As soon as Slovenia’s health authorities called for a press conference to discuss the first case of coronavirus detected on 4th March, another case was confirmed the following day. In just seven days, up until 10th March, there had been 34 confirmed cases, with the first death case reported on 14th March. Later that Saturday in which the death case was confirmed, the government decided to shut down public transport. A decision was also made to close schools for two weeks and Slovenia announced it would start rejecting cargo traffic from Italy. The transport of vegetables, fruit and live animals from Italy as well as other countries where the virus is spread, has also been limited. Health checks were introduced at the country’s border with Italy.
The Catholic church cancelled all masses and public institutions were closed. On 12th March, Slovenia declared a national epidemic and launched a national emergency response plan that included the closing of educational institutions and launching the work from home plan. Retail outlets were closed 12 days after recording the first coronavirus case. From 30th March, the government imposed restrictions on movement between municipalities and launched different initiatives to support its economy. It is also obligatory to wear a face mask.
The first measure to counter the spread of the virus was taken by Health Minister Ales Sabeder on 7th March. It has been decided that all indoor public events for over 500 people would be prohibited. However, some of the restrictions have now been lifted, as it is no longer necessary to use gloves in indoor places and people are allowed to visit their property in municipalities other than their permanent place of residence. A new series of relaxation measures are scheduled for 4th May. However, the important question remains, is it too early to relax anti-corona measures now, given that Slovenia is a country with a weak healthcare system?
Healthcare institutions in the private and public sector received a shock with the sudden onset of COVID-19. Different weak points in the healthcare systems were revealed and there was an “initial struggle with the supply of protective gear and the lack of intensive care equipment”. The virus took its toll on the new government, sworn on 13th March, that vowed to limit the spread of the virus. Slovenia struggled with insufficient supplies of protective gear for medical staff, masks and gowns so much so that it had to order supplies from different companies. Donations to Slovenia were made by Chinese companies. With one of the supply orders failing due to a fraud, Slovenia will have to deal with the repercussions of corruption after the post-corona era.
In its efforts to help the economy cope with the epidemic, Slovenia announced it will provide quick liquidity aid to companies to the tune of EUR 2 billion. An anti-corona law package was introduced early April in efforts to preserve jobs and keep companies in business. A little over a week ago, Slovenia decided to launch a comprehensive random population testing for COVID-19.
With 1,402 cases of COVID-19 and 83 deaths confirmed so far, Slovenia was no doubt badly hit by the virus, but it is a lesson learned the hard way and the country would sure set an emergency plan for any future crisis, should it occur. Minister Zdravko Počivalšek remains optimistic that the economy is immune to the blow and will be protected “from major impacts of the coronavirus crisis to the greatest extent possible”.
Written by Amal Mazeh, April 2020.