In-depth | COVID-19

The government adopts new anti-COVID-19 measures

By - 12.11.2020

Curfew in several municipalities, while the hospitals are almost at full capacity.

Starting from Friday (November 13), citizen movement and economic activity will be allowed only until 7 p.m. in the “high risk” municipalities that within one week have had over 150 new COVID-19 cases for every 100,000 residents. 

This is one of the measures to prevent new infections as part of the new government decision that was published on Thursday (November 12). 

The Kosovo prime minister, Avdullah Hoti, has laid out the new measures in a news conference on Wednesday (November 11), after the spike in new infections that has caused a rapid rise in the number of hospitalized patients. 

On Wednesday, 733 new cases were recorded, which is 50% of the 1,519 tests conducted within 24 hours. Meanwhile, four infected people have died. 

In the conference, Hoti has described the situation as “severely difficult,” stating that the projections of the National Institute of Public Health (NIPH) for the following days and weeks are “quite pessimistic” and worrying. 

Over 600 COVID-19 patients are hospitalized in all the health facilities in the country, while the overall capacities are around 900.

According to the government’s decision that was approved on Thursday, municipalities are categorized into three groups: High, medium, and low risk. Weekly data will be published by the NIPH and the Ministry of Health, and the categorization of municipalities will be updated based on that data.  

High risk municipalities, according to prime minister Hoti, currently are Prishtina, Podujeva, Obiliq, Fushë Kosova, South Mitrovica, Gjilan, Ferizaj, Shtime, Gjakova and Peja. For these municipalities, there will be a curfew for all residents beginning from 7 p.m. until 5 a.m.  

Economic activity, including gastronomy, hospitality and shopping centers will be stopped during the same hours. “Practically [there will be] a curfew in those municipalities,” said Hoti in the news conference on Wednesday. 

For the municipalities with medium risk — with 75 to 150 infected per 100,000 residents — economic activity will be allowed until 6 p.m. (after that there will only be “take-away” and “delivery” services), however, there will be no curfew. 

Meanwhile in the low risk municipalities — with fewer than 75 infected for every 100,000 residents — economic activity will be allowed until 8 p.m. and there will be no curfew for residents.

Hoti stated that the new measures are necessary to prevent overloading  health facilities with patients seeking help as a result of being infected. 

About two weeks ago, when K2.0 wrote about the recent spike in cases, there were around 300 hospitalized patients throughout the country. This number has since doubled: Over 600 COVID-19 patients are hospitalized in all health facilities in the country, while the overall capacities are around 900. 

New restrictions across the country 

Along with the movement and economic activity restrictions, the government has taken several additional measures, which mainly update existing ones and are applied to the whole territory of Kosovo. 

People over the age of 65 can leave their houses only during the periods between 6 a.m.-10 a.m. and 4 p.m.-7 p.m. Outside of the curfew, they can only go out for medical needs and emergencies.

People with chronic illnesses and pregnant and breastfeeding women are exempted from going to work, while employers are instructed to enable them to work from home as much as possible. 

The decision will be reviewed within two weeks.

All public rallies and gatherings of over five people continue to be prohibited for all public spaces. Public transport is allowed to operate within 50% of their capacities, while taxis are allowed to only take one passenger seated in the back or up to three passengers from the same family. 

Theaters, cinemas, museums, and other cultural institutions are allowed to continue their activities using 30% of their spaces.

Gyms and indoor pools are allowed to operate using 40% of their spaces. Other sports activities are allowed in both closed and open spaces. For individual sports, up to 20 people can participate during training in closed spaces, and up to 50 people during competitions. 

Kosovo citizens who are residents in another country and foreign citizens “who come from high risk countries, according to the official ECDC list” are obliged to provide a negative test result to enter Kosovo, otherwise, they are obliged to self-isolate for one week. Exceptions are only applied to people who are transiting through Kosovo, professional transporters, and foreign diplomats and their families. 

Meanwhile, medical teams from the Main Family Medical Centers will be relocated onto the borders to measure the temperatures and “overall checkup” of the travelers. 

Higher education will be held online with the exception of exams, and “practical” and laboratory work. Pre-university education will continue in the same manner, while municipal authorities will decide the measures for kindergartens. 

The decision will be reviewed within two weeks. 

Initial reactions

The manner through which the new measures were taken was contested by Shpend Ahmeti, mayor of the Municipality of Prishtina, which is currently in the red zone. 

“Prishtina [is] in the red zone, while Lipjan and Gračanica are in the green as if we’re hundreds of kilometers away,” he wrote in a Facebook post. “If a municipality conducts no tests, therefore there are no positive cases, then it is in the green zone. Of course, Prishtina with 12,000 tests conducted will result in greater numbers than Ferizaj with 350 tests conducted.” 

Ahmeti added that he is against the lockdown “with such principles and criteria” and “with no economic aid for businesses and citizens.” 

Meanwhile, the Kosovo Chamber of Commerce (KCC) supported the measures taken by the Kosovo Government, inviting businesses to respect them. The KCC Chairman, Berat Rukiqi, said that he was against a total lockdown and that the latest decisions enable the preservation of public health and the minimal functioning of the economy as well. 

He added that the penalties for businesses who do not respect the measures can go up to three months of enforced closure. 

The pandemic and preventive measures have shaken the country’s fragile economy. According to the World Bank analysis, Kosovo’s economy is expected to contract by 8.8% during 2020. 

Meanwhile, the draft law on Economic Recovery which takes into account the implementation of the Economic Recovery Package worth over 350 million euros has not been reviewed during its second reading in the Assembly. The second reading was to take place on Wednesday (November 11), but the Assembly lacked a quorum. The draft law was voted on during its first reading on October 12, after six failed attemptsK

Feature Image: Atdhe Mulla / K2.0.

Reporting by Bekë Veliu and Tringë Sokoli.