Lately | COVID-19

Initial confusion as new restrictions begin

Ministry of Health moves to clarify a series of uncertainties.

By - 15.04.2020

New restrictions on movement began in Kosovo on Wednesday (April 15), but there has been confusion from some citizens surrounding the new measures.

The measures were introduced after a significant rise in new COVID-19 cases in Kosovo over the weekend. However there have been a number of inconsistencies in the official information published by the Ministry of Health, and communication officials at the Ministry have struggled to provide clarifications sought by journalists as they seek to fully understand the new measures themselves. 

On Monday (April 13) the Ministry of Health set out a range of restrictions on movement that it said would enter into force on Wednesday (April 15) at 17:00; it also laid out new restrictions on vehicle use that it stated would come into force on April 14.

However, the decision “template” subsequently published by the Ministry of Health (in the late hours of Tuesday) indicated that all restrictions were to enter into force at 6:00 on April 15. 

On Wednesday afternoon, the Ministry published the individual signed decisions for each municipality in Kosovo. These are based on the previously published “template” and formally implement the new measures.

In most cases, the time slot during which an individual is permitted to move outside is determined by the penultimate digit of their “personal number.”

One of the biggest changes brought in by the measures has been the introduction of specified time slots in which residents may leave their homes to carry out essential tasks such as buying food and medicines. 

While a curfew had previously been in place, allowing citizens to move outside only between the hours of 06:00 and 17:00 (with some variations in quarantined municipalities), the new system has specified 1.5 hour slots, starting at 7:00 and ending at 22:30. 

In most cases, the time slot during which an individual is permitted to move outside is determined by the penultimate digit (one before last) of their “personal number,” which can be found on their Kosovo ID card. However initial explanatory images published by the Ministry of Health referred to the “ID card number,” which is different to the personal number.  

New images have subsequently been published to clarify the issue. 

The Ministry of Health has also sought to clarify how those assigned to time slots later in the evening, after many shops and banks are closed, will be able to carry out their essential functions. 

Late on Tuesday night, the Ministry published a “template” of its full decision with annexes, one of which informed that the allocated time slots would change every three or four days; a newly established website, Kurmedal.com, enables residents to enter the penultimate digit of their personal number on their ID card in order to work out when they are permitted to leave their home on a given day. 

The annexes to the Ministry’s decision also list the operations and economic activities that are exempt from the new restrictions, after the information initially published on April 13 omitted a number of specific details. 

"Members of the Serb community risk being punished for violating measures of which they were not notified."

NGO Aktiv

However, while the initial information shared by the Ministry of Health was published in both of Kosovo’s official languages — Albanian and Serbian — plus in English, concerns have been raised that the subsequent more detailed information has to date only been published in Albanian.

NGO Aktiv, an organization based in North Mitrovica that aims to increase the meaningful engagement of Kosovo’s Serb community, says that the members of the Serb community have not been notified about the new rules, which poses a violation of the right to official use of the Serbian language and the right to equality of citizens before the law. 

The organization has called on Kosovo’s government to ensure that any decisions setting out new measures on movement are translated into the Serbian language.

“In the absence of a Serbian translation of the Ministry of Health’s decisions, members of the Serb community risk being punished for violating measures of which they were not notified,” says an NGO Aktiv press release.

“Kosovo Police should suspend the implementation of punitive measures in case of violation of the new rules until the translation of decisions into Serbian is ensured as an equal official language in Kosovo.”

Clarifications on whether the measures applied to international institutions were provided in one of the annexes of the decisions — again, only in Albanian — after this detail was initially left out of the information originally published by the Ministry of Health. 

International institutions that are registered with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as “non-resident” are exempt from the time slot system and foreign staff are permitted to move freely within quarantined municipalities and between them at all hours. 

Other additional information provided by the Ministry of Health decisions includes the specification that individuals are allowed to go outside alone to physically exercise during their allocated time slot. 

Those who live more than 2km away from the nearest market, pharmacy, bank, or payment service, may use their vehicle to go to the nearest such facility. 

Individuals are also permitted to leave their houses outside of their time slot to participate in the funeral of a close family member.

K2.0 contacted the Ministry of Health to seek clarifications about the new restrictions, but had not received answers at the time of publishing.K

Feature image: Atdhe Mulla / K2.0.