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Prime Minister Janez Janša: If everyone behaves responsibly during the second wave of the coronavirus crisis, we can prevent the worst

  • Former Prime Minister Janez Janša (2020 - 2022)
Prime Minister Janez Janša today attended a round table entitled Responsible Citizen – Successful Nation. The round table, co-organised by the Civil Initiative Prebudimo Slovenijo (Wake up, Slovenia) and the Social Academy, was held at St Stanislav's Institution in Šentvid, Ljubljana.

Participants also included psychologist Andrej Perko, infectious disease specialist Dr Mateja Logar and member of the Management Board of the Slovenian Business Club, Martin Jezeršek. The participants presented their views on how to move forward after the epidemic and what we have learned from it.

Prime Minister Janez Janša initially stressed that the responsible behaviour of each of us will determine how normal our lives will be over the next months, maybe even longer, depending on when an effective coronavirus vaccine becomes available. "When the new Government was sworn in, the situation was more comparable to that 30 years ago than to our previous terms of office," he said in response to the question of whether he could compare his third time as Head of Government with his first two terms. According to him, March 2020 was much like May 1990 when the first Demos Government was sworn in, on the very day when Slovenia was being disarmed and had no weapons in store. "This year, we took the helm the day after the epidemic was declared and we were left with no supplies of protective equipment," said the Prime Minister, adding that, in spring, the coronavirus threat was symmetrical across Europe and that countries mostly took care of themselves. "In those first few weeks and months under different regulations, Europe looked more like the continent it had been in the Middle Ages: individual European countries would introduce states of emergency and states of war and implement laws dating back 100 or 200 years, individual local authorities would impose various measures and confiscate personal protective equipment, masks or medical equipment, especially since everyone was in a terrible position when it came to that," said the Prime Minister, adding that springtime had been all too quickly forgotten. "Now that we're in the middle of the second wave, those who have not had a direct experience with the virus believe that it is something that will pass them by and that if someone else catches it, it's their problem, and this again brings up the question of responsibility, not only to ourselves but also to others," said the Prime Minister.

When asked what we have learned from the spring crisis in terms of the economy's operation, the Prime Minister replied that it had been clear at the very beginning of the epidemic that, even when the virus was under control, certain things would not be the same again, "so there is no point in giving artificial oxygen or taxpayer money to keep alive the activities that will never breathe on their own again." For example, if someone made their living organising cruises, they would probably have to start organising something else, as cruise ships were floating "Wuhans". "The people who did this as their primary business activity will of course have to switch to something else because of this new normality," said Prime Minister Janez Janša. He went on to say that, as things stood, the state intended to pay out the people who had lost their jobs because of the coronavirus until the end of the year, "but these funds will eventually run out and people will have to change course." "The situation was not as clear in spring, but now it is pretty certain which sectors have been affected the most and these sectors are addressed in the fifth anti-corona package," said the Prime Minister. He added that this will be covered by using the country's own funds, borrowing money and securing EU funding. "The amount of available EU funds is bigger than ever before, so if the virus is contained by the second half of 2021, the consequences for the economy won't be as grave as after the last financial crisis and we will be able to continue our growth," said the Prime Minister. He also said he believed that European scientists would succeed in developing and producing an effective vaccine against the virus, "otherwise I don't know what the alternatives are." "It will happen, but it won't be overnight," stressed the Prime Minister, adding that the entire Europe is concerned about the cold season that is before us and how this will affect the COVID-19 infection rates. "In addition to all other issues, the last session of the European Council was aimed at assessing the coronavirus situation in Europe. The countries presented certain measures, and we have to be honest in saying that, if we are not responsible and respect the basic measures, we will again find ourselves in the situation we were in spring, with public life coming to a halt, which can also lead to a partial shutdown of the economy," said the Prime Minister. He emphasised the importance of media and the responsibility of those shaping public opinion. "This responsibility has never been so great," said Mr Janša.

The Prime Minister went on to say that throughout the world, there are differences of professional opinion on the coronavirus and that this is nothing special, however, according to him, Slovenia is special in that some of those who create public opinion in our country present these differences in a distorted way and differently than in other parts of the world. He also pointed out the current situation on the national television, where they wished to present both sides of the opinion on the coronavirus in a TV show. "While the director of the National Institute of Public Health (NIJZ) stands for 90% of the profession, they also showed someone who stands for 1% of the profession, and this cannot be put on an equal footing, because that is precisely what does the damage,” said the Prime Minister. He also stressed that the Advisory Group at the Ministry of Health had presented an assessment of developments on the basis of which the Government drew up an action plan, and the Advisory Group highlighted, as the two main problems, the capacities of our health system and the mental health of the nation, emphasising the issue of responsibility. So, according to the Prime Minister, we are facing once again the issue of responsibility, which is of fundamental importance. "Slovenia has no such areas where young people and senior people live separately, we all live together, the living arrangements are mixed, and here we must be able to show more responsibility and solidarity,” said the Prime Minister, adding that as a society, we are facing the question of whether an irresponsible minority, which is very loud because of media support, will put us all under threat, so that once again we will have to shut down public life, so that there will again be economic damage and a significant fall in living standards, as well as the breakdown of interpersonal relations.

Mr Janez Janša proceeded to talk in more detail about the European funds we have at our disposal as a country, and then discussed whether a society can be more severely affected by an epidemic or a cyberattack.

"If we had a full-scale cyberattack at the time of the epidemic, this would, to put it simply, take us back to the Iron Age as a society, as nothing that is chip-based would work anymore. Just imagine that no apparatus operates in the hospital, that there is no electricity, that no device is working, and combine it with the epidemic where you don't even know how to treat someone, and similar. It would be a disaster. But this is also a real danger," said the Prime Minister. He assessed that China and the USA had the capacities to defend themselves against cyberattacks, whereas Europe was far behind them, at least in terms of coordinated action. "This is why Slovenia has proposed, as one of the priorities of the trio Presidency, to prepare a strategic plan for defence against the next pandemic and a strategic plan for Europe’s defence against cyberattacks," said Prime Minister Janez Janša.

When asked whether he had expected more from the Commissioner for Crisis Management during the pandemic, the Prime Minister replied that the portfolio as set up was intended for Europe to help others, particularly in terms of providing humanitarian aid both within Europe and beyond. "In Europe it was meant to offer relief primarily in the event of earthquakes, floods and natural disasters, however, this instrument was never intended that, as Europe, we would have to deal with something that affects everyone," said the Prime Minister, adding that the portfolio responded very quickly to the earthquake in Zagreb, as well as in the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, "but when it came to a pandemic, there was no plan in place and no capacities, and the Commissioner could do nothing, perhaps he could only have sped up the making of plans against the pandemic." The Prime Minister also pointed out that European storage facilities for protective equipment are being set up at the moment in order to help those countries that will not be able to do so if the crisis is repeated.

Lastly, Prime Minister Janez Janša spoke about the level of responsibility in Slovenia compared to other Member States, stating that owing to Slovenia’s membership of the European Union and the functioning of the EU, he has the possibility of comparing responses in individual countries. "This year, the contacts between my colleagues, the prime ministers, have been extremely frequent, as we call each other daily and discuss how to deal with individual situations that are new to everyone. Thus, there is also a wealth of good practice available. In the spring, we used to call the countries that had plans for an epidemic that were working, e.g. Austria and Poland, and I can say, also on the basis of these discussions, that we are above the European average in terms of responsible behaviour of citizens, which is also why we were the first to emerge from the epidemic," said Prime Minister Janša. In his opinion, the key measure to stem the spread of the virus in the spring had been the prohibition of movement among municipalities, with certain exceptions, e.g. the economic sector. He also pointed out that it was a measure that really restricted people’s freedom and was opposed by many, but "had we not adopted such a measure, we would not have been able to stop the virus." "This measure can only be avoided if we are as responsible now as we were in the spring and if the vast majority of citizens act in such a responsible manner," said the Prime Minister, who pointed out that the capacities of our health system are below the European average. According to Mr Janša, the key factor indicating where we are at the moment and what action to take in the future is the occupancy of hospital beds. He added that depending on some of the parameters defined by the expert group, the Government will decide what measures from the plan for the second wave of the epidemic it will take.