Virus alarm grows in Balkans as curfews, travel curbs sweep region

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Belgrade – Western Balkan countries are locking down on travel and movement, handing extraordinary power to authorities trying to combat the coronavirus and seeking to protect people from profiteers.

Albania reported the second coronavirus related death on Wednesday, a 66-year-old male who already had several chronic ailments.

The total number of Covid-19 cases in the country was 55 including the two deaths.

After agreeing to postpone April 12 parliamentary elections because of the epidemic on Tuesday, North Macedonian political leaders now have two to three days to find a legal way to do it.

The parliament dissolved on Feb. 16 and only a caretaker government is in place.

Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov, who urged the population to restrain from travelling on Tuesday night signaled that people were not taking the advice seriously.

“From yesterday at noon to early this morning, 1,331 Macedonian citizens left the country, I don’t want to get into their motives, maybe all these trips were indispensable,’’ he said in a Facebook post.

“But I must warn of the alarming situation everywhere,’’ he added.

“The situation in the region, Europe and the world is unclear, states drop ramps, airports close, border regimes change, foreign nationals are stopped, rules change hourly.’’

“We have people with cars in columns in Slovenia, Austria, in Croatia,’’ Dimitrov warned.

“In such a huge crisis and amid total unpredictability, we absolutely cannot guarantee that you can come home when you planned,’’ he said.

“At the same time, every journey drastically increases the risk of health for you and the whole nation.’’

North Macedonian authorities reported 31 Covid-19 cases, eight more than a day earlier.

Among the latest patients are four doctors.

In Serbia, people older than 65 in the cities and 70 in the country were banned from leaving the confines of the homes or yards.

The rest of the population must obey a blanket curfew from 8 pm until 5 am as long as the crisis lasts.

Exempted are security services, people on approved tasks and third-shift workers in essential industries.

Belgrade authorities declared a state of emergency on Sunday and imposed harsh restrictions on the movement on Tuesday after appeals and recommendations failed to produce a result.

President Aleksandar Vucic promised harsh sanctions for violators of movement restrictions, but also profiteers.

On Tuesday night, two men were arrested in Belgrade selling surgical masks on the street and are facing criminal charges, state TV RTS reported.

The number of Covid-19 patients rose by 11 overnight to 83.

In Croatia, there were 12 new cases overnight as the country was preparing for more protective measures, Health Minister Vili Beros told a news conference on Wednesday morning.

The parliament in Zagreb passed, without debate, a law handing greater authorities to the civic protection headquarters and was discussing a set of economic measures to deal with the crisis.

After standing without a coronavirus patient the longest in Europe, tiny Montenegro has two cases since Tuesday night.

High ranking police official, Nikola Janjusevic, warned on Wednesday morning that the authorities will crack down on anyone violating protective measures in place.

“We filed seven criminal charges against operators of establishments which worked in spite of orders to shut down,’’ he told a news conference in Podgorica.

In Kosovo, the political wrangling between President Hashim Thaci and Prime Minister Albin Kurti was reflected in disagreement over the next step in the coronavirus battle.

Thaci formally proposed a state of emergency late Tuesday, but the government deems the step as extreme and unnecessary, even harmful, Kurti’s deputy Haki Abazi was quoted as saying by Koha Ditore.

There were 19 confirmed patients on Wednesday morning.

Several countries in the region passed rules against exports of food, protective gear and disinfectants.

Authorities in the Serb part of Bosnia are threatening a 20,000-marks (11,300 dollars/10,200 euros) to stores illegally hiking prices of food.

Most of the 34 COVID-19 patients were detected in the Serb republic.