According to official data, by Tuesday evening, 34 people in Slovenia had been infected with the new coronavirus, and after some restrictions have been put in place, stricter measures were also announced, including the closure of the border with Italy for passenger transport. This was the topic of the show Tema dneva (Topic of the day) with Aleksander Rant, where he discussed it with the Prime Minister of the new government, Janez Janša, who also attended the National Security Council meeting on Monday, where he proposed some measures. Not all have been implemented yet. As Janša pointed out, the greatest contributions to help limit the spread of the new coronavirus can be made by the citizens themselves. He also stressed the importance of critical infrastructure in such circumstances.
The outgoing government may have waited too long to react, despite the fact that they have implemented some useful measures in the last week. Weeks ago, Janša already warned of the possibility of waiting too long to properly react. Are we even able to remedy the situation today and stop the spread of the new coronavirus?
»Not even a wizard could answer this question right now. In my opinion, it is true that there are measures that should have been taken long ago when we have called for them. We will see what the price for the delay will be, but I would like to emphasize that it is pointless to think about this right now, as we can’t change the past. We need to focus on what we can still do at the moment and in the future. There has been some working cooperation in the last couple of days between the outgoing government and the incoming government. That can only be good,« says the Prime Minister Janez Janša.
Neighbouring Italy has lost control of the infection to a great extent, and the people responsible have ignored the problem for far too long. Will the situation we’ve witnessed in Italy help us to better resist this infection? Is there any exchange of information with Italy?
Janša warned that we should try to avoid the two negative experiences we’ve seen in Italy if we are not too late: »The first is the delays. Some measures are only effective if taken at the right time, as after that, they aren’t effective anymore. The second is that when you take action, you need to announce it at a press conference, you need to have a plan for the implementation, otherwise, you do more harm than good. A typical example is the restriction for Lombardy, Venetia, and another province. Sixteen million people, measures declared, restriction formally adopted … But at the same time, the implementation and ways to control the measure were not prepared. The following day, more people left these infected areas than any other day before, during the entire time since the initial infections. Unfortunately, some also came to Slovenia. This is a high-risk part of the population and yesterday when they declared a nationwide restriction – which is not the same as a quarantine, as it is so often misrepresented – they merely corrected the mistake they had made the day before.«
What you mentioned is well linked to the possible future situation in our country, as certain regulations are already in force, such as the ban on gatherings of over 100 people indoors and closing the border with Italy, but some people still naively violate these regulations. Is Slovenia prepared for adequate protection of its people, with the help of the Police force and otherwise, so that irresponsible individuals do not endanger public safety?
According to Janša, this is primarily a matter for the inspection services: »There are enough of those in Slovenia to join forces and coordinate to focus on these points. What we’ve seen today is very distasteful, when the inspection bodies argue amongst themselves, what is whose authority. I really want to point out that things need to be taken more seriously, but at the same time, we need to bear in mind that no authority can do as much as we ourselves can – by behaving responsibly. By behaving responsibly towards ourselves and others. To be specific, quite brutally, if I, for example, infect you and, according to the statistics, at least two or, as the pessimists claim, up to nine more, perhaps none of them will die. But these nine will infect nine times nine more, and among those, someone will surely get seriously ill and probably, unfortunately, also die. It’s not just statistics; it’s not just numbers. This is someone’s father, someone’s grandfather, someone’s grandmother, brother, sister … We are talking about human lives. In situations like this, we must behave responsibly and warn or rather urge everyone to limit their contact with others. To actually limit our contacts to what is most urgent. If ever, then now is the right time for social networks. You can not get infected over the internet. We can exceed the recommended time spent watching screens. I think this would have a much lower negative impact than, say, going to a birthday party or to a disco club, as this is not a pressing matter. But we are 100 times more likely to become infected and then pose a threat to others than if we stayed home environment, behaving in a self-protective manner.«
The fact of the matter is that the spreading of the virus in Slovenia is now at such a stage that it can not be prevented by any measures, by any restrictions: »The virus is here. It has and will come to all European countries, in my opinion, there will be no country left in the world, that the virus does not reach. At some point, a pandemic will be declared. What we can do with these measures, and most of all, with our responsible behaviour, is slow down the spread, so that critical cases, which present approximately 20 percent of all cases, do not exceed the available capacities of our healthcare system. When the limit is exceeded, a doctor has to decide whether to give oxygen to Joe or to Mary. As this continues, in a few days, he has to decide on one out of five people. I am not trying to scare anyone, but this is the current situation in many places in Italy today. We are talking about a neighbouring country. And who is the most endangered? All of Italy’s neighbouring countries, besides Slovenia we have France, Switzerland, and Austria. And these countries are behaving the way they are. Some more responsibly, some less. Some take the matter more seriously, some less.
According to Janša, the measures should be prepared in advance. He also emphasized the importance of mutual assistance: »What I’ve already mentioned still stands, if you decide to take measures, you declare it at a press conference, for example that there is no school tomorrow – this needs to be prepared in advance. We need to be prepared ourselves, some kind of daycare for the children needs to be provided. Not everyone can stay at home with their young children. I appeal for solidarity, for neighbourly assistance. No protective services, the police, no security authority can do more than we ourselves can, when we help out a neighbour, for example, if we go to the store instead of him if he is supposed to stay isolated. Keeping his children safe if we are healthy and they are healthy. There are a thousand things we can do to get through this situation with as little harm as possible.«
But what can be done, say at the national level? On Tuesday, a joint meeting was held between the outgoing and the incoming government, which was highlighted by the Minister of Health Aleš Šabeder at the press conference. Are the measures being more coordinated now than they were in the last couple of weeks? There was unnecessary panic because we did not receive the necessary information. For example, some claimed that everything was as it should be, and all protocols were running smoothly, but then we got the information that, for example, Health Centres did not have enough masks, that nothing was coordinated and that they did not even receive any instructions. Up until Tuesday, Fraport was not informed on who they should check at the Jože Pučnik airport. Will cooperation be better in the coming days, and will all the authorities know exactly what they need to do?
It is no secret that three weeks ago, Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS) called for a National Security Council meeting: »Everywhere else, similar bodies met. Even on Monday, when the meeting finally came, it proved to be useful. I was there as a consultant. We have the outgoing government that is taking care of day-to-day matters but has all the authority for this situation. As the newly elected Prime Minister, who has no government yet and has not assumed his duty yet, I can not order anyone to do anything. I have made many suggestions, many things were considered, but not everything. I do understand this because, in the end, somebody else needs to sign off on what I am suggesting, and they ultimately have to be the one to take responsibility for it, so I am not blaming anyone in this situation. But this cooperation could have happened sooner, right now, every day counts. We have also established contacts between the outgoing and incoming Ministers today. There is a willingness to cooperate; everyone is aware of the fact that we are all in the same boat now because, in this situation, there is no opposition, no left or right. The virus does not choose.« According to Janša, this could mean that some of the measures that have been put off until now, could finally be implemented in the next few days: »To wait another week might mean that we have missed the time when the spread of this virus could potentially be limited to the point where it does not exceed our healthcare capacities.
Head of the Department of Infectious Diseases talked about their capacities on Tuesday, saying that if the number of people infected exceeds the available capacities, less critical cases would have to be sent home, simply because the system could not handle them. We have seen pictures from Italy of rooms full of people on oxygen. We also got the information that Italian cities are empty, there are no tourists and the airports are deserted. In addition to the dire health situation, Italy – and the world – are preparing for a possible economic crisis. The government has already provided approximately one billion euros for the economy. What are the measures that will follow, if people are required to stay at home for a longer period of time?
Janša believes that the economy was one of the aspects that came to mind late: »Slovenia has factories, it is a part of the industry that produces protective equipment, and there was a delay here. I think things are finally moving now when we brought this to the public’s attention. These capacities need to be organized so that there are no problems with masks, goggles, clothes, covers and so on. Incidentally, France has already nationalized all of this ten days ago and also decided on the maximum prices allowed, which I think should be done by Slovenia as well, at least the second part, to make sure there is no profiteering in this situation. This is far from normal behaviour, and there is more than enough work for the inspection. We need them to react quickly, now more than ever. As far as economic damage is concerned, we know it will be big. But nobody dares to estimate just how big. It must be said, thank God, the virus does not affect plants; it does not affect food production. People are asking if they should stock up on food… I think it is wise to stock up on a moderate number of supplies, just so you don’t need to go to the store every day. Every visit to the store is a bigger risk than just staying at home. But there is no point in exaggerating this, as food production will not stop. Even if passenger traffic is restricted, the transport of goods won’t be, at least not as drastically, so there is no need to panic. Of course, because of the logistics of self-quarantining, it is important that you have enough food at home so that you do not have to go to the store every day or every other day, and so you may be able to help those who have not thought of this in time.«
The healthcare professionals are doing all that they can, and Janša thanked them at the National Security Council meeting. But how do we prevent, or at least try to prevent, the health system from burning out? In Italy, there has already been an increase in infections among doctors and healthcare professionals. Unfortunately, there have been a few cases among the healthcare professionals in Slovenia as well. »This does not improve the situation, of course. The Ministry has taken a very important measure to suspend various ongoing preventative programs that are otherwise very relevant, but at the moment, they are not crucial and by suspending them, more medical staff, doctors and nurses, will become available to be reallocated to the departments where people are overwhelmed. On Monday, we proposed that the spare capacities be prepared, including the engagement of Slovenian Armed Forces and the Civil Protection. There are some reserves, of course, but if it’s all messy and disorganized, it’s less useful. Preparations are underway, and I am afraid that we will need it all soon. I want to emphasize again that the capacities of these institutions are limited. This is not just about the doctors and nurses, the people who work in labs, who have probably amassed enough overtime for a few years of work already, and who we should all be grateful to, it is also about everyone else who has to make sure that things run smoothly and that the restrictions are applied. Slovenian Police are already being tested when it comes to the protection of the southern border, where the risk has already increased. If we are to close the border with Italy, we can not do it without Police control. Slovenian Armed Forces have fewer troops than the MORiS brigade had when we started building defense structures. We will need to find ways to strengthen them. What we can do as citizens is behave responsibly and be willing to help. I also want to point out, as I don’t know if anyone has warned about this yet, in such situations, the so-called critical infrastructure is very important. Imagine running out of electricity, which would make the situation way worse practically overnight. The people who work in important places – and there are many of those in electric power plants, dispatch centers that have one, two, three teams… This is where responsible behaviour is all the more important. We need to think about what happens if there is a need to quarantine some people. The functioning of the critical infrastructure must be maintained at all costs. The media, too, are part of the critical infrastructure, especially the national media. Without timely notifications, a situation like this can not be managed. This is everyone’s responsibility,« he added.