**This article is continuously updated with the latest developments.
Coronavirus contact tracing applications should be made mandatory as a means of helping the European Union transition out of the public health crisis and open up its borders, Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Janša said on Wednesday (8 July), against Commission advice.
Normal life could only be reintroduced in Europe “if we create a new digital application for virus tracking, which is not totally voluntary,” Janša said speaking on a virtual panel alongside Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić.
Back home, Janša’s government was accused of “slowly introducing dictatorship” on Monday (6 July).
The debated bill on a new stimulus package provides a legal framework for introducing a mobile tracing app for coronavirus infections, but the opposition says the government has introduced hidden repression, control and supervision of citizens among the proposed measures.
Parliament’s legal service was critical of the provisions for the mobile app.
“The proposed design of the mobile application is based on the wrong premise that it is not about processing personal data,” said a legal expert of the parliament, explaining that the application, despite being anonymous, is based on processing personal data of those for whom the use will be mandatory.
Meanwhile, passengers at the Gruškovje border crossing — one of the main entry points for travellers from Western and Central Europe in eastern Slovenia, — queued for two and a half hours to enter the country from Croatia on Sunday evening (5 July) as tougher border regime coincided with the first summer vacation weekend.
Croatia, France and the Czech Republic were taken off Slovenia’s list of EU safe countries as of 4 July, a government spokesperson has said, whereas Belgium and the Netherlands were added to the green list.
Previously, the government was discussing a bill on intervention measures to prepare for the possible second wave, given the new spike in coronavirus infections recently.
Radio Slovenija reported the measures will primarily aim to prevent large gatherings.
This comes after the use of protective masks and hand disinfection were made again mandatory in enclosed public spaces and on public transport as of 24 June.
According to Health Minister Tomaž Gantar, the measure will be reviewed by the authorities every 14 days, depending on the epidemiological situation in the country.
Meanwhile, trade union Aerodrom Ljubljana was preparing a protest rally on 2 July against announced layoffs.
“The company, which has made multi-million profits on a regular basis in recent years – more than €20 million in the last two years alone – has almost immediately started laying off employees because of the problems caused by the epidemic,” the union wrote.
As of Wednesday (8 July), there are 1,739 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Slovenia with 111 deaths.
The first results of the serological testing, which were published on 6 May, showing that only 3.1% of the population was infected and now have antibodies for COVID-19.
Slovenia has applied for a European tender for the establishment of storage facilities for personal protective equipment under the rescEU mechanism, defence minister Matej Tonin said on Thursday (18 June). For now, the equipment is stored in Romania and Germany, but the European Commission has said that it wants to set up around six such logistics centres across the bloc.
Borders not open for all
The Slovenian government adopted a decree which opened its borders from 8 June for travellers from 17 countries considered epidemiologically safe.
Those not coming from these countries will have to undergo a 14-day quarantine, even if travellers bear Slovenian citizenship.
However, from Friday (19 June), the government decided it would impose stricter rules, including a 14-day quarantine, for travellers coming from Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, and Kosovo, following a spike in coronavirus infections.
“Citizens of the Republic of Slovenia and Italian citizens who are two owners or tenants of land in the border area or have their own land on both sides of the state border and perform agricultural-forestry work may cross the state border outside the control points on the border with Italy. Checkpoints remain unchanged,” according to the interior ministry’s press release explaining the decree.
This comes after Foreign Minister Anže Logar said on 6 June that Slovenia would open its borders with Italy “very soon,” after he held talks with his Italian counterpart, Luigi Di Maio, in Ljubljana. Logar did not explicitly set a date but said he was “looking forward to 15 June with optimism” and added that Italy was a very important neighbour and a key economic partner.
Travellers could start crossing the Austro-Slovenian border without restrictions as of 4 June after Austria abolished health checks at the border.
This came after Austria had first announced the reopening of borders with Germany, Hungary, Czech Republic and Slovakia before making an official announcement for Slovakia, Delo reported. Slovenes in Austria’s Carinthia region, united in the Slovenian Consensus for Constitutional Rights (SKUP) initiative, have demanded that Austria opens its border with Slovenia, according to leading newspaper Delo.
When it comes to Hungary, things went smoother.
On 28 May, Slovenian Foreign Minister Anže Logar met with his Hungarian counterpart Peter Szijjarto to discuss measures related to the opening of the Slovenian-Hungarian border.
After the meeting, the countries agreed to lift travel restrictions, meaning Hungarian and Slovenian nationals are now able to cross the border without restrictions. Even COVID-19 quarantine restrictions have been lifted.
Already from 26 May, EU citizens could enter Slovenia as tourists without having to go into quarantine, provided they produced evidence of a tourist booking at the border. The same applied to owners of property in the country.
Gradually relaunching activities
Compared to other countries, the virus spread at a much slower pace in Slovenia.
While the country’s retirement homes had been seriously affected by the crisis, the number of infections and patients in intensive care already started dropping in April.
On 26 April, PM Janez Janša said that Slovenia was one of the most successful European countries in terms of results in the fight against COVID-19 but that one would have to get used to social distancing and wearing masks in indoor spaces. Earlier in April, Slovenian epidemiologists even said the country had just managed to “escape” an Italian-like scenario.
Already after the Easter holidays, the government allowed certain businesses in the service industry like auto mechanics or car washes to open after the Easter holidays.
Following that, on 20 April, Slovenia launched an antibody survey to determine the prevalence of the COVID disease in its population based on a sample of 3,000 people from about 300 different areas. At the time, government spokesperson Jelko Kacin, also confirmed that the numbers indicated the virus was at a “stationary”, non-dangerous stage.
As of 28 April, Slovenia then gradually started relieving restrictive measures and opening the majority of businesses, with production up and running again, albeit in a single shift.
From 4 May, Catholic churches could open their doors and allowed weddings to be attended by a minimum number of guests, as long as these adhered to regulated social distancing measures.
And although libraries, galleries and museums were allowed to open their doors to visitors as of 29 April, these institutions decided to remain closed, saying ”they need to prepare to reopen and that this cannot be done overnight. They expect to be able to welcome first visitors in early May,” the Slovenian STA news agency wrote. From that day, those above the age of 65, who were previously only allowed to shop between 8 am and 10 am, could now shop anytime.
From 4 May, restaurants and bars with terraces, beauty salons, clothing and footwear repair shops, as well as key making workshops, started reopening. On top of that, photographers, tailors, watchmakers and jewellers, furriers and leather goods manufacturers could resume work.
Later in May, the government also announced that they would begin reopening their borders. This began with Croatia last Wednesday (20 May), as the government announced Croatians are free to cross the border into Slovenia without having to undergo mandatory quarantine.
Slovenian Economy Minister Zdravko Počivalšek and Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto discussed plans for reopening the borders between EU member states with similar situations on 18 May. Slovenia has also launched talks with Austria on this topic.
Read more about Slovenia’s lockdown measures:
- LJUBLJANA – Slovenia worries about 1 May confinement slip-ups
- LJUBLJANA – Prosecutor dismisses ‘coronavirus’ suit against president, ministers
- Slovenian media fear fallout from government virus campaign
- Slovenia to shut down its air traffic from Tuesday over coronavirus
- LJUBLJANA – Biggest crisis since independence
- Slovenian parliament enables sessions from distance due to coronavirus
Weathering the economic storm
Still, COVID-19 did take a considerable toll on the economy.
In May, the average number of unemployed surpassed 90,000, which is 13,000 more, or 16% higher, than in the same period last year.
One in four of the newly unemployed come from the catering industry, Bojan Ivanc, chief analyst at the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, told Delo.
Slovenia’s retail trade revenue is expected to drop by €6-7 billion because of the COVID-19 crisis, the Chamber of Commerce’s Maruca Lah told a government press conference on 5 May.
To weather the economic storm created by the coronavirus pandemic, Janša’s government approved a second anti-corona bill on 21 April, worth more than €2 billion, which was then endorsed by parliament.
While the new bill adds another 300,000 beneficiaries, including part-time students who are not employed, self-employed workers, and female farmers over 65 years of age, a number of MPs were unhappy, saying the conditions were too strict, particularly for smaller firms.
“This law certainly won’t help small businesses…because the conditions are so stringent that no one will take out a loan,” said MP Marko Bandelli (SAB).
Slovenia’s Economy Minister Zdravko Počivalšek and his Croatian counterpart, Gari Cappelli, met at the start of May to discuss measures to support the tourism sector, the economy ministry told Slovenia’s news agency STA.
According to draft documents analysed by the leading local news website, www.24ur.com, the government is expected to prepare a third anti-corona package that would introduce subsidies for part-time workers and tourism vouchers.
Slovenia one step away from ‘normalising life’
With very little new coronavirus cases at the start of May, the government decided to ease restrictions as it announced Slovenia is one step away from “normalising life.”
The government decided on 13 May to lift restrictions on all shops from 18 May, while bars and restaurants were again allowed to serve customers indoors.
On 12 May, the government decided to reopen international air traffic for the EU and third countries, but planes will have to wait until 1 June to fly.
Leading Slovenian epidemiologists were very satisfied with how the virus was kept under control in May but still urged citizens to remain careful.
Meanwhile, many websites in Slovenia had not been adapted for people with disabilities, meaning they were being deprived of social contacts, as well as from vital information like the location or working hours of the nearest pharmacy, Borut Sever of the National Council of Disability Organisations of Slovenia told the leading newspaper, Delo.
Two governments, one pandemic
Two days after Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Janša said the COVID-19 pandemic was the country’s biggest crisis since the country had declared its independence, the government decided on 14 March to shut down public transport and close all school facilities from 16 March, national news agency STA reported.
“We have failed in Slovenia. We observed the events in northern Italy and did not believe the virus could come to us. Even during school holidays, we did not give any advice to citizens. We were told we had enough protective equipment, but in reality, the warehouses were practically empty, considering our needs,” Janša said a few days after (19 March) the measures were adopted.
The new prime minister blamed the previous government for not having drafted proper emergency plans or secured equipment.
Still, the new government continued to implemented measures and banned all kinds of public gatherings as of 20 March. And people could only go outside for essential trips, including for work purposes, to go to the nearest shop, pharmacy or doctor. Otherwise, they’d have to face €400 fines.
When it comes to the border, Janša’s government proposed to deploy the army along the Croatian border to prevent a possible increase in illegal immigration during the pandemic.
While, President Borut Pahor said he supported the idea on 15 April, as he said he believed immigrants would try to enter Slovenia illegally as a result of the crisis and its economic consequences, mayors of 23 municipalities signed a petition on 20 April to back the activation of an emergency clause that grants soldiers limited police powers to patrol the border.
A complaint was filed against the president and two of his ministers for appearing in public in a group larger than five persons during a visit to the southern border on 15 April, without mandatory face masks and without keeping social distance, the 24ur news website reported. However, the country’s state prosecutor rejected the complaint.
A medical sector lacking equipment
While the lack of personal protection equipment, known as PPE, has been reported across the country, and particularly in retirement homes, which have been impacted by the virus, an order of 3 million protective masks was lost along the way.
This happened because according to the government the order came from a questionable Bosnian company, which committed “classic fraud”, the defence minister explained. Due to transport restrictions, the shipment was stuck in Germany for some time.
To mitigate the lack of masks, the government then confirmed it had received a million FFP2 masks from the Czech Republic. “We will return the favour as soon as it will be possible, “ wrote Slovenian PM Janez Janša on Twitter, while praising EU solidarity.
Besides, the lack of ventilators during the emergency was also something the medical sector had been struggling with.