The pandemic crisis hit Slovakia in its most vulnerable period – just after the parliamentary elections in which the opposition defeated the coalition. Despite the fact that Bratislava had to manage a transition to a new government, Slovakia is one of the least affected countries. But for how long?
Views within the current government coalition diverge on some fundamental issues (allowing commercial companies and services to operate vs. stronger quarantine controls). And the opposition is also using the crisis to score political points (with the slogan ‘We had the COVID under control – you don't').
On 6 March, the first case of the disease was recorded in Slovakia. This case was related to vacation in Italy. However, the first measures to prevent the spread of the disease were taken more than a week before. On 27 February, the government established a crisis staff headed by the Minister of Interior, and the first road controls began at the state borders. Following confirmation of the first case, further measures were taken:
On 12 March, the following measures were added:
On 15 March, Slovakia recorded 61 infected people and the government declared an emergency. Under this measure, all shops were closed, with some exceptions such as groceries, pharmacies, or drugstores.
This period was also accompanied by discussions on the lack of medical supplies (face masks, respirators, rapid tests, etc), compensatory aid for employees and businesses, as well as political skirmishes between the outgoing coalition and the incoming one. The incoming coalition of Igor Matovič criticised the outgoing government of Peter Pellegrini, especially for the low number of tested persons, the high cost of medical supplies, and the non-transparent way in which they were purchased. After the change of government on 21 March, the tables have turned and Smer-SD has begun criticising the new government.
Igor Matovič's new government has put great emphasis on mass testing of people from the very start. Temperature is measured before entering each hospital.
The high-risk groups consist mainly of Slovaks returning from abroad and inhabitants of Roma settlements. While the first group is obliged to immediately begin a 14-day quarantine in one of the state premises, the second group is significantly more risky. The government reports on its website about coronavirus:
Marginalised Roma communities (MRC) form a specific risk (i.e., endangered) group in the prevention and protection of the population against the spread of coronavirus (poor health, insufficient hygienic conditions, impaired access to health services, lower awareness of hygiene, higher population density, the migration of MRC members for work to and from abroad). In the current epidemiological situation, we have seen an increased return of MRC members from abroad to Slovakia. They return and travel through countries with significantly worse epidemiological situations, creating a high risk of COVID-19 being introduced into Roma settlements with an extremely high probability of spreading and developing epidemics inside and outside settlements.
Meanwhile it has been paying special attention to the Roma communities, and settlements are tested one by one with the help of the army.
Probably the biggest debate was about the adoption of the current measure – the limitation of freedom of movement during the Easter holidays. From 8 April at 12 a.m. to 13 April at 11:59 p.m., citizens were forbidden to leave their district. The exceptions were:
Already on the first day traffic stalled in many areas of Slovakia. Controls at the borders of each district have caused jams that have held people up for hours.
All applicable measures can be consulted on a special website established by the government.
Slovakia is one of the least affected countries (as of 29 April 2020 there were 1391 infected, 484 cured, and 22 mortalities). However, everyone realises that while the pandemic can be mitigated, the economic impact will affect us as much as it will the economies of European countries. Everyone is preparing for the crisis: the state, banks, large businesses, small businesses, and trade unions. The state has adopted measures in the first stage (1-7) and the second stage (8-10) to mitigate the effects of the current measures:
It is evident that the measures are oriented more towards the sustainability of business conditions than at preserving profit levels at all costs. To some extent, this also corresponds to employees' goals.
However, neither the first nor the second stage escaped slight criticism. Trade unions criticised the adoption of the first seven measures – not the measures as such but the way they were adopted, as no one consulted with them. In the second stage, the postponement of loan repayments, or to be more precise the effectiveness of this measure is the object of particular criticism. Although a citizen may request a postponement of repayments for up to 9 months, during this period the bank will waive the interest that would increase the total amount due.
The crisis shows that Slovaks are largely disciplined. The measures began very early, the shops closed, and the streets were emptied. And when people have to go out, they wear face masks. Everyone wonders whether the current measures will last for weeks or even months. Whatever the answer, everyone suspects that Slovakia is at the edge of the abyss: after the pandemic, there will be an economic crisis, and on this level the pandemic containment will not help Slovaks. European economies are interconnected (Slovakia's economy being principally linked to Germany's) and it is only a matter of time before mass redundancies begin. Therefore, among many Slovaks concerns about the economic situation are replacing health concerns.