European Western Balkans

COVID-19 in the Western Balkans: Sharpest measure yet during Orthodox Easter weekend

Photo: pixabay

According to data available so far, the region reported a total of 9297 confirmed cases of COVID-19 virus infection and 247 deaths. Western Balkans governments are taking the sharper measure before Orthodox Easter.

Macedonian President Stevo Pendarovski on Thursday summoned the National Security Council to make a decision on whether to extend North Macedonia’s state of emergency for another 30 days amid the coronavirus pandemic. The country proclaimed the state of emergency on March 18, when a total of 41 people were infected with the disease.

Despite the threat of the coronavirus spreading, the Macedonian Orthodox Church has decided to keep its churches open for the Orthodox Easter this weekend and to allow communions for believers. The Orthodox Church said religious artefacts used in the Easter ceremony will be disinfected and has advised the people who wish to attend masses to wear face masks or scarves to protect themselves.

The Albanian government reviewed lockdown rules on Monday as the country enters in the fifth week of lockdown since the first case of coronavirus. New measures enter in force and stay-at-home directive continues to be the main rule. As the Orthodox Easter is expected to be celebrated this weekend, the new order extends the total lockdown not only Sunday but starting from Friday 17:30 to Monday 5:00 am no one is allowed to leave home for any reason.

As Prime Minister Edi Rama said last week, the first phase of the lockdown is expected to finish in the end of May, when many activities could cautiously turn to “the new normal state” and many could go back to work. Albania is meanwhile pondering the partial reopening of economic activity and cross-border travel in line with some other countries in Europe.

The most complex measures were introduced in Kosovo starting from Wednesday – every citizen will have 90 minutes a day to go outside, and when they will be able to do so depends on the next to last number of their ID card. People with numbers 0 and 1, for example, can go outside from 7 to 8:30 am, while people with number 9 can do so from 21 to 22:30.

In Serbia President Aleksandar Vučić announced earlier in the week that curfew for the coming weekend in Serbia will be extended to Tuesday.

“I think the decision will be to start – so that people can get everything they need on Good Friday – on Friday at 5 pm until Tuesday at 5 am, Monday is in any case a non-working day”, Vučić told public broadcaster Radio Television Serbia on Tuesday evening.

He also said that children with disabilities and their parents are allowed to go out for a walk whenever they want – reversing an earlier decision to let them go out between 6 pm and 8 pm – and that people older than 65, who have been under a total movement ban for a month, will also be able to go for a walk starting next week.

The Republika Srpska Crisis Staff has decided to impose a ban on outdoor movement over much of the Easter weekend in the Serb-led entity. The ban will last from 3 pm on Friday to 5 am on Saturday, and then from 3 pm on Saturday from 5 am on Monday. This measure is designed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in Republika Srpska. It applies to all citizens except for medical workers, police and security agency workers, as well as people who urgently need medical care.

Albanian Parliament adopts harsh prison sentences for violating isolation

On Thursday, the Albanian Parliament has approved the government’s proposal to make changes to the Criminal Code by introducing harsh prison sentences for violators of the COVID-19 measures. The draft law was approved by 88 votes during a special parliamentary meeting, while 13 voted against it and one abstained, Tirana Times reported.

The draft law was approved with several modifications since it was first proposed by the government last week, taking into consideration recommendations by the Legal Affairs Committe and President Ilir Meta. The latter sent a modified version of the draft of the proposed changes to the parliament, calling for milder sentences for violators, so as not to conflict with the Constitution.

Opposition MP Rudina Hajdari said that she welcomes these improvements, but stressed that it is not the right time to change the Criminal Code as it is a time of pandemic. According to her, more time is needed for reflection so that the changes do not conflict with the Constitution and human rights.

North Macedonia puts three ministers in isolation

North Macedonia’s caretaker Prime Minister Oliver Spasovski, Vice Prime Minister for European Affairs Bujar Osmani, Health Minister Venko Filipce and Education Minister Arber Ademi will be put in home isolation for 14 days, the government told Deutsche Welle on Thursday.

The move comes after the ministers had a meeting with the local authorities in the town of Kumanovo, one of the country’s COVID-19 hotspots. Following the meeting, Kumanovo’s mayor, Maksim Dimitrievski, said that he has been diagnosed with the Coronavirus.

The minister’s isolation will not hamper the normal functioning of the government, the authorities insisted, as government sessions will be held via videoconferencing calls.

Meanwhile, the Prime Minister and the three affected ministers did not attend Thursday’s Security Council meeting at the presidential office, after which President Stevo Pendarovski said that the state of emergency in the country will be extended for another 30 days.

Kosovo Criticised for not Publishing COVID-19 Decisions in Serbian

Kosovo’s Ministry of Health has been criticised for publishing information on the new COVID-19 movement restrictions only in Albanian, the language of the majority community.

Government websites in Kosovo are trilingual, with every update published in Albanian, Serbian and English.

By not publishing the latest COVID-19-related rules and decisions in Serbian, members of the ethnic Serbian community will lack proper information, a local NGO Activ, which works to increase the involvement and participation in active citizenship of Kosovo Serbs, wrote on Twitter.

It said that Kosovo Serbs were “in a position where they can be penalised for violating rules that they were unable to familiarise themselves with”, due to not having access to official information in their own language.

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