State Secretary Franc Vindišar: The most effective solution is vaccination.
The press conference on the current COVID-19 situation was attended by the deputy head of the Communicable Disease Centre at the National Institute of Public Health, Nuška Čakš Jager, and State Secretary at the Ministry of Health, Franc Vindišar.
Nuška Čakš Jager began by saying that there has been an increase in COVID-19 infections all over the world, including in Europe. The increase in the number of cases in the EU reached 6.7%, with the number of cases growing across all EU Member States. A negative trend has been reported in Italy, Spain, Malta, Greece, Finland and Ireland. According to the World Health Organization, vaccination rates are already close to 99% in the United Arab Emirates and only between 3% and 5% in poorer parts of Africa.
In Slovenia, 8,396 cases were confirmed yesterday, with the number of confirmed cases per 100,000 inhabitants in the last 14 days amounting to 5,620, which is higher than the EU average. The number of deaths has fortunately not followed this upward trend.
Ms Čakš Jager also talked about the situation in schools, where the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases has risen sharply. The monitoring and surveillance system is well established in schools. The sharpest surge in the number of cases is observed in the 14–19 age group. In the second week of the year, an increase in infections was also recorded among school staff.
State Secretary Vindišar presented the situation in hospitals. Today, a total of 636 patients are hospitalised, of which 135 require intensive care. Compared to last week, the number has increased by 93 patients, i.e. 23%. A slight decrease has been observed in the number of patients requiring intensive care. Among the hospitalised are 9 children, 8 new mothers and 21 patients at the Ljubljana University Psychiatric Hospital. The number of deaths over the last week amounted to 80.
We have 12 general COVID-19 hospitals and 10 COVID-19 hospitals for intensive care. Today, we will increase capacities in seven general COVID-19 hospitals. Hospitals that do not provide COVID-19 treatment are returning to their regular operations.
Mr Vinidišar also offered an explanation on the difference between isolation and quarantine, clarifying that the latter is intended for people who have been in high-risk contact with an infected person. They must remain in quarantine for the duration of the incubation period, i.e. the time it takes for symptoms to appear after a high-risk contact. People who have fallen ill or are already showing signs of COVID-19 are referred to isolation. They must stay in isolation for as long as it takes for the infectious period to pass, ensuring that they cannot infect other people.
As of 10 January 2022, quarantine is not mandatory for persons who have:
- received a booster shot;
- recovered from COVID-19, as evidenced by a positive PCR test result, which is older than 10 days but not older than 45 days;
- recovered from COVID-19, as evidenced by a positive PCR test result, which is older than 10 days, and has received a second dose of vaccine.
As of 19 January 2022, quarantine is not mandatory for:
- Persons employed in healthcare, social care or education. If they come into contact with an infected person, they are required to do a rapid antigen test or a rapid antigen self-test on a daily basis for a period of seven days. They must use an FFP2 mask. If they come into contact with an infected person outside the workplace, they must inform their employer.
- Pupils and students if the contact with an infected person occurred within the classroom. They are required to do a rapid antigen self-test on a daily basis in the classroom. If more than 30% of pupils or students are infected, the whole class must go into quarantine. The same applies for extracurricular activities.
- Preschool children, unless more than 30% of the class in infected.
If quarantined people fall ill, they transition from quarantine to isolation.
He also provided some new information on isolation rules. The day of receipt of a positive PCR test is considered to be the beginning of isolation for asymptomatic persons. Those who exhibit symptoms of infection and which was also confirmed by PCR test, the first day of isolation is considered to be the day when the symptoms of infection first appeared.
On Friday afternoon, we held a videoconference with test providers to present the expert guidelines on shortening of the isolation period. The Government itself does not need to decide on the shortening of the isolation period, as these are expert guidelines and purely expert decisions.
Starting from today, persons may stop isolating after 7 days subject to a negative rapid antigen test performed by the one of the rapid test providers. After further discussions with experts, we decided that there is no need to schedule special appointments for those ending their isolation period. However, they are still advised to get tested in the testing site's closing hours.
It is key that persons leaving isolation to get tested strictly follow all preventive measures to contain the spread of the virus, i.e. maintaining social distance, wearing a mask and disinfecting their hands.
As of today, those who had positive PCR test results last week will be able to shorten their time in isolation. However, reducing the isolation period will not be possible for immunocompromised patients and for those experiencing a severe course of the disease which requires hospitalisation. Immunocompromised persons are persons that are receiving chemotherapy, biologic therapies or have immune system disorders, etc.
There are quite a few medicines available to treat COVID-19 in Slovenia.
State Secretary Vindišar encourages everyone to consult their doctor on the use of these medicines as they reduce the risk of a severe course of the disease and, consequently, hospitalisation. These medicines include Regkirona, Ronapreve, Sotrovimab, Remdisivir and Molnupiravir. He emphasised that prevention is still the best medicine, and vaccination and vaccines save lives.
He also presented the updated PCR testing protocol. According to the new protocol, people with respiratory diseases are divided into two groups:
- the first group are patients with chronic diseases, or who are immunocompromised, and children and pregnant women, who should inform their doctor, who will then schedule a PCR test for them,
- the second group must first take the rapid antigen test. People with symptoms and a negative rapid antigen test result should self-isolate for three days. If the symptoms go away, the person is considered to not have novel coronavirus.
However, if health problems persist, the patient should ask their doctor to schedule them for a PCR test. If the PCR test comes back positive, the person should self-isolate for seven days and can obtain a QR code. Due to the increased number of PCR tests, it will likely take up to 48 hours for people to receive their PCR test results.
"The viral load in society is enormous. Anyone with symptoms of respiratory disease should self-isolate while they wait to get tested and then wait for test results. Any deviation from this is unacceptable in the current epidemiological situation. In the current situation, we advise you to perform a self-test if you have any suspicion of infection," concluded Mr Vindišar.