The National Civil Protection Headquarters held a press conference to report on the current epidemiological situation in Croatia and coronavirus vaccination and anti-epidemic measures. At yesterday’s session, the Government presented a minimal easing of measures.
In the last 24 hours, 561 new cases of COVID-19 were recorded, and the number of active cases in Croatia today is a total of 3117, the National Civil Protection Headquarters announced. Among them, 1286 patients are in hospital, of which 121 are on a ventilator. Twenty-nine people died, the Headquarters announced.
The average age of the deceased was 79 years, and the youngest deceased was 38 years old. Five-hundred-eighty-eight people recovered.
In the last 24 hours, 5,020 people were tested, and the percentage of positives was 11.18%, Vera Katalinić Janković reported at the press conference.
So far, a total of 58,585 people have been vaccinated.
According to the new measures in force from midnight, elementary schools will go back to in-person classes, and sports activities will be allowed outodoors, swimming pools, and sports bubbles. Restaurants, cafes, and gyms will remain closed, reports Slobodna Dalmacija.
HZJZ director Krunoslav Capak reported on the 14-day incidence per 100,000 inhabitants.
“A week ago, there were 643 new cases out of 4863 tested, and two weeks ago 715 new cases out of 5335 tested. In the first 5 days of this week, there were 2619 new cases, and last week 3015. The number is 13% less than the previous week’s figure, so we have a further mitigated downward trend. The incidence per county is 189.0 on average. Sisak-Moslavina has the highest incidence, and Istria has the lowest. Croatia ranks 7th in the EU rankings. Six countries have a lower incidence than us. The total mortality rate per million inhabitants is 1196.8, which puts us in 20th place in the ranking of EU countries. In the last week, the average share of positive tests was 11.2. We spent more than 79,000 vaccine doses. To date, we have received 409 side effects to the Pfizer vaccine and 11 suspected side effects to the Moderna vaccine. These are mainly local reactions, fever, pain at the site of application, and headache, and there have been more serious reactions to the Pfizer vaccine. Two required the use of adrenaline and 22 the use of other medications,” Capak said.
Vili Beroš said that today, for the first time, the number of hospitalized is below 1,300 after a long time, but it is still a difficult clinical picture and that we have a large number of deaths.
“This indicates that the clinical picture is still relatively difficult. This allows us to think cautiously in giving in to measures, but not in relaxed behavior. The fact and new strains of the virus in our neighborhood and the current vaccination delay should be taken into account. We must be aware of that, and that emphasizes our responsible behavior, and there is no alternative to that,” said Minister Vili Beroš.
Davor Božinović said that the decision on the necessary restrictive measures and recommendations would take effect tomorrow, i.e., tonight at midnight.
“We have decided that the decision will take effect tonight at midnight and will last until February 15.”
Patient associations are demanding that high-risk groups be vaccinated with vaccines that are 95 percent effective.
“Not only high-risk but all other citizens as well. They should be allowed to be vaccinated with the best possible vaccine, but the question is what kind of vaccines are available to us. I support such an idea. People who are chronically ill and of old age are the first to be vaccinated, and it should be emphasized that they should be able to be vaccinated with the highest quality vaccines. Numerous discussions are taking place on the topic of which vaccine to procure. The one that is safe and effective. We cannot count on vaccines that are only now in the testing phase since there is no reliable evidence that they are effective. Some more manufacturers are developing new vaccines. Novavax is in the 2nd and 3rd phase of the clinical trial, in the 3rd phase of the study in Britain it showed an efficiency of 89 percent for the common and new strain of the virus,” said Beroš.
Capak answered whether the Astra Zeneca vaccine will be registered today and when it will come to the Republic of Croatia.
“Vaccines for the EU are registered with the European Medicines Agency, which has strict procedures and legislation. This means that someone who does not meet these criteria cannot apply and register. That is the price of the safety of our vaccines. They guarantee safety. For other vaccines for which we do not have data and have not been marketed transparently, we cannot claim to be safe. We are waiting for the European Medicines Agency to say whether the vaccine is safe and effective.
Data saying that the Astra Zeneca cannot be used for people over 65 cannot be confirmed because we do not have enough data. At the end of the day, it was agreed that the Astra Zeneca vaccine would be registered today. It was announced that we should receive 156,158 doses of their vaccine by the end of February, in three tranches,” Capak said.
Bozinovic referred to the announcements of protests by caterers and gym owners for not loosening measures.
“I still hope that will not happen because there is no reason for that. The measures are just an extension of measures that have been valid for two months, and in those two months, we have concluded that although we still have the most liberal measures in Europe, we also have a clear downward trend in the number of new infections. That number still needs to go down. We must take care of our lives and health. The epidemiological profession has set priorities in preparing this decision, and they do not refer only to this situation but are of a principled nature. When it comes to concessions, the basic rule is that it must be gradual, and given the circumstances surrounding the new variant of the virus and the delay of the vaccine, we must go cautiously. In this context, our Epidemiology Reference Center has set clear principles: if it goes with affordability, health comes first, including sports and education, then the economy, and then other activities. I see no reason for anything to change here. No one in the world has found a recipe for these activities. In EU member states, these facilities have been closed since October. We tried to keep them as open as possible. Representatives of caterers then clearly told us that 90 percent of their members do not adhere to epidemiological measures,” said Bozinovic.
“We brought a framework that is difficult to implement in practice, both in terms of the number of people and spacing. At that time, the public space was flooded with information that it was impossible to implement; I’m not sure it was impossible. Then our numbers started to grow; we said the next step was closure, and that’s what happened. It is still winter outside; if it were 24 degrees, the terraces would surely be open. This is not yet a period when the virus is starting to spread less,” the minister added.
“We said clearly on February 15, if the numbers are still lower, if a new variant of the virus does not occur, we assume that the situation will be clearer with the vaccine, then we can talk about correcting things to everyone’s satisfaction. It is not our goal to harm anyone; the goal is not to repeat November when hospital capacities were on the verge of a breakdown. Do we really need to find ourselves in a difficult situation and repeat the lessons learned? Or can we take all the elements into account and make a rational decision?” said Bozinovic.
“The concession must be gradual. First is education and health, including sports, then the economy, which we did not even close, and only then everything else,” Bozinovic added.
Bozinovic explained how training pools could work.
“No showering and use of common areas. Staying in the pool is less risky because of the chlorine in the water and the humidity in the air, which means that the virus spreads more slowly. In practice, that means: you come to the pool, you change, when you go out, you change again and go home. There are no delays, shared locker rooms, showers … All this can be done at home, the main goal is to train,” Bozinovic explained.
He also answered what criteria the Headquarters was guided by when it came to easing measures.
“The criteria we communicated. The opinion of epidemiologists is that one can go into small concessions. This must be gradual and cautious, and in that sequence, the prioritization of concessions starts from education and health, then the economy, and then everything else. With concrete solutions, something was proposed in the wake of what turned into decisions,” said Bozinovic.
One journalist asked about opening schools, as counties decide. For example, Brod-Posavina opens high schools, while Istria won’t open schools at all.
“They can actually make independent decisions based on recommendations. Our principled position is that counties at this stage can make decisions that are stricter than national ones, but this does not apply when we talk about the school system. We start from the fact that they can assess the situation because the counties are quite different from each other. These are not situations that need to be cut horizontally. I see no problem in the fact that some counties make their own decisions. We do not see that as a problem,” said Bozinovic.
Capak answered whether the members of the Government and the Headquarters received the second dose of the vaccine.
“On January 15, we learned that there is a possibility that Pfizer will deliver smaller amounts of the vaccine in 4 weeks. That came true; the first small quantity that arrived, arrived now on Monday. Due to this lack of vaccines, there has been a change in the dynamics of vaccination. We told everyone to keep other doses. Once the vials are taken out of the fridge, they have to be consumed within 5 days. Thus we will be vaccinated now on Tuesday.”
Who will be legally liable if the vaccine causes side effects?
“It’s a legal issue. Manufacturers received approval after reviewing the documentation; they were required to report everything they saw during clinical studies. The fourth clinical phase is eternal as long as a drug or vaccine exists; some side effects can be recorded even after 5, 10, or 15 years. Once a side effect of the vaccine is proven, medical tests go on, and lawyers can also have a verdict if a dispute arises. That is not an unequivocal question,” said Alemka Markotić.
Where did the flu go?
“So far, we have not recorded a single case of influenza in the Republic of Croatia. We examined several samples and found no flu. That doesn’t mean she’s gone. Some countries in the northern hemisphere report the flu, but there are only a few cases. It seems that the incidence of influenza here will be lower compared to the presence of influenza last year. Measures against Covid are certainly effective against the flu, as they spread in the same way by droplets. The masks do not protect 100% against any respiratory infection. If the presence of the flu were greater, surely some who wear a mask would get sick,” Capak said.
In Croatia, everyone will receive the second dose on time, Capak confirmed.
Capak also mentioned negotiations on the Russian vaccine.
“The usual procedure of agreement with the European Medicines Agency is being done. At the moment, we do not have information on the content of those talks and what would be the dynamics of handing over the registration in the EU,” Capak said.
Alemka Markotić pointed out that it is not a problem if someone does not receive a second dose on a specific day, but the problem is if there are parts of the world that do not have the vaccine.
“We are constantly exhausted looking for the culprits for something for every little thing. Who is to blame if Pero Perić was not vaccinated on the 26th but the 28th day and fell ill. That is not the essence. The bottom line is when the whole world will have enough vaccines for everyone, even the poorest, to get vaccinated at least once. Then the world will be the safest. It will not save those who have provided vaccination to 80% of the population, and if they are not vaccinated and remain in the world, the virus will continue to spread. Those who think they are protected by vaccination may become infected with another variant of the virus. Let’s be positive about what we can do best to get vaccinated here as well as the rest of the world,” said Markotić.
Capak again referred to negotiations with other vaccine manufacturers.
“The EU is not negotiating with the Chinese manufacturer. What has been mentioned is that the Russian manufacturer has shown interest in registering the vaccine in the EU, and we do not know anything about the results of these talks. Logically, they would be interested, and, logically, the Chinese manufacturer is looking for its market in the eastern parts. Croatia has reserved 900,000 doses of the Johnson / Johnson vaccine, and this vaccine is given only once, not two doses. Other manufacturers with which the EU is negotiating offer delivery when it does not suit us. We need it as soon as possible. We had promises from the first registered large quantities very early, and those who offer us in the 1st quarter of 2022 are too late for us. In total, we have ordered more than 6 million doses,” said Capak, adding that this will be enough for the entire Croatian population, and everything should be delivered during this year.
“We don’t think about other manufacturers if they don’t offer us the vaccine early enough because we don’t need it later,” he added.
To read more about COVID-19 in Croatia, follow TCN’s dedicated page.