Lately | COVID-19

Kosovo records new daily high in COVID-19 cases

By - 07.07.2020

New restrictive measures entered into force on Monday.

Kosovo recorded its highest number of new confirmed COVID-19 cases on Monday as 195 people tested positive for the coronavirus. The majority of those cases, 102, were in Prishtina. 

The latest numbers come a day after the government introduced new restrictive measures in an attempt to tackle the pandemic as cases have risen sharply in recent weeks. The weekend also saw new record numbers in Kosovo, with both the highest number of fatalities and confirmed new cases in a single weekend since the beginning of the pandemic in mid-March.

Seventeen COVID-19 patients are reported to have died in the country’s hospitals during the weekend; after a further four deaths on Monday, the total number of fatalities of people with confirmed COVID-19 now stands at 79. With Monday’s record numbers adding to more than 300 confirmed new cases over the weekend, Kosovo’s Institute for Public Health says there are now over 1,600 active cases across the country. 

The new government measures range from a citizen curfew at night in four municipalities, to new regulations for the operation of bars, while health institutions are also to be reorganized and have been given new priorities. 

Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti also said that the government will start regularly reporting on what is happening inside the Infectious Disease Clinic at the University Clinical Center of Kosovo (QKUK) to show people “exactly what those people who are affected by COVID-19 are suffering from,” after citing a survey that suggested 30% of Kosovars don’t believe the coronavirus exists.

Minister of Health Armend Zemaj said on Monday that the implementation of the new measures is “not by desire, but by the imperative of the situation created by [people] disrespecting the [restriction] easing measures.”

Measures introduced from July 6

As QKUK’s Infectious Disease Clinic has reportedly passed its capacities for admitting new patients and other clinics and regional hospitals are seeing rising numbers of hospitalizations, the government decided in its virtual meeting on Sunday (July 5) to reorganize clinics and to allocate more beds and medical equipment to treat affected patients. 

The decision obliges the Ministry of Health and other responsible institutions to mobilize medical staff across the country, including those who are not currently active in the profession, and to reorganize health staff with a focus on COVID-19 patients.

It comes as healthcare workers have warned that Kosovo doesn’t have sufficient staff to treat the rising number of COVID-19 patients. Blerim Syla, head of the Health Workers’ Union, told Radio Free Europe on Sunday (July 5) that healthcare staff are “exhausted and overwhelmed.”

“I don’t want to spread panic that the situation is getting out of control, but I can say that we are getting beyond our capacities,” he said. 

The same curfew is extended to bars, cafés, restaurants and other gastronomic venues across the whole country.

The new measures foresee the licensing of private health institutions to conduct testing, and a shift to only the “most needy” being prioritized for testing. For the first three months of the outbreak in Kosovo, authorities tested the known contacts of all those who had been confirmed as having COVID-19, but due to rising cases and limited testing capacity this had already been reduced on June 22 to symptomatic contacts only.

From Monday (July 6), the government reinstated a citizen curfew from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. in Prishtina, Vushtrri, Ferizaj and Prizren; exceptions include people with urgent health needs, those seeking help from institutions in cases of domestic violence, people helping family members who are sick or who have additional support needs, and situations where there has been a death of a family member.

The same curfew (9 p.m. to 5 a.m.) is extended to bars, cafés, restaurants and other gastronomic venues across the whole country. In addition, during the hours that they are allowed to work (5 a.m. to 9 p.m.), these businesses are only permitted to open in outside spaces, and there must be a minimum of 1.5 meters between tables. 

To ensure that this minimum physical distance is respected, public transport is only permitted to operate at half its usual capacity in terms of the number of passengers allowed inside. 

Zemaj has warned of penalties for anyone who fails to comply with the new measures. “The inspectors from the inspectorates (Sanitary Inspectorate of the Food and Veterinary Agency, of the Ministry of Trade and Industry, Municipal Inspectorates, and security mechanisms, etc.) will supervise the implementation of the measures. Municipalities will fully reactivate the emergency headquarters,” he wrote in a Facebook post on Monday.

Asked in a press conference on Sunday about the legal basis for imposing sanctions for non-compliance, Prime Minister Hoti said that the Law on Infectious Diseases is “sufficient.” 

However Artan Murati, adviser to President of the Assembly Vjosa Osmani, has said that the existing legal basis is “absolutely not sufficient” for addressing the pandemic and that a new law is necessary. Osmani initiated the Draft Law on Prevention and Combating Pandemic COVID-19 in April, but it is still awaiting review by the government.

The government’s Office for Public Communication told that the draft law will be reviewed in the next government meeting, which is expected to be held this week.K

Feature image: Atdhe Mulla / K2.0.