Lately | COVID-19

Kosovo enters ‘crucial’ weeks with government on the brink

COVID-19 response continues amidst no-confidence debacle.

By - 23.03.2020

Sunday marked the first death of a COVID-19 patient in Kosovo. An 82-year-old from Dumnicë e Epërme village in Podujeva died after six days of treatment in the Infectious Disease Clinic in Prishtina’s University Clinical Center of Kosovo (QKUK). 

The man had become infected through direct contact, as both his son and daughter had tested positive, according to the National Institute for Public Health. He was suffering from chronic cardiac and pulmonary disease prior to his COVID-19 diagnosis.

Two new COVID-19 cases were confirmed on Monday, with 20 tests conducted that day. There are now 35 confirmed cases in Kosovo, out of 604 tests conducted in total since February 8. The confirmed cases are a mixture of people who have entered Kosovo from different countries and people who have been in contact with them. 

Meanwhile, in a press conference on Saturday, Prime Minister Albin Kurti and Minister of Health Arben Vitia said that the next two to three weeks are “crucial in our fight” to stem the rapid spread of the disease.

“Let us therefore anticipate it,” said Kurti. “The curve of the spread is in our hands — if we act responsibly, it will be low and not too expansive.”

Motion of no-confidence submitted

What doesn’t appear to be in the hands of citizens is the holding together of the Vetëvendosje-LDK coalition government. 

On Wednesday, Isa Mustafa warned that his party would propose a motion of no-confidence following disagreements between coalition parties over the 100% tariff on Serbian goods and Kurti’s dismissal of the Minister of Internal Affairs, LDK’s Agim Veliu, after he publicly declared support for the State of Emergency proposed by President Hashim Thaçi, contrary to the government’s official stance. 

After a backlash — including nightly balcony protests and public calls from local and international politicians and diplomats — at the timing of such a move during the unprecedented global public health emergency, LDK gave an ultimatum to Kurti to reinstate Veliu as minister and remove the 100% tariff on Serbian goods by the end of the week.

“[I expect Kurti] and those with whom he collaborated in this low act to apologize to him [Veliu] and to LDK for his actions,” wrote Mustafa in a Facebook post.

The vote would be required to take place no later than Wednesday (March 25).

On Friday, the government voted to remove the 100% tariff on raw materials coming in from Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Kurti announced that by April 1, the government will issue another decision to replace the tariff that remains on other products with “reciprocal measures.”

Having received no response to his ultimatum from Kurti, on Friday, March 20, LDK formally presented a motion of no-confidence against the government it is a part of to the Assembly. The proposal gathered the support of 46 deputies, more than the one-third of all deputies (40) required by the Constitution. 

According to Kosovo’s Constitution, the motion of no-confidence has to be placed on the Assembly’s voting agenda within five days of being presented. This means the vote would be required to take place no later than Wednesday (March 25).

If a simple majority of deputies — 61 — vote in favor of the motion, the government is considered dismissed. If not, then another motion may not be raised in the next 90 days. 

According to First Deputy Speaker of the Assembly Arbërie Nagavci, on Monday the Assembly addressed a letter to the National Institute for Public Health requesting a recommendation on whether conditions exist for a vote to take place.

The Assembly has notified that its Presidency will meet on Tuesday to consider the motion of no-confidence. 

Meanwhile, President Thaçi has once again raised the idea of declaring a State of Emergency; after the death of the first person from COVID-19 on Sunday, he said in a Facebook post: “State institutions must be ready to declare a State of Emergency immediately if necessary.”

The government still maintains that since it hasn’t yet exhausted all possibilities to cope with the current circumstances, the State of Emergency can wait; Kurti’s political advisor Erzen Vraniqi told Radio Free Europe that the institutions are fully managing the situation. 

Tightened restrictions and new measures

On Friday evening the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Public Administration announced tightened restrictions on public gatherings. All parks are now officially closed from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., with police officers at their entrances to enforce the decision. Businesses are no longer allowed to sell take-away foods or beverages, tightening restrictions that already banned on-premises sales. 

Minister of Health Vitia held a press conference on Saturday in which he provided an update on Kosovo’s capacities to treat people that become hospitalized due to COVID-19. He announced that there are currently 142 respirators in Kosovo and that authorities have commissioned the purchase of 50 new ones, of which some are expected to arrive in April and the rest in May.

Donations from Kosovo’s Embassy in the Netherlands are reported by Ambassador Lirim Greiçevci to have arrived during the weekend. These include oxygen appliances and masks, surgical protective masks, patient carrier beds, protective clothing for nurses, oxygen pipes, protective gloves and catheters.

Monday marked the first day of distance learning for children up to the fifth grade, in Albanian language and mathematics. Lessons for grades six to nine are due to be prepared this week, while those for high schools and professional schools are set to follow in the coming weeks. 

Lessons are being transmitted via public television channels RTK 1 and RTK 4 starting from 11:15 a.m., with a rerun at 4 p.m. The materials will also be placed on the webpage https://emesimi.rks-gov.net/.  

Kurti has called on families “to sit their kids down in front of the TV” to follow the lessons. “While 96% of households in Kosovo are connected to the internet, as a government we will ensure that there is electricity throughout Kosovo,” he said in a Facebook post

Women inmates at Lipjan Correctional Center have begun producing surgical masks.

In a press conference on Monday, March 23, Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Rural Development Besian Mustafa said that he has managed to secure a food supply corridor for livestock and poultry in order to avoid a crisis in these two sectors, in coordination with his fellow ministers in North Macedonia and Bulgaria.

“Also, in order to ensure that our farmers and agro-processors have [an improved cash flow], I have requested the intensification of payments for grant beneficiaries and subsidies,” he said. 

He also announced that his ministry would increase subsidies by 50% for intensive greenhouse vegetable production; by 50% for raspberries as a crop with great export potential to increase export revenues; by 20% for dairy cows, sheep, goats and domestic water buffaloes; and by 50% for animals slaughtered in licensed abattoirs that comply with the highest standards to increase confidence in locally produced meat. 

Meanwhile, Kosovo Correctional Service has informed in a press release that in an effort to reduce costs for surgical masks and to prevent the spread of the pandemic within correctional facilities, women inmates at Lipjan Correctional Center have begun producing surgical masks. The masks will initially be used for the needs of all correctional and detention facilities, and if necessary for other state institutions as well.

Municipalities across the country have continued to carry out cleaning and disinfection of sites including roads, sidewalks, municipal buildings, schools, kindergartens, and family medicine centers. Kallxo.com has reported that while municipalities are disinfecting towns and cities, some lack capacity to do so in villages as well. 

Amid the ongoing restrictions on public gatherings, some business owners have continued to open their premises to the public, contrary to the government decision banning them; media have reported several arrests of people who have failed to comply. 

Return or stay put?

Kosovar citizens who are abroad have been told that they should only return to Kosovo if it is an emergency, and that they can extend their stays in the country where they are situated. Those who urgently want to return to Kosovo, or who need to extend their stays abroad, have been told to get in touch with the respective Kosovo Embassies and Consulates as soon as possible. 

On Thursday, Minister of Environment and Infrastructure Lumir Abdixhiku wrote in a Facebook post that: “The return of citizens recorded by our embassies abroad, in a careful and organized way, and without danger to citizens here — will continue.”

Abdixhiku confirmed that each returnee will be quarantined in Prishtina’s Student Center for 14 days upon arrival. Returnees are being transported from the airport and land borders to the quarantine center by Kosovo Security Forces.

The Kosovo Embassy in Bangkok reported that Kosovo has repatriated all of its nationals from Thailand and other Association of South-East Asian Nation State (ASEAN) countries.

International support

International organizations have been announcing monetary and equipment donations to Kosovo. The European Union has announced it will be giving 5 million euros to support Kosovo during the crisis. 

The World Bank has donated 7.9 million euros to support Kosovo’s efforts against COVID-19, according to a Kosovo government press release.

Various United Nations agencies, including the World Health Organization (WHO), United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and United Nations Development Program (UNDP) are also continuing to provide technical support and donations. UNICEF says it has donated personal protection equipment (PPE) to the Ministry of Health and to the hospital in the north of Mitrovica. 

The regional WHO office told K2.0 that it has also sent a donation of medical equipment, including PPE, to the Ministry of Health from its regional headquarters in Dubai.

Meanwhile, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) told K2.0 that it is continuing to provide support to asylum seekers trapped in Kosovo during the crisis through its partner organizations and the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Public Administration. UNHCR says that 177 people are in the asylum center, the majority of them from Syria, Palestine Morocco and Iraq. Any new asylum seeker entering the center in Magura, Lipjan, will be required to self-isolate for 14 days. 

Global picture

Globally, there have now been more than 300,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with the top five countries affected in terms of number of confirmed cases being China, Italy, the U.S., Spain and Germany. Over 98,000 people have recovered from the virus, while over 14,000 people have died.

Italy, whose health system has been overwhelmed by the scale of the crisis, recorded the largest number of deaths in one day over the weekend, with 793 people killed. Over 200 people have now died in the UK, which has introduced new restrictive measures in recent days, following other countries throughout Europe and the world. New York City, in the U.S., accounts for 5% of the total global confirmed cases. 

Croatia, which has more than 300 COVID-19 cases, was rocked over the weekend after its capital Zagreb was struck by an earthquake on Sunday morning, causing damage to buildings and injuring 17 people, one critically. Following the 5.3 magnitude earthquake, authorities have insisted that the population maintain its social distancing measures.

North Macedonia announced its first COVID-19 death at the weekend, after a 57-year-old woman died in the hospital in Kumanovo. The country has already declared a State of Emergency, has closed its borders to foreign nationals and has introduced a curfew from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m.

Both Montenegro and Serbia have reported their first deaths from the virus; Serbia has announced an increase in its curfew from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m, while Montenegro has begun publicly listing all people — and their addresses — ordered into 14-day quarantine.

Bosnia and Herzegovina, which has declared a State of Emergency, also reported its first death over the weekend. Its Federation has banned anyone under 18 and over 65 from leaving their homes and has introduced a nighttime curfew from 6 p.m. to 5 a.m. The Republika Srpska has initiated a night time curfew and also bans anyone over 65 from leaving their home.

Albania, which has adopted emergency COVID-19 legislation, has seen 15 new COVID-19 cases confirmed in the past 24 hours, bringing the country’s total number of cases to 104; four people have died.

The WHO is concerned that many young people think the virus will not affect them. “Even if you don’t get sick, the choices you make about where you go could be the difference between life and death for someone else,” the WHO Director General said at his latest press conference on March 20. “Data from many countries clearly show that people under 50 make up a significant proportion of patients requiring hospitalization.”K

Feature image: Atdhe Mulla / K2.0.