European Western Balkans

COVID-19 in the WB: Measures loosened across the region, still tighter than in the EU

According to data available so far, the region reported a total of 11896 confirmed cases of COVID-19 virus infection. Some countries in the Western Balkans that have been in lockdown for over a month have decided to lift some of the measures imposed by the authorities to control the spread of coronavirus infection.

Starting from Tuesday, services such as mechanics, tailors, dry cleaners and retailers reopened in Serbia, as well as farmers’ markets, although with some protective measures in place. Still, for the third weekend in the row, citizens are forbidden from going outside on Saturday and Sunday. People with disabilities, alongside one family member, are allowed to go for a walk and people who have pets can take them out twice a day.

Government of North Macedonia announced on Monday that his cabinet is preparing a plan to gradually bring the country back to normal which might be adopted and put into action in early May. The government has said that the easing of restrictions will happen in phases and that the first phase would see a reduction in the length of the daily curfews which currently run from 4 pm to 5 am each working day and right throughout the weekends.

Montenegro’s National Coordination Body for Infectious Diseases on Tuesday announced that the country’s curfew will be extended, and is to run from 11 pm to 5 am the next day. They also re-opened the quarantined town of Tuzi, and citizens from the municipality can now travel to Podgorica and Danilovgrad. Montenegrin Prime Minister Duško Marković said that shops, hotels, cafes and restaurants will start to reopen in the second half of May.

Albanian Parliament Ilir Meta adopted Prime Minister Edi Rama’s request to extend a state of emergency until 23 June due to COVID-19 pandemic. The government’s request to postpone the state of emergency until 23 June cause controversy among the opposition, which considered it an unnecessary and uncoordinated measure with experts.

North Macedonia ruling party pushes for parliament to re-convene

The main ruling Social Democratic Union, SDSM, on Wednesday confirmed that its MPs are collecting signatures for a petition to reconvene parliament amid the coronavirus crisis.

“In this situation, the Parliament should be operable. It is good to reconvene parliament, having in mind the longevity of this health crisis and of course [the need] for confirmation of the decisions of the President [Stevo Pendarovski],” party spokesperson Kostadin Kostadinov wrote in a press statement, Balkan Insight reported.

Parliament in the country was dissolved in February, ahead of the health crisis, in expectation of now postponed early general elections that were due to take place on April 12.

North Macedonia is the only country in the region whose parliament has not convened since the pandemic started. In Serbia, National Assembly is also set to meet next week, more than 40 days after the state of emergency was announced. Sidestepping the parliament has drawn criticism from the EU and some members of the opposition.

Bosnian entity eases lockdown on seniors and children after court ruling

Bosnia’s autonomous Bosniak-Croat Federation on Friday loosened restrictions intended to stop the spread of the new Coronavirus by keeping seniors and children from leaving their homes at all after the top court ruled those restrictions violated the constitution, Reuters reported.

As of Friday, people older than 65 will be allowed to leave their homes from 9 to 13 on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Those younger than 18 will be allowed out on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday from 14 to 20, the region’s crisis staff decided.

Early this week, Bosnia’s Constitutional Court, the top court in the country, ruled on Wednesday that banning minors and people over 65 from leaving their homes because of the Coronavirus pandemic breaches their right to freedom of movement.

Explaining its ruling, the court said the movement curbs did not fulfill the principle of “proportionality” in connection with the European Convention because the authorities had not made clear why they estimated certain age groups had a larger risk of being infected or of transmitting the infection.

In response to an appeal by a group of citizens, Bosnia’s Constitutional Court social distancing and other protective measures still needed to be observed.

In Serbia, similar measure was in place until this week, targeting only senior citizens (65 and older). They are now allowed to go for a walk on Tuesday, Friday and Sunday during the time when other people are in quarantine.

A Serbian epidemiologist admits that the country did not have enough equipment at the start of COVID-19 crisis

Epidemiologist and Coronavirus expert team member Predrag Kon said on Tuesday that he knew there was not enough equipment at the start of the Coronavirus epidemic, but that he felt it was not helpful to speak publicly.

“I personally would never go out in public and start whining that there is nothing. Nobody suggested it to me, or anything to do with it”, Kon said during the press conference.

He added that he did not find it useful to say that there was nothing in the situation when there was none.

He stressed that it would be reassessed who suffered the damage, adding that it was important to rethink the responsibility for this pandemic situation as well as the good sides, which would take decades.

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