Lately | COVID-19

Government eases COVID-19 restrictions as cases soar

By - 29.07.2020

Bar opening hours extended and kindergartens, gyms reopen.

Kosovo’s government approved a new set of measures easing COVID-19 restrictions on Tuesday (July 28), despite the rapid spread of the virus in recent weeks. The government decision comes as the number of cases in Kosovo has continued to rise sharply, with regular new records of infected people marked despite a number of restrictive measures introduced earlier in the month.

More than 200 new confirmed COVID-19 cases are now regularly reported daily, even though a limit on testing capacity means that many people who suspect they may be infected are unable to get tested. The confirmed number of COVID-19 related deaths in Kosovo is now 196, up from 54 at the start of July, and there are reports that the health system across the country is under strain from the influx of patients. 

On July 25, Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti said in a press conference that 570 of Kosovo’s 700 hospital beds are taken.

Amidst the growing concern at the public health emergency, the government announced on Tuesday night that it was easing the restriction on bars, cafes, restaurants and nightclubs that had previously seen them required to close by 9 p.m. They are now allowed to stay open until 10:30 p.m.

The decision to ease the restrictions on these venues follows a protest by gastronomic business owners in Prishtina on Monday.

These businesses are still only permitted to operate in open spaces, while the minimum distance required between tables has been explicitly set at 2 meters. This is a slight extension of the 1.5 meter requirement set out in the government’s July 5 decision, although a decision on July 13 already required citizens to keep a 2 meter distance in public.

The decision to ease the restrictions on these venues follows a protest by gastronomic business owners in Prishtina on Monday.

Another area where restrictions have been eased is kindergartens, which are now allowed to open “after evaluation and supervision by municipal authorities.” The previous government decision, on July 13, had suspended the work of kindergartens. 

There has also been some easing in restrictions on sports activities, with gyms and indoor swimming pools allowed to reopen; the government had previously suspended all indoor sporting activity on July 13. “Individual sports” are also now permitted.

However other restrictions relating to sporting activity have simultaneously been tightened by the latest decision, which prohibits “recreational, cultural and sports activities in indoor and outdoor environments.”

K2.0 contacted the government seeking clarification of the rationale behind its decision, but had not received a response at the time of publishing. 

Few new restrictions

The government’s announcement of its latest decision on Tuesday included a host of information about restrictions. However the majority of these restrictive measures are not new, having already been introduced earlier in the month.

Ongoing restrictions include a ban on gatherings of more than five people in public spaces, with the new announcement stating that this includes “private family gatherings.” Everyone is still required to wear masks at all times outside of home, and to keep a distance of 2 meters.

A specific curfew for older people and those with chronic health conditions remains in place. They are only allowed to move outside their homes for five hours* in the morning (5a.m. to 10a.m.) and for three hours in the evening (6p.m. to 9p.m.).

A curfew from 10:30 p.m. to 5 a.m. now applies to all citizens in 13 municipalities: Prishtina, Fushë Kosova, Peja, Prizren, Podujeva, South Mitrovica, Gjakova, Lipjan, Strpce, Ferizaj, Drenas, Vushtrri and Gjilan.

The government had previously warned that it would impose a one week self-isolation requirement for Kosovo residents returning from neighboring countries.

Public transport measures remain the same: Buses, vans and taxis are still permitted to operate only at half capacity in terms of the number of passengers allowed inside.

Citizens of North Macedonia, Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina are still required to present negative COVID-19 test results no older than 72 hours when entering Kosovo, as per the government’s decision earlier this month. 

Last night’s decision adds citizens of Albania and Serbia to this list, stating that this is “according to the principle of reciprocity.” However, Kosovo citizens are not required to present negative test results when entering Albania or Serbia, so it is unclear what this means. 

There are exceptions to this rule for travelers in transit (provided that they leave within 3 to 5 hours, depending on the type of transport), professional drivers, diplomats and their families, and people who come to Kosovo for medical treatment.

With the Islamic holiday Eid Qurban (Kurban Bajrami) falling on the coming Friday (July 31), measures relating to religious rituals and ceremonies stay in place. Citizens are prohibited from physically attending all religious ceremonies and activities, while the latest decisions bans the slaughtering of animals in any premise (open or closed) other than those that are authorized.

The government had previously warned that it would impose a one week self-isolation requirement for Kosovo residents returning from neighboring countries if they did not have a negative COVID-19 test. However, this had caused divided opinions within the coalition government, and was not included in the latest decision.K

Feature image: Atdhe Mulla / K2.0.

* Editor’s note: The originally published version of this article said that older people (over the age of 65) are permitted outside in the morning for four hours. This should have said “five hours,” and has been corrected.