April 29, 2020 / 8:07 PM / a month ago

Slovenia to ease coronavirus restrictions, gradually reopen schools

LJUBLJANA (Reuters) - Slovenia will from Thursday lift a restriction imposed at the end of March that prohibited citizens from travelling outside their local municipalities, Prime Minister Janez Jansa said on Wednesday.

FILE PHOTO: A worker sprays disinfectant to prevent the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), outside the hospital in Kranj, Slovenia March 23, 2020. REUTERS/Borut Zivulovic

Education Minister Simona Kustec told national TV Slovenia later on Wednesday that schools and kindergartens, which have been closed since the middle of March, would gradually start reopening from May 18. She did not give details.

Slovenia, which has 2 million residents and borders Italy, Austria, Hungary and Croatia, has so far confirmed 1,418 coronavirus cases and 89 deaths.

Jansa thanked citizens for following restrictions imposed from the middle of March to curb the pandemic and said in a speech sent to the media: “Thanks to you, Slovenia is the most successful (in curbing the coronavirus) among all neighbours of the focal country Italy.”

He added that Slovenia was also among countries that had suffered less economic and social damage than most because of the government’s quick response, which included financial help of about 3 billion euros or some 6% of gross domestic product to companies and citizens hurt by the outbreak.

Jansa said more restrictions would be lifted on Monday, but gave no details. The government said earlier that hairdressers and beauty parlours, as well as outdoor bars and restaurants and a number of shops, would be able to open from Monday. Libraries and museums are also expected to open on Monday.

He said, however, that large public events, including large sports gatherings, in Slovenia and the rest of Europe would “most probably” only be possible after a vaccination or medication for the coronavirus is discovered and widely used. He also called on citizens to remain disciplined in the coming weeks to prevent the spread of the virus.

On Monday, several hundred people protested in various Slovenian cities against Jansa’s centre-right government and its coronavirus restrictions.

Slovenia closed all schools, bars, restaurants, hotels, cultural and sports centres, and shops, apart from food and drug stores, and suspended public transport in the middle of March. It has prohibited any socialising in public spaces and introduced an obligatory quarantine for most people entering the country.

The first restrictions were lifted last week when car service centres and shops that sell cars, bicycles, furniture and construction material were allowed to open. Residents are obliged, however, to wear face masks in all indoor public spaces.

The Bank of Slovenia said last month the country’s GDP could fall by 6% to 16% this year due to the coronavirus, while the government expects a budget deficit of 8.1% of GDP this year after a surplus of 0.5% in 2019. Slovenia’s export-oriented economy expanded by 2.4% last year.

Reporting by Marja Novak; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Peter Cooney

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