Restrictions tightened in Southeast Europe as COVID-19 cases rise sharply

Restrictions tightened in Southeast Europe as COVID-19 cases rise sharply
By bne IntelliNews August 18, 2021

New measures to control the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) have been introduced in several countries in Southeast Europe as the delta variant has caused a new wave of infections in the region. 

The spread of the virus has been helped by low vaccination rates in several countries, amid high levels of indifference and vaccine scepticism, and governments are now stepping up their efforts to persuade people to get vaccinated. 

Kosovo and North Macedonia were the latest countries to announce new restrictive measures in a bid to contain the latest wave of the pandemic. 

On August 17, North Macedonia’s government adopted measures including a requirement for vaccination certificate or negative PCR tests on borders.

The country has been facing a new surge of coronavirus infections in the last two weeks, which raised the number of active cases to over 6,700. In the last 24 hours alone, 999 new cases and 14 deaths were reported, compared to below 10 per day at the end of June.

“From September 1, North Macedonia’s and foreign citizens will be able to enter the country only if they have a certificate for two doses of COVID-19 vaccines, negative PCR or a recovery test from coronavirus in the last 45 days,” the government said in the statement. North Macedonia’s citizens without such documents will stay in quarantine for seven days.

A certificate for at least one dose of vaccines, negative PCR test or a recovery test will be needed for people over 18 years of age, who want to go to cafe bars, restaurants, malls, casinos, sport events or other facilities regardless of their capacity and number of attendees. This measure will enter into force on August 18.

Additionally, all catering facilities with the capacity of more than 30 visitors have to provide security guards to implement the measure.

Citizens' interest in getting a jab increased after the announcement of the measures. The number of people who have received the first dose increased to nearly 600,000, while almost 480,000 are fully vaccinated in the country of some 2mn people until August 17.

Health Minister Venko Filipce said that only 10% of those hospitalised are fully vaccinated, but their condition is not serious

On the same day, Kosovo’s mayors accepted the proposal of the health ministry for tightening the anti-coronavirus measures, following the rapid spike of new infections, local media reported on August 17.

In the last 24 hours Kosovo reported five deaths and 1,765 new daily infections, which is a record high figure in the latest wave of the epidemic.

The Association of Kosovo Municipalities represented by mayors held a meeting with Health Minister Arben Vitia and Minister of Local Administration Elbert Krasniqi to discuss the situation with COVID-19, broadcaster RTK reported.

The ministry proposed that nightclubs should stop working from August 20, while already booked wedding celebrations would be allowed with a maximum of 150 people until 10.30 pm, but only for guests with vaccination certificates or PCR tests. Café bars and restaurants will be allowed to work until 10.30 pm, with 50% of capacity in indoor spaces and 70% of capacity in outdoor space.

Vitia was cited as saying that the vaccination process has speeded up, reaching 22,000 vaccinations per day. 

This follows the decision of Montenegro’s government on July 23 to tighten restrictions due to the rising number of new cases.

Until August 2, the government decided to close all discos and night clubs. They will be re-opened as of August 2, but only for people who have coronavirus vaccines, negative PCR tests or have had the virus in the past 180 days.

Parties, music festivals and public gatherings in indoor areas are also banned. They will be allowed again as of August 2, but again only for vaccinated people, those with negative PCR tests or proof they had the virus in the past six months. As of August 2, only people with negative tests, vaccinated or recovered from coronavirus can visit indoor areas of restaurants.

Montenegro is the second popular tourist destination in Southeast Europe to tighten restriction during the peak of the summer season. Croatia also imposed restrictions in coastal towns as the number of new coronavirus cases started rising sharply.

Other countries in the region have also reported rising cases. The number of new coronavirus cases passed the 1,000 per day mark in both Bulgaria and Serbia at the weekend. 

Serbia has announced it will offer third jabs to protect its citizens through the autumn and winter. The country was the first in the region to embark on a mass vaccination programme. 

Meanwhile, Bulgaria’s president and prime minister have urged MPs to adopt a revised budget to allow the country to cope with the health and economic impact of the new wave of the pandemic this autumn. Bulgaria has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the EU, and like neighbouring Romania reportedly gave vaccines away as they approached their expiry date due to the low take-up.