Yesterday’s press conference on the current situation regarding COVID-19 was attended by Franc Vindišar, the State Secretary of the Ministry of Health, Marko Pokorn, the Medical Director of Ljubljana Paediatric Clinic, Ada Hočevar Grom of the National Institute of Public Health and Nina Krohne, psychologist from the Slovenian Psychologists’ Association.
Some 4,588 PCR tests were performed on Monday, of which 1,049 were positive, i.e. 22.9 per cent, and 43,736 rapid antigen tests were also carried out. There are 13,786 (known) active COVID-19 cases in the country, which is 33 fewer than the day before. The 14-day incidence rate amounts to 652 cases per 100,000 citizens. According to the data published today by the National Institute of Public Health, the 7-day incidence rate is 1,014 cases and is significantly higher than yesterday, when it amounted to 903. Some 617 persons are hospitalised (19 fewer than the day before), of whom 146 require intensive care (four more than yesterday). Four people have died; three in hospitals and one in a retirement home.
The protocol on implementing self-testing forwarded to secondary schools today
The purpose of self-testing primary school pupils and secondary school students is to establish a safe school environment for pupils, students and educational staff when carrying out lessons in schools. The objective is to identify positive COVID-19 cases and prevent the further spread of the virus. Vindišar emphasised the effect of regular testing, pointing out that when regular testing with rapid tests is conducted once a week, the number of positive cases is reduced by 50 per cent, which would otherwise be determined in different ways at a later time.
The Ministry has drafted a protocol on the implementation of self-testing and a consent statement. It has ensured verified SARS-CoV-2 rapid antigen tests and prepared notifications for competent community health centres on providing PCR test results within 24 hours. A promotional film has been made, and a phone number (01 478 68 48) is available for possible questions from parents, teachers and children, which is operational every work day between 8.30 and 15.30. The data on those with positive PCR test results will be entered in the central register. The Ministry of Education, Science and Sport is responsible for forwarding the description of the protocol to all managements of educational institutions and for subsequently obtaining data on the interest expressed by primary school pupils and secondary school students regarding self-testing.
The Ministry also acquired the opinion of the National Medical Ethics Committee of the Republic of Slovenia. In its opinion, the self-testing is simple, non-aggressive and efficient. It contributes greatly to objective supervision over the dynamics of the epidemic in schools, while pupils and students actively contribute to diminishing the consequences of the epidemic, and it enhances the feeling that pupils and students can take responsibility for their own health in the epidemic conditions. The National Medical Ethics Committee supports the decision that, following the example of certain countries, self-testing should be undertaken in school premises to ensure objectivity and credibility, and it also highlighted the role of teachers.
According to the protocol, the managements of secondary schools are obliged to obtain consent from parents or legal representatives. The implementation itself involves the regional centres of the Administration of the Republic of Slovenia for Civil Protection and Disaster Relief, which will collect the tests and distribute them among pupils and students. The self-testing will take place on Mondays before the start of lessons in large school premises where pupils and students can maintain social distancing. In the event of a positive PCR test, the headteacher acts in accordance with the instructions of the National Institute of Public Health, i.e. identifies the contacts of the relevant pupil or student and ensures any other measures necessary to contain the spread of coronavirus infection.
If a pupil or a student tests positive, the management of the school contacts their parents. The parents inform the child’s personal physician about the positive test result, who then refers the child to PCR testing. The parents ensure the child’s transport to PCR testing or home. If the PCR test is negative, the pupil or student returns to school.
During the first self-testing in schools, which is anticipated on 16 April for secondary school students, health professionals will be present. The self-testing for pupils in the last three grades of primary school will be introduced after the May Day holidays. It has not yet been decided what will happen with those who refuse to be self-tested, i.e. whether they will be able to attend lessons in school or whether distance learning will be organised for them. If self-testing is done in accordance with the protocol, the classmates of the student whose PCR testing yields a positive result will not be required to quarantine. Positive experience with self-testing is reported from England, Austria, Germany and the Czech Republic.
The introduction of self-testing was also supported by Pokorn. The implementation of self-testing was also checked with children of different ages at Ljubljana Paediatric Clinic and it was established that children in the first three grades of primary school are also able to carry out self-testing in the presence of an adult.
The SI-PANDA research on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic
Research on pandemic fatigue is being conducted among people aged 18 to 74, as an online panel survey in twelve iterations. The research commenced on 4 December 2020 at the National Institute of Public Health under the leadership of Hočevar Grom. The iterations take place every two weeks. The eighth round of the research was implemented between 12 and 15 March, and the ninth round between 26 and 29 March. The researchers added extra questions under the chapter “Mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic” in the eighth round and under the chapter “Infodemic or information epidemic” in the ninth round.
The survey revealed that the majority of respondents still comply with the measures, mostly the wearing of masks and not visiting the elderly when they have signs of infection. The observance of measures to contain the epidemic declined in the seventh and eighth rounds but this decline did not continue in the next round due to compliance with the measures being enhanced of late. There was least support for the measure restricting outdoor movement, which was supported by less than one third of respondents. More than fifty per cent of respondents support the measure of restricting gatherings of up to ten people. Almost 21 per cent of respondents supported the lockdown that included the majority of the business sector and strict restriction of movement.
People have the most trust in their physicians, hospitals and employers. A comparison of the individual rounds of the survey revealed that trust in all relevant persons or institutions was decreasing.
Less than two thirds of the respondents believe that the vaccine against COVID-19 contains the spread of the novel coronavirus. More than one half (57.8 per cent) of the respondents still state that they will be vaccinated against COVID-19 when the vaccine is available to them. Regarding the individual rounds of the research, the intention to be vaccinated is now highest if compared with previous rounds.
The results of the rounds carried out so far reveal that, among all information sources, the respondents most frequently use traditional media, i.e. one third of all respondents. There are no major differences in the use of social networks between individual rounds of the survey and the trend is relatively stable, while differences are greater regarding the Government and governmental institutions as information sources. The results of the recent round show that every fifth respondent uses governmental sources to acquire information about the virus. As sources of information, almost one half of the respondents trust the Government and governmental institutions, more than one third trusts traditional media, while they trust social networks the least.
Assessment of needs for psychosocial support
The research on the need for psychosocial support in the second wave of the epidemic was presented by Krohne. The respondents fear their loved ones becoming infected more than they fear becoming infected themselves. The respondents cite fear of an uncertain future and fear of the loss, and restriction, of freedom. Among individual subgroups, the fear of worse access to health-care services and separation from their loved ones stand out among retired people. Fear of an increased workload or working in stressful circumstances prevails among the employees in education, social care, health care and the business sector. Additional fear among employees is caused by various hardships related to teleworking and reconciling work from home with family life. Particularly severe distress among university students is linked with social isolation and distress related to moving to joint households.