By: Domen Mezeg
“Education is a priority, but we will not achieve anything if we open everything and then close everything after a week or two and stay closed until April, May. If the epidemiological picture turns out good, we can switch to orange in February and start relaxing the measures as planned, but everything else is a far too high risk,” said Prime Minister Janez Janša today, when he met with educators.
Today, Prime Minister Janez Janša met with representatives of educational institutions. The meeting was also attended by the Minister of Education Simona Kustec, State Secretary at the Ministry of Health Alenka Forte, State Secretary at the Prime Minister’s Cabinet Marjan Dolinšek, State Secretary at the Ministry of Education Damir Orehovec, and Director of the Education Institute of the Republic of Slovenia dr. Vinko Logaj. The participants spoke about the possible reopening and safe operation of at least part of the educational institutions during the coronavirus epidemic. At the meeting, the current situation with the coronavirus was first presented by the director of the NIJZ Milan Krek and the head of the advisory group dr. Bojana Beović.
Krek pointed out that “when we are deciding about going back to school, we must consider what is happening outside of schools, as these are part of the local community. If we open a school, it makes sense to leave it open for a while.” He also stressed the need to keep in mind what is happening outside the school. Due to the situation as it is now with the epidemic, schools are more jeopardised, similarly, there is a higher risk of the virus invading the school. It is important to protect all people in the school, teachers, children, cooks, drivers…, listed Krek, the director of NIJZ. The head of the advisory group, Beović, spoke about the number of infections, the spread of coronavirus infection, and the impact of vaccination. “Schools began distance learning on October 19th, they closed with a smaller number of infected, the curve of those infected was increasing at the time, and the measures prevented the peak of the epidemic to remain at a certain level,” said dr. Beović.
She also presented the number of patients in educational institutions and emphasised that schools in our country are generators of infections more than anywhere else. She pointed out that when opening schools, we must also keep in mind the vulnerability of the teaching staff, especially the elderly, and the problem of children falling ill with severe forms of COVID-19. At the meeting, Prime Minister Janša said that he knows the distance learning system, as he has two school children. “We all want for this time of abnormality to be shortened as much as possible, but in the case of an epidemic, the consequences come with a delay. The data we saw for yesterday will have key repercussions for the healthcare system in 14 days,” said the Prime Minister and added that a few thousand infections a day make up so many more percent of occupied beds in hospitals, those in need of intensive care, those in need of artificial respiration, and death rates.
Restrictive measures during an epidemic would not be necessary if people absolutely adhered to the general rules of conduct
“After a year since the pandemic began, there are no unknowns,” Prime Minister is convinced. Additionally, according to him, almost none of the restrictive measures would be necessary if the general rules of conduct were 100% followed during the pandemic. “If we kept our distance, disinfected our hands, worked in such a way that the work process was safe and avoided risky contacts, and if everyone would do so, the measures would not be necessary,” said the Prime Minister, adding that some who use modern technology can do this. “Taiwanese people started introducing measures on January 1st last year and had very few infections, they currently only have few infections per day, so they already have concerts, events with audience, however, they all wear face masks, disinfect their hands, keep their distance, and use the electronic app for tracking their contacts,” said the Prime Minister. Furthermore, he added that the measures are such that some of them can be introduced centrally and can also be controlled, whereas other measures depend on whether they are being respected.
“One of the key factors that dictates our behaviour, which was also taken into account in the plan for the relaxing of measures, which is valid from December 3rd, 2020, is the capacity of the health care system. If this capacity is exceeded due to COVID-19 patients overload, then people will also die from other diseases that the health care system would be unable to treat. This means we could face a situation like in neighbouring Italy or Serbia, where people did not have health care due to health system overloads,” said the Prime Minister. “If we had greater reserves in the health care system, we could take more risks with relaxing measures,” said the Prime Minister, adding that the health care system is a fundamental factor in the conduct of all governments in the world.
“Wherever possible, new premises were build and new equipment was added, but it is not possible to train new nurses or doctors in six months”
“If anyone had said in the spring that the Slovenian health care system was capable of treating 1,200 patients with COVID-19, I would not have believed him at all. At that time, we fought for every bed, the capacities were ten times smaller, in the spring almost all other health care had to be stopped due to the epidemic. However, by autumn we have increased our capacities in healthcare tenfold. Wherever possible, new premises were build and new equipment was added, but it is not possible to train new nurses or doctors in six months, as this would take years,” told Prime Minister Janša. He also reminded that the state did not build any old people’s home, nor nursing hospital, and this is also one of the reasons the beds are full as some people who do not need constant medical care have nowhere to go. “We need nursing hospitals in every region, for which we have prepared plans, including guaranteed means for funds of recovery and resilience, nevertheless, this will not affect the situation in the next few months,” the Prime Minister added.
“Education is a priority, but we will not achieve anything if we open everything and then close everything after a week or two and stay closed until April, May,” assessed the Prime Minister. “Consequences of relaxing the measures during the Christmas and New Year period are showing, and will keep showing for the next 10 days,” the Prime Minister pointed out, adding that the risks of relaxing blockades are too high, as for now these blockades prevent hundreds of thousands of new contacts a day, in a country where there are certainly hundreds of high-risk groups as no region reaches the orange phase, thus the room for manoeuvre is small. “If we take a big risk here, which many of you expect with the start of school and the physical presence of students and teachers, a sure consequence may be that we will have distance learning until April or May,” said the Prime Minister and continued that we do not want this and that we have to cope and put up with this wave that is coming due to the holidays for a little while longer. “If the epidemiological picture turns out good, we can switch to orange in February and start relaxing the measures as planned, but everything else is a far too high risk,” also said the Prime Minister.
We are facing the most restricted period of the entire epidemic; we must not risk a collapse of the health care system.
“We are heading to what we have expected – the most restricted period in the entire epidemic,” Janša said, adding that there are also intermediate options for opening schools, which are being implemented in some other countries, but this is in the hands of educators. “It is our common interest that we get to a situation where schools can be opened as soon as possible, and not just the first triad. This should also be done in a way that is safe and that does not risk the collapse of the health care system,” emphasised the Prime Minister, adding that to achieve something like this joint efforts are required. The Prime Minister also pointed out an intermediate possibility regarding kindergartens. “In the case of a better picture in some regions, as far as kindergartens are concerned, a regional approach could be used,” said Prime Minister. In the discussion, Janša said that he receives hundreds of messages from parents urging schools not to open until it is safe for everyone, because parents are afraid of infections. On the other hand, a considerable amount of parents also writes to him, wanting for schools to open as soon as possible.
“It is in our common interest to act responsibly, not to open schools if they will only be opened for a week or two and then closed until April due to infections,” mentioned the Prime Minister. He also pointed out that the government had not taken any decision regarding measures to curb the spread of the epidemic without the profession. According to him, the relaxing of measures plan was also adopted on the basis of all the assessments of the advisory group as well as on the basis of consultations with colleagues throughout Europe. “Until we reach the orange phase of relaxing measures, schools are part of an environment where the number of infections is ten times higher on average than the European risk scoreboard,” told the Prime Minister. According to the Prime Minister, in the autumn wave, the younger population has not been taking the virus seriously because the symptoms are milder for them. “We have the second wave in winter, and at the end of January and the beginning of February, there will be a peak of respiratory diseases. This is an environment that additionally contributes to the spread of the virus,” said the Prime Minister, adding that at the moment, many European countries are choosing to tighten measures which was not planned.
Big part of Europe will have a tougher restrictive policy in the coming weeks, despite a better epidemiological picture
“As of tomorrow, there will be quite a few countries in Europe where they have taken a measure that people are only allowed to go from the apartment to the pharmacy and the store, and be able to walk in fresh air for an hour. In the coming weeks, a big part of Europe will have a tougher restrictive policy, despite a better epidemiological picture. The trend of the last few days in our country is worrying and the government must take this into account,” the Prime Minister pointed out. He also stressed that the responsibility for whether something is open in this epidemiological situation will be taken by the government, which will take measures based on what the profession says, because “this is how we have done it so far and will continue to do so in the future.” “The profession also prescribes safe behaviour in schools,” said the Prime Minister, adding that we have three levels of decision-making: the government is responsible for the overall decision, the profession is responsible for the quality of preventive measures, and the responsibility of principles begins when it comes to specifics and respecting the measures.
Last but not least, the Prime Minister spoke about the signing of a joint statement, which, according to him, is necessary not because of the government but because of the division of spirits among parents. “Dilemmas about opening schools are happening everywhere, not just here, and not just about schools, but about many other things,” said the Prime Minister. He also assessed that such a joint statement would be good for the division of spirits to be harmonised with different interests and positions of the parents, to also bring them closer together and calm them down. “It is not necessary to reach such a joint statement, it is more important to resolve practical dilemmas,” said the Prime Minister, who also mentioned the possibility of a reunion of stakeholders in educational institutions next week. “But almost certainly there will be no entry into schools yet on January 11th, in the best case scenario there will be the start of testing, for which it should be noted that it is not possible to test everyone on the same day and at the same time start schooling,” said Janša and warned that even the countries with a better epidemiological picture are postponing the start of schooling to January 18th, 2021.