Lately | COVID-19

New measures introduced as Kosovo COVID-19 cases increase

By - 16.03.2020

Authorities suspend loan payments and say that there is ample food available.

Another two COVID-19 cases were announced on Monday afternoon by the Ministry of Health as the number of confirmed cases reached 15. On Sunday evening, Kosovo’s government declared a public health emergency, following tightened restrictions that effectively placed Kosovo in lockdown. 

The two new cases, both 26-years-old, are reported to have arrived from London; they were discovered by the health service at Adem Jashari International Airport and sent to the Infectious Disease Clinic in Prishtina.

Of the 15 confirmed cases, seven are from Vitia, four from Malisheva, one from Klina, one from Prizren, one from Obiliq, and one from Podujeva. Nine of them — those with underlying health issues — are being treated in the Infectious Disease Clinic at the University Clinical Center of Kosovo, while the rest remain self-quarantined.

Following the restrictions that were introduced on Friday evening, all flight arrivals to Kosovo will be suspended after March 16, with the exception of military or medical flights. Passenger flights are allowed to depart.

The ban on all bars, cafes, restaurants, shopping malls, and animal and vehicle markets continues to stay in place. Media have reported that six people were arrested in Peja for not closing their cafe despite the government decision, and two others were arrested in Prizren for obstructing police officers who were trying to close their cafe.

"Only social distancing can prevent the further spread of COVID-19."

WHO office in Prishtina

There were no significant incidents in Prishtina; according to Miranda Mullafazliu, public information officer in the Prishtina municipality,  “citizens are showing that they are well aware of the threat of this pandemic.”

Stores selling food remain open, while shops that both sell and serve food — like bakeries — are only allowed to sell and not serve, the Mayor of Prishtina Shpend Ahmeti has said in a Facebook post. Pharmacies remain open as well; the Ministry of Agriculture has said that agricultural pharmacies will also stay open. 

The WHO office in Prishtina told K2.0 that these measures seem “adequate and necessary” for the situation. “Only social distancing can prevent the further spread of COVID-19.”  

Alleviating measures across sectors

Following government restrictions and the advice from health institutions to stay at home and avoid contact with people, additional temporary measures are being introduced across sectors to facilitate this, and to help protect Kosovo’s economy. 

Deputy Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti said in a press conference on Sunday that a stable power supply should be ensured, and that in order for citizens to remain informed, internet and mobile phone providers are instructed not to disconnect customers for failing to pay until April 30. 

The Minister of Finance and Transfers, Besnik Bislimi, has announced that pensioners are not obliged to appear physically to pension continuation centers for the time being as their pensions will not be withheld.

The government is expected to approve new measures to ensure that heating, water and waste collection services remain operational. The Prishtina Regional Water Company and the Pastrimi Cleaning Company have already extended payment deadlines. 

The Central Bank of Kosovo suspended loan installment payments until April 30 for those who have difficulties in paying their loans; the suspension could go on for longer, depending on the situation. Borrowers who have encountered financial difficulties as a result of falling incomes can contact their banks with a request to suspend credit installment payments and the bank will review requests individually. 

To safeguard beneficiaries of pension schemes, the Minister of Finance and Transfers, Besnik Bislimi, has announced that pensioners are not obliged to appear physically to pension continuation centers for the time being as their pensions will not be withheld. Applicants for social schemes are also not required to appear physically to apply and reapply, and medical sessions are suspended. 

Bislimi also postponed the deadline for issuing property tax bills, for paying the first installment of the year as well as for filing complaints on property tax bills and on certificates of estimated value.

The Minister of Economy, Employment, Trade, Industry, Entrepreneurship and Strategic Investment, Rozeta Hajdari, said in a media briefing on Monday that there are ample supplies of wheat, oil (petrol) and pharmaceuticals. “We are in contact with state reserve suppliers. The situation is under control, we should not panic,” she said. 

According to her, an order that will prohibit the rising of prices has been issued, and the trade inspectorate is continuing to conduct investigations of businesses, which were reported to have increased prices on essential items.

The Minister of Justice Albulena Haxhiu has instructed offices of notaries, private bailiffs and of other free legal professions “to possibly reduce” their contact with parties, and to cancel any other activity that would gather people. 

The Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Rural Development, Besian Mustafa, decided to help Kosovo farmers by temporarily extending the deadlines for the completion of grant projects from 2019.

Europe remains the epicenter

Global restrictions have continued to grow with the WHO declaring Europe as the epicenter of the pandemic. The European Commission proposed a 30-day suspension on all non-essential travel to the European Union.

Germany, France and the Netherlands were the latest countries announcing new restrictions, including school closings, border restrictions and the closure of cafes, bars and restaurants.

All United States Peace Corps volunteers globally — including in Kosovo —  have orders to evacuate back to the United States.

In Europe, only Montenegro continues to have no confirmed cases; the Montenegrin government has prohibited public gatherings as of last Friday, March 13. The country has closed schools, barred cruise ships and nationals from Slovenia, Demark, France, Germany and Switzerland. The mass protests led by the Serbian Orthodox Church for the last few months in Montenegro will be temporarily halted.

The advice remains to keep your distance from others, reduce outings, wash hands thoroughly, and follow recommendations of health authorities.

In the rest of the region, restrictions are also growing. Serbia has now declared a state of emergency and closed schools as well as ordered people over 65 to self-isolate. In Bosnia, the Federation of Bosnia- Herzegovina has declared a state of disaster, while Republika Srpska has declared a state of emergency. Educational institutions are closed throughout the country and classes are held online or over the public broadcasters. Croatia has closed schools and universities for two weeks. The North Macedonia health authorities have released a new interactive map to track the virus in the country.

Albania continues to be in a state of emergency, with no public or private transportation allowed. The Prime Minister Edi Rama announced in a Facebook post that starting Monday, March 16, movement on foot will be prohibited after 18:00.

Kosovo’s Ministry of Health published a webpage showing information on symptoms and preventive measures, with data gathered from the World Health Organization and local health authorities. 

The advice remains to keep your distance from others, reduce outings, wash hands thoroughly, and follow recommendations from the Ministry of Health and the National Institute of Public Health.K

Feature image: Atdhe Mulla / K2.0.