead of them being put up for discussion and adoption at the session of the Government of the Republic of Slovenia.
Prime Minister Janez Janša began by thanking the President Borut Pahor for organising the meeting, and the minister of health and expert group for preparing new measure proposals. He pointed out that due to the rapid deterioration of the epidemiological situation and urgent need to take action, today’s meeting was convened earlier than initially planned. In the introduction, the Prime Minister said that, in view of the situation, we are "in a race against time – on the one hand regarding the rapid spread of the virus, and on the other hand regarding the speed and ability to carry out vaccinations." He added that, even with a speedy vaccination drive, we cannot count on bringing the epidemic to a complete halt by the summer. The forecasts from the start of the year were more optimistic, but as the promised vaccinations were not supplied as contractually arranged, we are now lagging roughly one-month behind, according to the Prime Minister. “In this race against time, against the epidemic, we can see the light at the end of the tunnel. However, we can also see the path leading there, which is not an easy one, and, in view of the situation that has been presented to us in forecasts, it will be necessary to adopt measures in order to prevent us from paying too high a price in the period leading up to the summer."
He continued by saying that 90 million doses of vaccines were produced by and distributed among EU Member States, and 62 million had been administered as of Thursday. Fewer than 5% of Europeans have received the second dose. In Slovenia, this number is higher, but this is not enough to contain the epidemic and additional measures are necessary. The main problem we are facing is that two suppliers fulfilled their contracts, while Astra Zeneca delivered only a quarter of the contracted doses. According to the Prime Minister, this is the reason for the one-month setback.
He also highlighted at the meeting that the European Union has so far exported 77 million doses of vaccine, almost as many as it used for its own citizens. This makes Europe by far the most generous region, and it has even exported to countries that do not allow the export of vaccines to Europe, such as the US and the UK. The Prime Minister also recalled the talks between European leaders and US President Biden about the supply of vaccines at the virtual EU summit last week. The US produces by far the most vaccines; however, there is currently a ban on their export. At the summit, the American president assured the European leaders that the US would help with the distributions of vaccines as soon as it reaches its vaccination coverage target. According to the Prime Minister, this will not significantly contribute to containing the epidemic in Europe, as the speed of vaccination will increase and, by the time it is permitted, aid from the US will be too late.
According to the Prime Minister, the positive news from the EU summit is that more factories will be opened in the EU territory for the production and filling of already authorised vaccines, resulting in an increase in their quantities. For Slovenia, this means 1.8 million vaccines in the second quarter of the year. With this many vaccines, we will be able to vaccinate enough of the Slovenian population by the end of June to be able to successfully contain the epidemic. By the end of June, we will have vaccinated 70% of the adult population and, since a certain part of the population will already be immune to the virus at that time, we will be able to successfully stop the epidemic by the end of June or early July.
The Prime Minister also pointed out that the EU summit was very concerned about the new strains of the new coronavirus. The expert community in Slovenia has been successfully organised with respect to the sequencing process, so it can respond without any significant delays.
"Before us is April, the month in which we will be able to reach vaccination coverage among the most vulnerable population, although this will not yet have a significant impact on the spread of the virus, but it will have a significant impact on mitigating its consequences.” However, we can only count on stopping the virus in May with the delivery of all the promised vaccines. In June, however, we will be able to announce the yellow phase and release most of the restrictive measures. According to the Prime Minister, April is still the key month.
Similar measures to those proposed by the expert group are also being adopted in other European countries. The decision to go into a lockdown is difficult to take as it entails social and financial consequences. We are all tired and fed up due to the epidemic, so the next few following weeks will be a test of solidarity for us all. According to the Prime Minister, the consequences will be worse if we react too late. With regard to the proposed measures, we have to be aware that even more stringent measures could be put in place, which, however, would not lead to any significant positive effects.
At the end of the meeting, the Prime Minister said that it was clear during the discussion what the dilemmas of those fighting against the epidemic were. He regretted that the opposition parties did not attend the meeting. The Prime Minister welcomed the decision that the meeting was public and was broadcast live. He believes that they would not be sitting together at the meeting today were it not for the new variants of the virus. New variants spread faster and are more lethal, and, if it were not for these new strains, Slovenia would be in the yellow phase and could stick to the planned traffic light system. In his view, the Government has no alternative and, given the projections as to the possible number of deaths, it must take measures to stop the third wave of the epidemic, and we must do everything we can to ensure that we are able to cope with the situation. He also pointed out that, at the moment, most other European countries were taking similar actions, extending and tightening the measures or introducing new ones. In the third wave, we all face the danger of new variants of the new coronavirus. He said that, based on the experience from the first two waves of the epidemic, with ten exceptions, we should not water down the restrictive measures.
The Prime Minister asked for people’s understanding and to endure these twelve days of complete lockdown and after that, in a more predictable situation, we can spend the remaining weeks until summer or until the majority of people are vaccinated. In his view, the price of this will be significantly lower than if we bury our heads in the sand and pretend that we will not be affected and that the curve will make a turn for the better on its own. Taking this risk was an action regretted by all the countries that opted for this form of coping with the epidemic. He concluded his reflection with the words: "We are not choosing between positive and negative, we are choosing between taking action which will have negative consequences and inaction which will have even more negative consequences."