More than a month has passed since Western Balkans countries were affected by Coronavirus pandemic. According to data available so far, the region reported a total of 5589 confirmed cases of COVID-19 virus infection and 171 deaths.
Citizens of North Macedonia and Serbia are banned from Friday from moving from their homes for 61 and 60 hours respectively – in the most restrictive measures any Balkan countries have imposed to curb the COVID-19 pandemic.
Serbia has introduced a weekday curfew lasting from 5 pm to 5 am. Over the weekend, its citizens may walk pets twice a day and leave their home for a health emergency. Serbia has not yet totally quarantined any towns or cities, but authorities say they are “thinking about that”.
North Macedonia has also imposed more restrictive measures this week. Until Wednesday, the curfew lasted from 9 pm to 5 am – but this has been extended to run from 4 pm to 5 am on weekdays and from 4 pm on Friday to 5 am on Monday over weekends.
Other Western Balkan countries, some with more confirmed COVID-19 cases and higher death tolls have imposed similar measures, but not as restrictive as this.
Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Albania, Montenegro have imposed night-time curfews, leaving people free to move about in the day. In Serb-majority northern Kosovo, which follows Serbia’s lead in most matters, two towns have introduced a weekday curfew which will last from 12 am to 6 am for 15 days, while the movement is totally banned over this weekend for 66 hours. In the rest of Kosovo, a curfew runs from 5 pm to 6 am.
North Macedonia’s top party leaders put in isolation
The heads of North Macedonia’s two biggest political parties, Zoran Zaev of the ruling Social Democrats and Hristijan Mickoski of the opposition VMRO DPMNE party have been put in mandatory home isolation after they were both interviewed by a journalist who later tested positive for the Coronavirus.
At press conference Health Minister Venko Filipce announced that Mickoski’s tests came back negative. The same case was with Zaev, whose test results came a while later.
BiH trying to censor information about coronavirus?
Republika Srpska, the Serb-led entity, has been urged to withdraw new decree banning the spread of panic – as journalists’ union complains of repeated moves in the country to censor information about COVID-19 under the guise of preventing misinformation.
The legislation stipulates fines for individuals and companies that spread panic and fake news via the media and social networks in the range of 500 to 4,500 euros.
The rights organisation Transparency International (TI) has called on Željka Cvijanović, President of Republika Srpska, to withdraw a decree banning the spread of panic and disorder during a state of emergency, saying that the Bosnia’s constitution does not allow the entities to suspend the right to freedom of expression and opinion.
Opposition parties in RS called the regulation controversial and claimed it limits freedom of expression.
Last week, Serbia’s government revoked a decree giving it control over information on the Coronavirus outbreak, following protests and the detention of a journalist for reporting a major hospital lacked the protective gear and properly trained staff.
The emergency measure, according to which information about the Coronavirus outbreak could only come from the Government’s Crisis Staff or those authorized by it, had drawn criticism from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) watchdog and local media associations.
Croatia postpones EU-Western Balkans summit
The Croatian Presidency of the Council of the European Union has announced the postponement of all informal ministerial meetings scheduled before 15 May in Croatia due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
“Regarding the EU-Western Balkans summit scheduled to take place in Zagreb on May 7, a new date will be sought in June in agreement with the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, if the COVID-19 situation permits. Alternatively, a video conference will be organised by the end of the Croatian Presidency,” the official website of the Croatian Presidency of the Council of the European Union has announced.