Coronavirus in the Western Balkans General Overview, 27 March 2020
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Coronavirus in the Western Balkans General Overview, 27 March 2020

The European Commission has announced more than €400 million for countries in the region to deal with COVID-19. The Commissioner for Enlargement, Olivér Várhelyi, announced on Wednesday 25 March that €38 million would be made available as immediate support for the health sector in the Western Balkan countries. He added that the European Commission planned to reallocate more than €373 million for social and economic recovery.

Confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Western Balkans (27 March 2020)

Country   Confirmed Cases Deaths Recovered Cases/1M population Death/1M population EU financial assistance in total
Albania   186 8 31 64.6 2.8 €50 million
Bosnia and Herzegovina     230 3 5 70.1 0.9 €80 million
Kosovo* 86 1 1 / / €68 million
Montenegro   70 1 0 111.5 1.6 €68.3 million
North Macedonia   219 3 3 105.1 1.4 €66 million
Serbia 528 8 15 60.4 0.9 €93.4 million

Source: Coronavirus COVID-19 Global Cases by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University (JHU)

1. Albania

The majority of COVID-19 cases (59%) are located in Tirana.

On Tuesday evening (24.03.2020) the Government of Albania decided to declare the State of Natural Disaster due to the COVID-19 pandemic situation. The Government is now empowered to take extraordinary measures including limitation of people’s movements, imposing isolation or quarantine on individuals or the entire population, house-to-house searches, etc.

Albania is under a national lockdown, with people allowed to go out only between 05:00 and 13:00 during the day (16-hour daily curfew), all public gatherings are banned, and only food stores and pharmacies remain open.

During an appearance on Tuesday, PM Edi Rama also announced financial assistance for three categories of individuals: double the payment during the “time of war” for families that receive economic welfare aid, for those who have small businesses, and for those who are unemployed because of the coronavirus situation.

Foreign assistance:

  • The European Union has allocated €50 million to Albania for support in the health sector and socio-economic recovery of the country. Of these, €4 million for immediate equipment and health support, €11 million for social protection and €35 million for economic recovery.
  • Albania has asked China for help and support with medical professionals to better fight the COVID-19 situation in the country.
  • PM Edi Rama published on social media photos of several new ambulances that will be arriving from Turkey to Albania, as part of a Turkish grant for Albania’s civil emergency structures.

2. Bosnia and Herzegovina

On 17 March 2020, the Council of Ministers of Bosnia and Herzegovina declared a state of emergency in all of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

On 24 March 2020, the Council of Ministers of Bosnia and Herzegovina issued a decision which bans entrance for all foreigners, and also from 30 March 2020 all borders at airports in Bosnia and Herzegovina will be closed for passengers, and airplanes could land only to deliver cargo. On 21 March 2020, a curfew was introduced for the entire Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina every day from 18:00 until 05:00, and its implementation started on 22 March 2020. On 21 March 2020, a curfew was introduced in Republika Srpska every day from 20:00 until 05:00.

Foreign assistance:

  • EU financial assistance: €7 million for immediate needs, €28 million for medical and other short term needs and up to €45 million support to the economy.
  • On Monday, Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić discussed Serbia’s assistance to the Republika Srpska but also the whole of Bosnia and Herzegovina in the fight against coronavirus with Serb Member of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina Milorad Dodik.  
  • The US Government on 23 March 2020 donated medical materials and other important supplies to the Armed Forces of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

3. Kosovo

The Government of Kosovo has imposed strict restrictions on the movement of citizens. As of Tuesday, the government imposed a lockdown from 10:00 – 16:00 and from 20:00-06:00.

Kosovo lawmakers dismissed the government of Prime Minister Albin Kurti in a no-confidence vote triggering a political crisis. With 82 votes in favour in the 120-seat parliament, the Cabinet did not survive the vote initiated by coalition partner the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK), less than two months after the government took power. The government was dismissed after a dispute over whether to declare a state of emergency to combat the coronavirus.

Foreign assistance:

  • The European Union will help Kosovo in fighting coronavirus crisis and its socio-economic impact by allocating nearly €70 million: €5 million for immediate needs, €50 million for mitigating the socio-economic impact of the crisis and €13 million to support the private sector.

4. Montenegro

Montenegro had been the last uninfected European country. The first case was confirmed on 17 March 2020.

The government introduced a set of measures including the suspension of international traffic for all passengers – except for arrivals of Montenegrin nationals announced by diplomatic missions and consular posts; a ban on intercity traffic – except for transport of goods, supply and delivery of medicines and emergency medical assistance; a ban on the presence of retention of more than two individuals together in an open public space – except for persons who are carrying out their regular working tasks. The government ordered the inhabitants of the Municipality of Tuzi not to leave their homes to prevent the continued spread of the coronavirus, which was detected in a large number in that municipality.

The National Coordination Body for the Suppression of Infectious Disease digitally published the identity of persons (addresses) who were ordered into obligatory 14-day self-isolation. Several prominent CSOs and representatives of the opposition stated that this decision to publish the personal data of those who are in self-isolation was unconstitutional, illegal, contrary to European standard of the right to privacy and a violation of human rights.

Foreign assistance:

  • The EU has made €3 million available to address some of the most urgent needs of the health sector in Montenegro. Together with the national authorities, preparations have also started on a €50 million crisis response package by bringing forward and reprogramming the already available pre-accession funds dedicated to Montenegro as well as working to speed up implementation of planned programmes and projects already in the pipeline, such as for instance the cooperation within the €15 million Employment, Education and Social Multi-annual operation programme.  

5. North Macedonia

North Macedonia has declared a state of emergency on Wednesday 18 March 2020. The state of emergency is initially set to last 30 days but can be extended. It allows the government to adopt and enforce decrees to counter the disease in the absence of parliament which was disbanded before an election that had been due on 12 April but has now been canceled. The government made the decision to impose curfew between 21:00 and 06:00 and ban gatherings of more than five people, in order to prevent the spreading of the coronavirus.

Foreign assistance:

  • EU allocated €66 million in total to help the country manage the coronavirus crisis: €4 million for immediate needs, €50 million for mitigating the socio-economic impact of the crisis and €12 million to support the private sector and improve liquidity.

6. Serbia

On 15 March President Aleksandar Vučić declared a nationwide state of emergency.

As of 21 March, new measures were put in place: All public transport was prohibited, the curfew was extended (previously from 20:00 to 05:00) to 17:00-05:00, all gatherings on public places and sports courts were also banned, as well as gatherings of more than 5 people in private spaces. Furthermore, people older than 65 (in rural areas older than 70) are not allowed to leave their homes at any time except on Sundays from 03:00 until 08:00 when they are allowed to go out and buy groceries and/or go to pharmacies. Serbia closed its airport and shut all road and rail borders other than to freight traffic, as well as all internal passenger transport.

On Monday 23 March President Aleksandar Vučić said that the Serbian authorities would start mass testing for coronavirus, following the advice of Chinese doctors who are in Serbia to help the country combat the pandemic.”We have enough tests for this and we will get more quickly,” he said. He said that everyone who tests positive for the coronavirus would be hospitalised with mild cases separated from serious cases. Mild cases would be placed in buildings with easy access where the army placed 3,000 beds, most in big fairgrounds or sport halls.

Foreign assistance:

  • The EU has allocated €93.4 million to help the country manage the coronavirus crisis by making use of the €15 million for immediate needs, by reviewing the remaining EU integration facility funds in total value of the €20.8 million and by reorienting the €57.6 million funds which are intended for projects such as the Serbia-Bulgaria gas inter-connector and biomass project with KfW.
  • China has donated Serbia COVID-19 tests and sent medical staff who have experience with combating the disease.