News digest: The worsening coronavirus situation brings Christmas lockdown

The parliament adopted the anticipated judicial reform and new state budget. Two candidates will fight for the top police post.

PM Igor Matovič introduces new restrictions for Christmas. (Source: TASR)

This is the Wednesday, December 9, 2020 edition of Today in Slovakia. Learn about politics, business, and other notable events of the day in Slovakia in less than five minutes. If you like what we are doing and want to support good journalism, buy our online subscription. Thank you.

Christmas in lockdown

Responding to the worsening development of the coronavirus pandemic and the increasing number of hospitalised patients suffering from COVID-19, the central crisis staff has agreed on several lockdown measures.

“I lost the fight for using mass testing as an alternative to lockdown,” PM Igor Matovič (OĽaNO) said during the December 9 press conference.

The central crisis staff agreed on closing outdoor terraces, toughening up conditions in hotels and ski centres, and restricting the operation of shops. Also, employees of big companies will have to be tested.

The restrictions will come into force in several waves, the first starting on Friday, December 11. It is expected that the measures will be in force at least until early January.

Related articleClosed terraces and stricter conditions in ski centres and hotels. Slovakia enters lockdown Read more 

Other coronavirus-related news:

  • Slovakia reported more than 2,500 new coronavirus cases on December 8, which is the highest daily increase since mid-November. Another 38 people have died.
  • The worst situation has been reported in the district of Púchov (Trenčín Region), the PCR test results show. It is also getting worse in the Trenčín district.
  • The antigen tests procured by the Economy Ministry will arrive in Slovakia only on January 7, 2021. Minister Richard Sulík (SaS) said it took 18 days to send the correct assignment to his department.

MPs greenlight judicial reform

Parliament adopted the anticipated justice reform that will introduce several changes, including the reform of the Judicial Council, property checks of judges, the reform of the Constitutional Court, an age cap for judges and the establishment of a new, Supreme Administrative Court.

The constitutional law authored by the Justice Ministry was approved on December 9, supported by 91 out of 141 MPs present. It is expected to come into force on January 1, 2021.

Justice Minister Mária Kolíková (Za Ľudí) considers the establishment of the Supreme Administration Court and the definition of what the Judicial Council is and what its powers are crucial.

The opposition party Smer plans to challenge the law at the Constitutional Court.

Related articleJudiciary will see changes. MPs approved the reform Read more 

The law of the year passed

Parliament passed the state budget for 2021 as well as the general government budget for 2021-2023. Ninety-one of the 141 lawmakers present voted for the legislation, while one refrained from voting and 49 MPs voted against it on December 8.

Slovakia’s general government deficit is projected at 7.41 percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) or more than €7 billion next year, somewhat down from the 9.68 percent of GDP previously estimated for 2020. Public finance revenues are projected at €39.6 billion and expenditures at €46.7 billion. The country’s gross public debt should climb to 65 percent of GDP next year, i.e. above the Maastricht threshold of 60 percent of GDP.

The current government does not expect a balanced budget in the coming three years. The deficit should gradually decrease to 6.18 percent of GDP in 2022 and a further 5.72 percent in 2023.

Related articleParliament passed the law of the year. Public finances will remain in deficit for next three years Read more 

Picture of the day:

Feature story for today:

We do not need a test to enter a shopping mall, so why do it in schools?

October 23 was the last day at school for pupils of grades five to nine in primary schools and secondary school students before the curfew-based lockdown that came on the heels of the worsening epidemiological situation in Slovakia.

Since then the situation improved following a mild lockdown and several rounds of nationwide testing. People can now go to cinemas, theatres and shopping malls, but children are not allowed back to schools despite the repeated attempts of Education Minister Branislav Gröhling. PM Igor Matovič insists that schools should test their staff, children and parents in order to return. Dozens of them tried testing during the weekend and several schools have opened on December 7.

Thousands of children are still at home, though. Read an interview with Miroslava Hapalová, director of the National Institute For Education in the Slovak Republic, operating under the Education Ministry, who talks about the decision and its consequences.

Related articleWe do not need a test to enter a shopping mall, so why do it in schools? Read more 

In other news:

  • President Zuzana Čaputová has been listed in the World’s 100 most powerful women ranking by the Forbes magazine. She placed 83rd.
  • Two candidates will run for the post of new Police Corps president: acting police chief Peter Kovařík and Štefan Hamran, head of the special purpose unit of the Police Corps Presidium. Originally, four candidates applied for the post, but only these two met conditions, the Interior Ministry announced.
  • Former deputy general prosecutor Peter Šufliarsky violated the code of ethics by his communication with mobster Marian Kočner, as stems from the decision of the Ethics Committee of the Prosecutor’s Office.
  • The parliament approved the allocation of €575 million to eliminate the debts of hospitals. The aim is to improve their financial situation and prevent a further increase in debts.
  • Foreign trade had a positive development in October 2020; the surplus of €807.5 million is the highest Slovakia has seen in the last decade. Exports from Slovakia were above last year’s level for the fifth month in a row, although the growth rate slowed in October. The value of exports and the balance of foreign trade reached the highest value in the last 10 years. (Statistics Office)
  • Altogether 2,709 capital companies ceased to exist in Slovakia during the first nine months of 2020, specifically 2,612 limited liability companies and 97 joint-stock companies. The number has been the lowest in the past 11 years. (Bisnode)
  • Slovakia has the third-highest share of people who own their housing in the EU, amounting to 90.9 percent of its population. Only Romania (95.8 percent) and Hungary (91.7 percent) have higher shares. (Eurostat)
  • Júlia Čillíková of the National Bank of Slovakia (NBS) was elected chair of the OECD working group for private pensions by all OECD member states.

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