By: Sara Kovač
“So, we are at a point in time when the light at the end of the tunnel is getting stronger, but it is also a time when it will sometimes be more difficult to remain careful because many people think that it is all over already. But it is not over yet; however, we can roughly estimate when we are going to win. Until then, it is necessary to keep a clear head and combine the new possibilities offered by the vaccine, and, where rapid tests allow it, at least partially lift some of the measures after the New Year and combine this with the measures we have adopted so far to curb the epidemic,” the Prime Minister said during a visit to the Danica Vogrinec Home for the Elderly in Maribor. Janša then also visited the University Medical Centre Maribor, and with his visit, he symbolically expressed his gratitude to all those working in Slovenian healthcare, who have been fighting the most difficult battle against the epidemic from the first line of battle, since March. “I hope you all manage to get some rest during these festive days that are ahead of us, and also gather some reserves for the post-holiday shock we are expecting,” he said.
On Saturday, the first shipment of a vaccine against COVID-19 arrived in Slovenia, and on Sunday, the first vaccinations of those from the most critical groups began across the country. Prime Minister Janez Janša visited the Danica Vogrinec Home for the Elderly in Maribor on Sunday, where they are currently still facing an aggravated epidemiological situation and where the first married couple was vaccinated. The couple accompanied their decision to be vaccinated with a statement, saying that this was a special act of new hope. Prime Minister Janez Janša was also there when the couple got vaccinated, and he described them as brave, and he also talked to them about their experience of the coronavirus crisis. Prime Minister Janez Janša also discussed the fight against the coronavirus with the director of the Danica Vogrinec Home for the Elderly, which is the largest home for the elderly in the country. They also talked about the long-term care system.
After visiting the home for the elderly and attending the first vaccinations of its residents, Prime Minister Janez Janša said in a press release that the final third of the fight against the epidemic had begun on this day. According to the Prime Minister, if there would have been no vaccine, we would have been forced to wait, adhering to the current measures of lockdown and restrictions of public life, for the end of the epidemic to come, which would probably mean we would have to wait until the end of April, and, moreover, that there would have been no guarantee that the epidemic would not have recurred at some later time. “So we are at a point in time when the light at the end of the tunnel is getting stronger, but it is also a time when it will sometimes be more difficult to remain careful because many people think it is already all over. But it’s not over yet, although we can roughly estimate when we are going to win. Until then, it is necessary to keep a clear head and combine the new possibilities offered by the vaccine, and, where rapid tests allow it, at least partial mitigation of measures after the New Year, while also combining the measures we have adopted so far to curb the epidemic,” said the Prime Minister.
The vaccine is produced in Europe and the USA, which is an additional reason for high trust
“The arrival of the vaccine to Slovenia and the other countries throughout Europe, in the same quantities for all EU Member States, regardless of their size, is both a major success of Western science in this first phase and a confirmation of the reasons for the existence of the European Union. The distribution of the vaccine, the schedule and the overall logistics were coordinated at the last session of the European Council, and I am pleased that this agreement is being honoured,” stressed the Prime Minister. “The doses of the vaccine that have just arrived are only the first shipment, as every week from now on, Slovenia will receive over 16,000 vaccine doses, and with each such shipment, our chances in the fight against the epidemic will be strengthened,” the Prime Minister Janez Janša pointed out.
“The vaccine that we have started to use, together with the vaccines that will be available in January, are largely the result of the efforts of science and decision-makers in Europe and partly in America. The vaccine we are using was produced in this part of the world and not in China or Russia, which says a lot, not only about who was the first to create it and who is using a particular vaccine for promotion, but it also says a lot about our standards, above all. When it comes to such important things as human lives, it is not just about who will be first, but about who will be safe, who do we trust, and about applying high ethical standards in using vaccines and similar interventions. All of this is the hallmark of the European Union and Western civilisation, and we must be aware of this in the face of various challenges that we will have to address in the future,” the Prime Minister Janez Janša stressed.
Prime Minister Janša also thanked all those who have worked hard in recent days and weeks, to ensure that the population groups which are most at risk, can be vaccinated everywhere in Slovenia today. “Our sincere thanks go to all the staff at the Ministry of Health and the National Institute of Public Health who have made every effort to make everything run smoothly today, and to the hundreds of employees in the healthcare centres and the management teams of homes for the elderly,” said the Prime Minister.
So far, not enough money has been invested in the standards in the existing homes for the elderly
He also pointed out that the Danica Vogrinec Home for the Elderly was the largest such home in Slovenia, and also a home where they faced a major challenge during the epidemic, which they were addressing bravely. He congratulated the brave residents who were among the first to be vaccinated on Sunday, who said they felt good after receiving their vaccination. “Today, tomorrow and the day after that, all the residents in homes for the elderly and similar institutions where the coronavirus threat is greatest, and who have not yet had the COVID-19 disease, will be vaccinated,” the Prime Minister Janez Janša stressed.
Finally, the Prime Minister also pointed out that the fight against the epidemic in homes for the elderly was further aggravated by the fact that little had been invested in care for the elderly in the last 15 years. “Public resources must be channelled to where they are most needed. I do not think it is acceptable that we have not built any new homes for the elderly in the last 15 years and that we have improved relatively little when it comes to the standards of the existing ones,” Janez Janša believes, adding that if the capacities and the standards had been higher, there would have been fewer victims of the epidemics and fewer infections among the residents. “The Government will do its best to ensure that investments are significantly increased in the future, which is why we have allocated a large part of the European funds for this purpose,” concluded the Prime Minister.
When asked when he himself intends to get vaccinated, Mr Janez Janša said that vaccination follows a settled order of priority, as unanimously determined by experts not only in Slovenia, but also in the EU, and that he would get the vaccine as soon as it is his turn.
The vaccine will only bring relief when 70 percent of the population is vaccinated
Prime Minister Janez Janša then compared the situation in the homes for the elderly in the spring, to that during the second wave of the epidemic. “In the spring, there was a high incidence of infections in some homes; however, there were only a few such homes, so in the spring, we were able to help them through interventions. In the second wave, however, the residents in most homes have been infected almost simultaneously, and interventions were simply no longer possible because the required capacities simply do not exist,” said the Prime Minister Janša. He reiterated that there is a shortage of capacities in the field of long-term care, “a shortage that was not brought about in a few months but has been building up over the last 15 years”. The Prime Minister also pointed out that only one home for the elderly in Slovenia is free from infections.
“According to the expert conclusions, 70 percent of the EU population needs to be vaccinated to reach herd immunity,” the Prime Minister answered when asked about when the vaccine would bring relief to the society. “According to our assessment, the willingness to get vaccinated is relatively high in our country. It is important that this willingness is also high in the categories of those most at risk, and I believe that once the effects of the vaccine are directly visible in the environment where we live, this willingness will be even greater,” the Prime Minister said, adding that vaccination has nothing to do with political belief, “as it is a question of common sense and confidence in science, and I am convinced that Slovenians are among the nations with a lot of common sense.”
The lifting of measures due to the vaccination will be possible in February
When asked about when it would be possible to return to normal life as we knew it before the virus, the Prime Minister said that “as far as the effects of the vaccine that will already have a direct impact on our daily lives and on the possibility of mitigation of the measures through the opening of various activities are concerned, they do not depend wholly on the vaccine doses that we are receiving under the joint European procurement agreement, but also on those that we know will be approved soon. At least two more vaccines are well on their way to being distributed in the EU Member States in January or February. We do not yet know exactly what the quantities will be, but we expect that, if the forecasts are approximately as realistic as they seem to be, the vaccination alone will make it possible to lift a number of measures at the end of February,” said the Prime Minister.
However, he also pointed out that even after the situation improves significantly after the vaccination, certain restrictions will have to be kept in place, particularly at the EU’s external borders. “It is our common duty that once we have conquered the worst, we dedicate part of these quantities of vaccines that we have reserved for ourselves, to others as well – in solidarity, especially to the EU’s neighbourhood, as this is not only a matter of our solidarity but also of our safety,” concluded the Prime Minister Janez Janša.
The visit to the University Medical Centre Maribor as an expression of support for everyone working in Slovenian healthcare
During the first vaccinations of the most at-risk groups in the country against the coronavirus, Prime Minister Janez Janša also visited the University Medical Centre Maribor, where they had begun vaccinating the first healthcare employees. The Prime Minister also observed the work of doctors and the medical staff in the covid-19 wards. In a statement for the media, issued after visiting the University Medical Centre Maribor, the Prime Minister said that with the first shipment of the vaccine, which arrived in Slovenia on Sunday, we will be able to vaccinate some of the healthcare employees, namely those who are part of the most at-risk categories, because they treat patients with covid-19. “The arrival of the covid vaccine to our country can be compared to the arrival of a fire brigade at the scene of a fire. We are aware that the first team to arrive will not be able to put out the entire fire, but it can start protecting those parts that are most at risk of burning in the fire. Therefore, we are expecting more of the strong fire brigades in the coming weeks, until, with the intervention – the vaccination, we will finally be able to prevent the spread of the coronavirus,” the Prime Minister emphasised.
“My visit to the University Medical Centre Maribor is also a symbolic expression of gratitude to all those in Slovenian healthcare who have been fighting the most difficult battle against the epidemic in the first line of battle, since March,” said the Prime Minister. “I hope you all manage to get some rest during these festive days that are ahead of us, and also gather some reserves for the post-holiday shock we are expecting. We want this shock to be as small as possible, but we are aware that the partial lifting of the restriction of movement between the municipalities and mixing between the so-called bubbles will result in a certain number of infections, which will increase the statistics in early January, so additional reserves need to be prepared for that time, in an already exhausted healthcare system,” said the Prime Minister Janez Janša.
When asked about the investment in a new infectious disease clinic in Maribor, the Prime Minister replied that it was an investment envisaged in the national recovery programme and that it was one of the priorities. “We will do everything to ensure that this programme is realised in the next few years, not only in Maribor but throughout Slovenia and that additional healthcare facilities will be built in all Slovenian regions,” said the Prime Minister Janez Janša.
The situation does not yet allow for major lifting of the restrictive measures
When asked about the post-holiday shock and the possible returning to school, Prime Minister Janez Janša said that yesterday, according to all criteria and according to the plan for the lifting of the measures, we went from the black to the red zone. “The situation has improved a bit, but it is still extremely serious. We hope that this will not only be temporary, but some minor restrictive measures will be lifted next week, for example, the hairdressers and food markets will be allowed to work, but this is as much as the transition from the black to the red zone allows,” said the Prime Minister. He said that moving to the orange zone will be a much bigger step in the positive direction, as the orange zone is where even more measures can be lifted in the regions with a good epidemiological picture, “but until then, we need to take care of an average of 100 patients occupying the COVID ward capacities, and the number of infections has to drop below 1000. Currently, we are a few hundred infections above a thousand.” The Prime Minister also pointed out that the main risk at the moment is actually the possible result of a greater area of movement and larger numbers of contact during the holidays, which is when some of the restrictions will be lifted. The Prime Minister Janez Janša reminded everyone of the meeting with the directors of all healthcare institutions in early December when the government representatives asked everyone if they could provide 30 percent of the reserves to deal with what this time will bring, and it was said that such percentages were probably impossible to reach. “However, everyone is working as hard as they can, and going to great efforts to provide some of these reserve capacities,” said the Prime Minister Janez Janša.
He also pointed out that at the moment, education is one of the priorities, especially the first triad and schools for pupils and students with special needs, “but today, it is still too early to tell whether the lifting of this measure will be possible on the 4th of January. The government will decide on this in the middle of next week when more accurate figures and forecasts for the future will be known.” “Before the opening of kindergartens and schools for the first triad, we will try to provide rapid tests for all employees,” said the Prime Minister and expressed hope that all stakeholders in education will be able to agree on a joint statement, that the recommendations of the National Institute of Public Health will be taken into account, and that the school system has carried out the necessary reorganisation in terms of providing sufficient space per individual pupil and class so that there will be no mixing of classes. “With all these measures, with this agreement, and the commitment of the authorities, from the union to the principals, with an improved epidemiological picture, the risk of reopening the schools could be acceptable, but we do not know yet, whether this will happen on the 4th, the 11th, or mid-January,” said the Prime Minister, emphasising that it all depends on the numbers that will be recorded in the first weeks after the holidays, and on the available medical capacities.
Schools and kindergartens are a priority – skiing is a bonus
Regarding the complications and complaints related to the ski resorts, which have been made public in recent days, the Prime Minister reminded that the opening of ski resorts in December before the holidays was temporary and that it was a parallel measure, accompanying the lifting of the movement restrictions in municipalities, and that this measure was not applied in all regions. “Where the movement was still limited to municipalities, the operating of ski resorts doesn’t even make economic sense,” the prime minister said, adding that it was already made clear back then that certain things had to be given up during the holidays. “Skiing is a bonus, and it is not as important as education, as the kindergartens. It was made clear in advance that we will try to open schools and kindergartens and everything that is crucial for the normal course of life, with certain restrictions, after the holidays,” said the Prime Minister Janez Janša.
Finally, he once again called on everyone to try and be more understanding. “When we record the number of infections and the occupancy of the hospital beds, it does not matter where someone got infected, whether it was at school or elsewhere, and the government has to consider the priorities, in terms of what is more and what is less important for our society,” the Prime Minister said. He added that after long discussions, the government had lifted the restriction of movement to municipalities for individuals and families, when it comes to walks and recreation and individual sports activities, so the restriction of movement to the municipalities does not apply anymore, and anyone can move within the region. “This is something that allows the free movement of significantly more people than if we just opened the ski resorts,” said the Prime Minister, who also asked everyone to have a little patience. “If there are not enough reserves, it will not be possible to reopen the kindergartens and schools. The epidemiological situation in our country is serious, and most countries in Europe have also closed their ski resorts, with an even better epidemiological picture and more reserves in the health care system,” the Prime Minister emphasised. He added that the provocation of the ski resort on Krvavec was “unnecessary and harmful”. “Those who do not respect the measures also do not deserve subsidies to compensate for the loss of income during the epidemic,” concluded Prime Minister Janez Janša.