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Belgrade Media Report 31 March

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LOCAL PRESS

Várhelyi to Vucic over phone: 15 million Euros to Serbia for urgent needs (RTS)
Brnabic: Our experts to consult with Chinese experts on all future decisions (Tanjug/Beta)
Joksimovic: Cooperation with Hungary in overcoming consequences of COVID-19 (Tanjug)
Stefanovic: 80,000 Serbian citizens in self-isolation (TV Pink/Tanjug)
The worst day for Serbia – seven more deaths (RTS)
Kon: 24 hour curfew only if situation gets much worse suddenly (N1)

REGIONAL PRESS

Bosnia & Herzegovina

Cvijanovic: Veto of Bosniak Caucus on decision to declare state of emergency stops effective fight against pandemic (ATV)
RS Crisis Headquarters adjusts measures and prolongs them until 13 April (ATV)
RS MoI denies controlling entrance from Federation of B&H to RS (ATV)
Data of B&H Association of Independent Trade Unions show more than 7,000 workers in B&H got laid off because of coronavirus pandemic (BHT1)
B&H receives assistance in fight against Coronavirus (RTRS/N1/FTV)
In B&H 379 persons infected, three people die (O kanal)
RS: 201 people positive for COVID-19, 11 recover (ATV)
Croatia

Government temporarily closes six maritime border crossings for passengers (HRT)
Croatia reports 77 new cases (Hina)
Montenegro

Djukanovic congratulates Pendarovski on NATO accession (CDM)
Coronavirus epidemic in Montenegro is under control, says Mugosa (CDM)
Montenegro reports 14 new coronavirus cases (CDM)
Republic of North Macedonia

Stoltenberg: NATO membership means that a potential attack on North Macedonia triggers response from the whole Alliance (MIA)
Filipche: Linear growth of new cases encouraging (MIA)
Albania

Government expects unemployment to rise (Top Channel/ADN)
Number of infected in Albania reached 243 (Top Channel)
Head of Microbiology lab gets infected with COVID-19 (ADN)

INTERNATIONAL MEDIA SOURCES

Serbia’s coronavirus state of emergency measures draw eyes of human rights groups (AP)

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LOCAL PRESS

Várhelyi to Vucic over phone: 15 million Euros to Serbia for urgent needs (RTS)

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic spoke on the phone earlier today with the EU Commissioner for Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Olivér Várhelyi to discuss the EU assistance to Serbia and the Western Balkans to respond to this challenge, a press release from the President’s cabinet said on Tuesday. Vucic thanked Várhelyi in particular for his personal engagement, emphasizing that Serbia remains on the European path and that it will meet all of its obligations along that path, but that it will also be able to show solidarity with the EU countries most affected by the coronavirus. Vucic and Várhelyi agreed that cooperation and coordination of measures between the Western Balkans and the EU are needed, as the challenge of this scale can only be met by the close partnership and solidarity. Várhelyi told Vucic that he had instructed the relevant departments to allow Serbia to use up to 15 million Euros for urgent needs, which would be financed from the ongoing contracts with UNOPS and UNDP and the EU integration support programs. He also added that using the remaining 20.8 million Euros from the EU Integration Program for short-term needs shall be observed, and with the consent of the Government of Serbia, up to 57.6 million euros would be diverted from the programs initially earmarked for other short- and medium-term project needs. Vucic told Várhelyi that Serbia is grateful for the EU assistance so far in the fight against coronavirus through financing the emergency procurement of medical equipment, as well as the financing of cargo flights delivering the material. He said that we also count on the EU support in eliminating the economic consequences of the disease. Várhelyi also expressed his hope that, given the current needs and situation in the EU members, he would be able to respond positively to Serbia’s request for support of the EU Civil Protection Mechanism. He also pointed out the extension of the EU Solidarity Fund’s purpose to remedy the consequences of endangering public health. Serbia was also offered the opportunity to join a voluntary joint procurement agreement.

Brnabic: Our experts to consult with Chinese experts on all future decisions (Tanjug/Beta)

Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic met with Chinese experts who are in Serbia for the second week and who share with our experts the experiences from China, which was most successful in combatting infectious disease COVID-19. Brnabic once again expressed her great gratitude to the People’s Republic of China, President Xi Jinping and the experts for their dedication and willingness to help Serbia in the fight against COVID-19. It was agreed that, as from the moment of their arrival, our experts will consult with Chinese experts on all future decisions and exchange experiences so that Serbia can fight this disease as soon as possible. Before meeting with Chinese experts, Brnabic chaired a meeting of the COVID-19 crisis response team.

Joksimovic: Cooperation with Hungary in overcoming consequences of COVID-19 (Tanjug)

Serbian Minister for EU Integration Jadranka Joksimovic had a conference call with Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto. Joksimovic and Szijjarto exchanged information on measures implemented in Serbia and Hungary to combat the infectious disease COVID-19. They paid special attention to the problems faced by a large number of countries in the procurement of medical equipment, as well as to the ways of mutual cooperation in this segment. On this occasion, Joksimovic briefed Szijjarto on the situation in Serbia and presented urgent measures that were taken or planned to reduce the risk and establish control over the further expansion of COVID-19. She also highlighted the urgent macroeconomic and fiscal policies taken to support the business sector and responded to the immediate negative effects of halting economic developments, with a particular focus on SMEs and entrepreneurs. Szijjarto praised the efforts made by the Serbian government to prevent the spread of the virus and supported short-term measures taken to protect citizens and the economy. He particularly praised the measures taken in the previous period, creating the appropriate fiscal space for an ambitious economic recovery plan.

Stefanovic: 80,000 Serbian citizens in self-isolation (TV Pink/Tanjug)

Serbian Interior Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic announced today that approximately 290 citizens of our country have violated the measure of self-isolation and proceedings have been instituted before the competent courts. In a statement to TV Pink, Stefanovic said that more than 80,000 citizens are currently in self-isolation and that those who do not respect the measure risk their own health as well as that of other people, which is why violators are sentenced to up to three years in prison. It happens that citizens who return from abroad continue to move normally because they fail to respect the sanitary inspector’s decision, he said, and that everyone who returns must be in self-isolation for 28 days, noting that the sanitary inspector’s resolution does not need to be served to everyone. He reiterated that in the next few days we should show discipline because the coming two weeks are turning points when we look at the epidemic situation in other countries. It is very important, as he pointed out, that the number of infected persons should not increase rapidly, which would lead to the overloading of the health system.

The worst day for Serbia – seven more deaths (RTS)

Currently there are 900 positive cases of coronavirus COVID-19 in Serbia, and seven more people dies, a total of 23 deaths confirmed, it was stated at the regular press conference. Until 31 March, the National reference laboratory of Torlak Institute tested 3561 people who fulfilled the criteria for testing (staying in the area of intensive transmission of virus and presence of symptoms of infection of the respiratory tract). Since the last report on 30 March at 15:00, 477 persons were tested, and 115 of them were positive.

Kon: 24 hour curfew only if situation gets much worse suddenly (N1)

Epidemiologist Predrag Kon told N1 on Tuesday that a 24 hour curfew could be imposed as a last resort if the number of new coronavirus cases and deaths rises suddenly. “In theory and in practice, it would be impossible for the virus to survive if there is no opportunity for contacts 24 hours a day for 14 days. That (the 24 hour curfew) would make sense if there was a sudden leap in the number of deaths which is not impossible. That is a last resort,” Kon, a member of the national crisis staff dealing with the pandemic, said on the N1 morning show.  According to the doctor, the 24 hour curfew will not be necessary if the public is disciplined and the number of new cases drops. He added that the number of new cases has dropped over the past two days but warned that the real situation will be evident in five to seven days which is the incubation period. “If we see a continuous drop or the same levels in five to seven days can we say that the measures have shown results. It is too early to say yet,” he said. Kon said that he is moderately optimistic because the situation in Serbia is good for now. “We can say that we have done a lot,” Kon said.

REGIONAL PRESS

 

Cvijanovic: Veto of Bosniak Caucus on decision to declare state of emergency stops effective fight against pandemic (ATV)

RS President Zeljka Cvijanovic stated that the announcement of the Bosniak Caucus in the RS Council of People (RS CoP) to invoke the mechanism of vital national interest to the decision of the RS parliament to declare a state of emergency is nonsense. She stated that such a decision will make it difficult to implement measures and decisions that should help the economy. Cvijanovic stated that no one wants the state of emergency but they exhausted all other measures they could have implemented during the emergency situation. ˝To me, this is an unserious decision, an unserious approach to such a situation. I have heard that it was said we need to do concrete things and we do not need the state of emergency here, but I am sorry we need it in case we want to change the law and set a deadline˝ said Cvijanovic. Representative of the Bosniak Caucus said they do not believe their decision will make the fight against the coronavirus harder. Deputy Speaker of the RS CoP Mihnet Okic said that their decision was made in order to stop the possible engagement of the RS police at the inter-entity boundary line (IEBL). Speaker of the RS CoP Nada Tesanovic said that the declaration of the state of emergency does not endanger the vital national interest of any of the people with constituent status, including the Bosniak one. She reminded that the caucus has seven days to invoke the mechanism after the decision was adopted by the RS parliament. “We expect that they will do this at the last day, on Saturday, April 4 because they have seven days according to the constitution. In this case, when they file it, we will start all activities that are initiated when someone invokes the mechanism,” said Tesanovic. Serb member of the B&H Presidency Milorad Dodik said that Bosniaks do not contribute to the adoption of measures which would enable the adequate protection against the pandemic.

 

RS Crisis Headquarters adjusts measures and prolongs them until 13 April (ATV)

The RS Main Coordination Team convened on Monday to discuss the coronavirus pandemic in the RS. The Coordination team suggested the RS Crisis Headquarters to correct certain measures in accordance with the current epidemiologic situation. This was adopted by the RS Crisis Headquarters and all measures have been prolonged until 13 April after adjustments were made.

RS Prime Minister Radovan Viskovic said that the HQ did not want to create a longer deadline because they want to follow the situation and make decisions in accordance with it. He explained that a new measure was adopted and it defines that margins of products being sold will be set at the level they were at on March 5 in order to avoid the story about the increase of purchase prices. This regulation will be extended to more products as well. Viskovic said that citizens who are older than 65 years will be able to move freely outside, and this will be on Tuesday and Fridays between 7:00 and 10:00 hours. He said that the measure of the ban of free movement for elderly citizens was raised to 75 years in rural areas of the RS. Stores that sell technical goods, construction material and similar items will be opened, as will green markets. The stores and markets will be obliged to uphold the hygienic and epidemiologic measures. Viskovic said that the RS budget allocated BAM 30 million for the health sector to fight the coronavirus pandemic. He added that the RS Government will help employees in critical areas of the economy as soon as the decision on the state of emergency is adopted and enforced. “The RS government will pay taxes and contributions in the amount of BAM 16.5 million for around 40,000 workers from several endangered areas,” said Viskovic. The RS prepared help for four municipalities with a Serb majority in the RS and they will deliver 50 tons of flour to these municipalities. Viskovic added that employers will have to provide funds for net salaries for their workers. He emphasized that the RS government and the RS Urgent Situation HQ decided that this measure will refer to catering, tourism, transportation and other service sectors, as well as to entrepreneurs. Also, the Commercial Chamber of the RS proposed set of measures of assistance to economy the RS authorities should implement. Among other things, these measures include the RS Government’s support concerning payment of salaries for furlough workers, as well as postponement of return of loans for companies affected by Coronavirus epidemics situation. The RS Alliance of Trade Unions expressed support to this proposal.

RS MoI denies controlling entrance from Federation of B&H to RS (ATV)

The RS Ministry of Interior (RS MoI) issued a statement on Monday, saying that they do not have control points established at the inter-entity boundary line (IEBL) and they are not controlling the entrance into the RS from the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. It was stated that there is no plan to do such things in the future. The RS MoI stated that they issued the statement in order to deny false information released about their alleged activities at the IEBL.

Data of B&H Association of Independent Trade Unions show more than 7,000 workers in B&H got laid off because of coronavirus pandemic (BHT1)

According to the data of the B&H Association of Independent Trade Unions, more than 7,000 workers in B&H got laid off because of the coronavirus pandemic. Representative of the Association of Independent Trade Unions of B&H Selvedin Satorovic said that the number of layoffs in B&H caused by the pandemic could significantly increase in the coming period if something concrete is not done immediately. Representative of the B&H Commerce Trade Union Mersiha Besirevic said that rehabilitation of the economy and remediation of health consequences should have been parallel processes. “We should not wait for the health situation to improve and then think about the economy,” Besirevic stressed. Employers in the Federation of B&H have offered eight measures for rescuing of the economy and they have also demanded immediate signing of a social agreement with the Federation of B&H government and the trade union which would ban layoffs during the coronavirus crisis. Representative of the Federation of B&H Employers’ Association Mladen Pandurevic explained that the social agreement would introduce waiting institute and regulate work from home. “The government would accept the obligation to refund an agreed part of salary paid by an employer,” Pandurevic underlined. Trade unionists agree in principle with all proposed measures, except the one related to reduction of salaries in the public sector. Federation of B&H Prime Minister Fadil Novalic said that the Federation of B&H Government will not make hasty or populist moves, noting that this is not the time for any kind of threats or ultimatums. Novalic said earlier that the Federation of B&H government will provide assistance to all workers who lose their jobs due to the pandemic.

 As for RS, Serb member of B&H Presidency Milorad Dodik has said recently that employers and companies in the RS who fire their workers cannot expect assistance from the RS government. The RS government has temporary canceled the payment of tax obligations. Common measures that both entities passed with an aim to mitigate the consequences of coronavirus crisis include a moratorium on repayment of loans for citizens and companies in the next three months and halting the increase of prices of basic foodstuffs. However, there are no common measures for protection of workers’ rights for instance. Representatives of the affected sectors warn that authorities have failed to take timely measures to mitigate the economic impact of COVID-19, calling on authorities to take concrete measures to protect both employers and workers.

B&H receives assistance in fight against Coronavirus (RTRS/N1/FTV)

Spokeswoman for the European Commission (EC) Ana Pisonero has said that the EU is mobilizing up to 38 million Euros of direct assistance to the Western Balkans to help countries cope with emergency situation caused by coronavirus infection and finance the purchase of medical equipment. She added that 374 million Euros will be directed to socio-economic recovery of the region, and this assistance will be focused on private sector, vulnerable groups of citizens and strengthening of health system. Head of the EU Delegation to B&H Johann Sattler said that B&H will get 7,000 test kits for Coronavirus on Tuesday, adding that over next two weeks, B&H will get 40 ventilators. Sattler said that this is first part of assistance within which B&H will get some 80 ventilators and certain number of test kits. Reporter noted that the EU allocated EUR seven million for medical assistance to B&H. The USAID has donated $1.2 million to B&H as assistance in fight against Coronavirus. These funds should be allocated to laboratory systems in B&H, for support to experts and for engagement of the community in prevention during period of Coronavirus pandemic.

 

In B&H 379 persons infected, three people die (O kanal)

According to the latest data 379 people in Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H) are infected with COVID-19 and ten have died. Four people died on Monday of consequences of the Coronavirus infection in B&H. A woman died at the University Clinical Center in Tuzla who was medically treated in the Medical Institute Bayer in this city, while the first-infected patient in Mostar – who was hospitalized at the University Clinical Center in Mostar and whose condition was difficult for days – also died. Earlier during the day, a 66-year-old man from Donji Vakuf also died of consequences of the Coronavirus infection. The latest death was confirmed on Monday night and it is an elderly patient from Siroki Brijeg.

RS: 201 people positive for COVID-19, 11 recover (ATV)

RS tested 186 citizens for the coronavirus and confirmed one new case. The total of registered cases in the RS as of Monday was 201 coronavirus infections. 71 people have been hospitalized to be treated for their symptoms. RS Minister of Health Alen Seranic said that one person was hospitalized in Doboj, 20 in Banja Luka, 33 people have a serious clinical condition and four are connected to a respirator. He stressed that four persons who have the most serious symptoms also have other chronic illnesses. 20 people were placed into isolation in Banja Luka and were waiting for the test results. A total of 11 persons were confirmed as recovered cases. The newly confirmed coronavirus case registered on Monday is an elderly man from Bijeljina who is also a dialysis patient. This is the fifth case of the coronavirus confirmed in Bijeljina. Director of the Bijeljina Hospital Milica Lovric said that the man had contact with a previously identified cluster and he was separately treated for his existing conditions beforehand. 301 people were tested at the quarantines located at the border crossings in the RS. Out of those, 253 were tested in Gradiska, 42 in Bosanski Brod and six in Samac. ˝We will not be taking test samples at the border quarantine itself anymore, we will perform triage examinations, determine whether someone is sick or not given their epidemiologic anamneses and direct them to the quarantines in local communities. Local communities received orders last Monday to form local quarantine facilities where these patients will be accommodated˝ said Seranic. Currently, 136 people were placed into quarantine in Gradiska, 19 in Samac and 68 in Bosanski Brod. The quarantine at the border crossing in Raca was opened on Sunday as well and accommodates 16 people.

Government temporarily closes six maritime border crossings for passengers (HRT)

At a telephone session of the Croatian government cabinet ministers adopted a decision on border crossings in the Republic of Croatia that temporarily closes six permanent border crossings and postpones the opening of eleven seasonal crossings for international passenger traffic in maritime transport. According to a government statement, in order to protect citizens of the Republic of Croatia from COVID-19 during the time of the declared epidemic of the disease, it is necessary to close the following permanent border crossings in international passenger traffic in maritime transport: Umag, Porec, Rovinj, Mali Losinj, Korcula and Ubli.

Furthermore, the decision lists seasonal border crossings in international passenger traffic in maritime transport that open on April 1st, 2020 and states that, because of the previously mentioned reasons, their opening must be postponed. These border crossings are:  Umag-ACI Marina, Novigrad, Sali, Bozava, Primosten, Komiza, Hvar, Vis, Stari Grad on the island of Hvar, Vela Luka and Cavtat.

Croatia reports 77 new cases (Hina)

Seventy-seven new coronavirus cases have been confirmed in Croatia in the last 24 hours, bringing the total in the country to 790, Health Minister Vili Beros said at a press conference on Monday, adding that there were no new fatalities and that 12 more persons have recovered since Sunday, 64 in total. 6,404 tests were conducted, six are dead and 27 are on the respirator, 64 have been recovered. “Very early, Croatia has introduced self-protection measures for the people, with the aim of preventing the spread of this outbreak. We are happy that the largest portion of the population is complying with the instructions… and we appeal to the rest to adhere to the measures because that is the best way to beat this infection,” Beros said. More than 900 people were found to be violating the self-isolation measures put in place by the crisis management team earlier this month, the head of the team, Interior Minister Davor Bozinovic, said. The fines proscribed for those who violate the measures are steep, beginning at €1,052 and rising to €15,800 for repeat offenders.

 

Djukanovic congratulates Pendarovski on NATO accession (CDM)

Montenegro’s President Milo Djukanovic sent a greeting card to the President of North Macedonia Stevo Pendarovski, the administration and citizens in relation to the completion of the process of the ratification of protocol on the North Macedonia’s accession to NATO.
“As of today, the flag of North Macedonia will be hoisted in the headquarters of the Alliance in Brussels. Our Trans-Atlantic community is now richer for one more ally. Montenegro truly celebrates your deserved success, which is the guarantee of more prosperous and safer future for the entire region. Our political relations and traditional friendship are strengthened now. In those difficult days of fight with the coronavirus pandemic, reception of North Macedonia into NATO is another proof of resolve and strong commitment to open door policy and values of partnership, solidarity and mutual support,” Djukanovic said.

The coronavirus epidemic in Montenegro is under control, says Mugosa (CDM)

The coronavirus epidemic is under control and the upcoming days are crucial for the protection of the health of our citizens, head of the Public Health Institute, Boban Mugosa, told. The main goal is not to fill all 600 hospital beds with coronavirus patients. And that, according to Mugosa, can be achieved only with the help of citizens. “Our health care system is not overburdened and we’re managing to keep the epidemic under control. The next 15 days are crucial. We’ll try to limit the spread of the infection, preserve the health and lives of our citizens, and the only measure left is restricted movement,” Mugosa emphasized. As certain citizens didn’t keep social distance and didn’t respect orders issued by the competent authorities, they had to impose even stricter ones – ban on leaving homes from 7pm to 5am the following day, and Saturday from 1pm to 5am on Monday. “I urge you to adhere to this advice. These 15 days will pass as well as the epidemic, and then we’ll be able to see what we did.” He also recalled that 14 new cases were recorded yesterday. “Local transmission of Covid-19 has happened and if we want to fight the virus, social distancing is the most important measure. We have no cure. If the virus doesn’t spread on another person, it can’t survive. If we don’t allow it to pass from one person or family to another, we will manage to get rid of it.” So far, a total of 824 people tested for Covid-19. “We have enough tests,” said Mugosa, adding that the labs can process over 200 tests per day. As for the situation in Tuzi, he said everything’s clear about it: “That is why we introduced these measures, and we are carefully monitoring the situation.”

Montenegro reports 14 new coronavirus cases (CDM)

Figures released by the Public Health Institute this morning show that 14 people have tested positive for Covid-19 since last night. Therefore, the country now has 105 confirmed cases.

There are 6,262 people under medical surveillance.

Coronavirus cases in Montenegro city by city:

  • Podgorica: 38
  • Tuzi: 33
  • Bar: 10
  • Andrijevica: 7
  • Ulcinj: 7
  • Budva: 4
  • Herceg Novi: 4
  • Danilovgrad: 1
  • Tivat: 1

 

Stoltenberg: NATO membership means that a potential attack on North Macedonia triggers response from the whole Alliance (MIA)

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg gave an interview to MIA following the ceremony of raising North Macedonia’s flag at the Alliance Headquarters in Brussels.
Mr. Secretary-General, your comment and feelings on today’s ceremony of raising the flag of North Macedonia at the NATO Headquarters in Brussels?
This is a historic day and I personally felt real happiness seeing the flag of North Macedonia flying together with all other NATO flags. It was a touching ceremony and an important day for North Macedonia, marking that you are now a full member of this Alliance. This is important for your country, for whole of the Western Balkans and for all NATO allies, because together we are safer, we are stronger, and the purpose of NATO is to preserve peace and now North Macedonia is a full part of that effort.

Could you explain to the wider audience what this means concretely, the formal membership, in terms of meetings, councils, participation…
It means that NATO now has 30 members and in NATO we all sit around the same table and take decisions together regardless of the size of the country. I am coming from Norway, also a small country, but I know that by having a seat at the table, Norway has a say, exactly as North Macedonia will now have a say and can fully take part in the decision-making in the strongest and biggest alliance in the world, because all decisions in NATO are based on consensus, meaning that all 30 allies have to agree before any decision is taken. And this is important for North Macedonia, because by being a member of this alliance we send a clear message to any potential adversary that if North Macedonia is attacked, it will trigger a response from the whole Alliance i.e. all allies will come and support North Macedonia. And the purpose of doing that is not to provoke a conflict but to prevent the conflict. The idea of standing together is not to fight a war but actually to prevent a war. That is the main purpose of NATO – peace and stability. And by securing peace and stability we are not only securing the safety of the people living in NATO-allied countries, including North Macedonia, but we are also providing the best conditions for economic prosperity. We are seeing again and again that by joining NATO, we are also creating the stability and peace, which are so important for investments and economic growth. We have seen that, since the decision was taken that North Macedonia was going to become a member, foreign investments started to increase in the country. And then, of course, NATO membership has made it easier for you to move towards EU membership and I also welcome the fact that the European Union have now decided to open accession talks with North Macedonia.

Do you expect any sort of adversarial reaction from Russia after today?
No, I don’t expect that. NATO’s purpose, as I said, is not to provoke a conflict or to create problems in the relationship with Russia. We have seen a pattern of behavior from Russia where they are much more assertive and responsible for aggressive reactions against neighbors, for instance Georgia or Ukraine, but now North Macedonia is a member of the Alliance, now you are a part of this strong collective defense effort and the security guarantees that NATO provides. By being part of this Alliance, you are as safe s any other ally, because we all stand together. We continue to strive for a better relationship with Russia. For us there is no contradiction between strength and political dialogue. NATO believes in what we call the ‘dual-track’ approach – deterrence and defense, but at the same time dialogue with Russia to try and improve relations and reduce the tensions that we have seen develop over the last years.

Unfortunately, this ceremony has come at a difficult time for us in Europe and the world, it could not be public because of the coronavirus pandemic. What is NATO doing to help the fight against the coronavirus pandemic?
This is a global health crisis and a common challenge that requires a common response. NATO is, of course, not the first responder, but we provide support to the civilian efforts to cope with the COVID-19 crisis. NATO allies have provided airlift, just today and yesterday the Czech Republic, through the NATO coordination mechanisms, provided thousands of protective suits to Italy and Spain, we also provided some different kinds of military equipment. NATO is not an organization that has big stocks of medical equipment, but what we can do is coordinate efforts of NATO allies and also provide some logistical help with, for instance, airlift. What we have seen across the Alliance is that the military is playing a crucial role in supporting the civilian efforts. We have seen armed forces across the Alliance helping with transportation, protection, border control, military hospitals, military health facilities have been crucial in supporting and helping different NATO allies coping with the COVID-19 crisis.

Are you planning or anticipating a bigger role if the pandemic becomes more serious in the future?
We are constantly assessing what we can do, but again, NATO is not an alliance with such medical equipment or capabilities that can directly deal with the COVID-19 crisis, but we can do is coordinate efforts of NATO allies. We have seen, for instance, Germany taking some people who needed treatment from Italy, France and other countries, we have seen several NATO allies provide support to each other and we coordinate these efforts to some extent. We will do that as much and as long as necessary.

How are you reorganizing the work at the NATO headquarters, are there any meetings or ministerial councils that were planned but cannot be held now, and if this goes on will you do that by video-conference? How safe is it to do this online, given the sensitivity of the topics that NATO discusses?
NATO continues to deliver on our core task, which is to deliver credible deterrence and defense in the midst of the coronavirus crisis. Our missions and operations are maintained, our deployment of battlegroups in the eastern part of the Alliance, our missions in fighting terrorism in Afghanistan and elsewhere continue, and actually troops from North Macedonia are part of that. I have seen North Macedonia’s troops in Kabul a couple of weeks ago when I was there for the initiative to launch a peace process there. I met troops from North Macedonia and I am impressed by their professionalism and dedication, which shows that we are working together in the fight against terrorism. NATO must make sure that we maintain our operational readiness, that we can react and defend all allies also when we have a serious health crisis as we have today, but the way we do it has been adjusted to take the necessary preventive measures addressing the coronavirus crisis. For instance, at the NATO HQ we have over a long period of time now a reduced number of meetings, reduced number of people in the meetings we still have, many people are working from home and we are also using more telecommunications, video-conferences and so on. We have a secure network in NATO, which we can use to communicate also in times like these.

So the ministerial meeting on 2 April will be safe?
There will be a foreign ministerial meeting in NATO on 2 April, which will be the first time ever that NATO conducts a ministerial meeting as a video-conference. We will do that on secure lines and this demonstrates that while we are not meeting in the normal way, we don’t have physical meetings, but we have the capabilities and systems in place that makes it possible to continue to make decisions. Even though we are not able to physically meet we have secure systems in place that enable to have a meeting virtually and taking the necessary decisions.

Last question, North Macedonia has also been granted green light by the European Union to start negotiations. How important is this for you, for NATO?
I very much welcome the decision by the European Union to start accession talks. I think this is yet another recognition of the progress, the hard work of North Macedonia. I would really once again congratulate the people, the government of North Macedonia, because it’s your effort, your hard work, your willingness to implement reforms, to solve the name issue, to improve your relationships with neighbors – Greece and Bulgaria – all of that has made it possible for you to join NATO and now start accession talks with the European Union. This is enormous progress, many people told me this would never happen, that it was impossible, but now you have joined NATO, you have started the accession talks with the European Union. This is great progress, great for North Macedonia, it is a recognition of your courage, your determination, but it’s also important for all NATO allies. So thank you so much for your courage and commitment you have shown over so many years.

 

Filipche: Linear growth of new cases encouraging (MIA)

Health Minister Venko Filipche writes Tuesday in a Facebook post that although it’s too soon to tell, the linear growth of new cases in the past 15 days has been encouraging, as the number of new cases is nearly equal every day. “This has been our goal from the beginning, with such a trend our healthcare system to provide healthcare services to the citizens and properly cope with coronavirus crisis,” Filipce writes on Facebook. He writes that the pandemic has yet to reach its peak and now, it’s necessary for everyone to be disciplined and adhere to the measures and recommendations without exception.

 

Government expects unemployment to rise (Top Channel/ADN)

The worsening economic situation with the closure of a large number of businesses due to restriction measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus is expected to increase the number of unemployed in the country, Prime Minister Edi Rama said for Top Channel on Monday.
He also said that the government is prepared to help citizens who are unemployed from small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). “We started with the weaker ones and the measures we took are for existence, not for profits” Rama said, adding that as throughout the world, the trend of unemployment is increasing, especially in sectors such as tourism that needs support. The government has already planned sovereign guarantees for large businesses to help them pay employees, Rama noted, adding that “we are following very closely the movements that medium and large business is making for people who are going out of work. We are ready to make a decision when the time is right.” He noted that the government will also be releasing a Eurobond in international capital markets in May. “We will be out in the capital markets in May, and we will prove to be a financially viable and not ruined country. According to Rama, it is unclear when the economic life will go back to normal. Rama said the restriction measures imposed by the government to prevent the spread of coronavirus will continue for the first two weeks of April. According to the PM, measures will be reconsidered after this period, depending on the spread of the virus. “Any movement can be followed by a blow. April will be the test of fire, especially in the first two weeks. These two weeks will tell us more about the statistics of the spread of virus, and how well the defensive line has worked and how we can begin opening up very slow and gradually”.

Number of infected in Albania reached 243 (Top Channel)

Mira Rakacolli, Deputy Minister of Health and Social Protection said that 145 people have been tested in the last 24 hours, of whom 20 new cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed. To date, 1671 suspected cases have been tested, in total 243 cases have been confirmed positive with COVID-19. The number of COVID-19 deaths in Albania is 13. The Ministry of Health and Social Protection extended condolences to the families of the deceased.

The geographical distribution of positive cases is as follows:

  • Tirana 129 cases
  • Durres 26 cases
  • Lushnje 4 cases
  • Elbasan 5 cases
  • Fier 23 cases
  • Kavaja 4 cases
  • Maternity 2 cases
  • Korca 15 cases
  • Vlora 5 cases
  • Shkodra 8 cases
  • Lezha 5 cases
  • Berat 1 case
  • Has 2 cases
  • Kruja 5 cases
  • Trojan 4 cases
  • There 3 cases
  • Mirdita 2 cases

Head of Microbiology lab gets infected with COVID-19 (ADN)

Head of Microbiology laboratory at University Medical Center of Tirana “Mother Teresa”, Andi Koraqi, tested positive for the coronavirus. He is the second member of the Health Committee on COVID-19, following Head of the National Emergency, Skender Brataj. Meanwhile, epidemiologist Dritan Ulqinaku said that with the current pace of the curve of infected people, Albania may have passed the peak of the coronavirus pandemic. In an interview the doctor said that he already thinks it is time to start and reduce the measures gradually. He noted that thanks to the measures taken the number of affected people and lost lives is manageable. “The figures are acceptable and we have overcome the fear that the peak will come. It has been almost 10 days since we have already seen a gradual increase in the number of infected people that has gone from 10 to 20 cases per day with a small percent of cases needing hospitalization. We have to start mitigating the measures, but definitely respecting social distancing because I think the fear of strain on health system is over,” said he.

INTERNATIONAL MEDIA SOURCES

Serbia’s coronavirus state of emergency measures draw eyes of human rights groups (AP, by Dusan Stojanovic, 31 March 2020)

Soldiers patrol the streets with their fingers on machine gun triggers. The army guards an exhibition center-turned-makeshift-hospital crowded with rows of metal beds for those infected with the coronavirus. And Serbia’s president warns residents that Belgrade’s graveyards won’t be big enough to bury the dead if people ignore his government’s lockdown orders. Since President Aleksandar Vucic announced an open-ended state of emergency on March 15, parliament has been sidelined, borders shut, a 12-hour police-enforced curfew imposed and people over 65 banned from leaving their homes — some of Europe’s strictest measures to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. The Serbian leader, who makes dramatic daily appearances issuing new decrees, has assumed full power, prompting an outcry from opponents who say he has seized control of the state in an unconstitutional manner. Rodoljub Sabic, a former state commissioner for personal data protection, says by proclaiming a state of emergency, Vucic has assumed “full supremacy” over decision-making during the crisis, although his constitutional role is only ceremonial. “He issues orders which are automatically accepted by the government,” Sabic said. “No checks and balances.” In ex-communist Eastern Europe and elsewhere, populist leaders are introducing harsh measures including uncontrolled cellphone surveillance of their citizens and lengthy jail sentences for those who flout lockdown decrees. The human rights chief of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said while she understands the need to act swiftly to protect populations from the COVID-19 pandemic, the newly declared states of emergency must include a time limit and parliamentary oversight. “A state of emergency — wherever it is declared and for whatever reason — must be proportionate to its aim, and only remain in place for as long as absolutely necessary,” said the OSCE rights chief, Ingibjörg Sólrún Gísladóttir. In times of national emergency, countries often take steps that rights activists see as curtailing civil liberties, such as increased surveillance, curfews and restrictions on travel, or limiting freedom of expression. China locked down whole cities earlier this year to stop the spread of the virus as India did with the whole nation. Amnesty International researcher Massimo Moratti said states of emergency are allowed under international human rights law but warned that the restrictive measures should not become a “new normal.” “Such states need to last only until the danger lasts,” he told The Associated Press. In European Union-member Hungary, parliament on Monday passed a law giving Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s government the right to rule by decree for as long as a state of emergency declared March 11 is in effect. The law also sets prison terms of up to five years for those convicted of spreading false information about the pandemic and up to eight years for those interfering with efforts to contain the spread of the coronavirus, like a curfew or quarantine. Rights groups and officials say the law creates the possibility of an indefinite state of emergency and gives Orbán and his government carte blanche to restrict human rights and crack down on freedom of the press. “Orban is dismantling democracy in front of our eyes,“ said Tanja Fajon, a member of the European Parliament, “This is a shame for Europe, its fundamental values and democracy. He (Orban) abused coronavirus as an excuse to kill democracy and media freedom.” “This is not the way to address the very real crisis that has been caused by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said David Vig, Amnesty International’s Hungary director. Hungarian Justice Minister Judit Varga said criticism of Hungary’s bill were “political attacks based on the wrong interpretation or intentional distortion” of its contents. Other governments have also adopted extreme measures. In Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu’s caretaker government passed a series of emergency executive measures to try to quell the spread of the new virus. These include authorizing unprecedented electronic surveillance of Israeli citizens and a slowdown of court activity that forced the postponement of Netanyahu’s own pending corruption trial. In Russia, authorities have turned up the pressure on media outlets and social media users to control the narrative amid the country’s growing coronavirus outbreak. Moscow went on lockdown Monday and many other regions quickly followed suit. Under the guise of weeding out coronavirus-related “fake news,” law enforcement has cracked down on people sharing opinions on social media, and on media that criticize the government’s response to the outbreak. In Poland, people are worried about a new government smartphone application introduced for people in home quarantine. Panoptykon Foundation, a human rights group that opposes surveillance, says some users who support government efforts to fight the pandemic worry that by using the app they could be giving too much private data to the conservative government. While nearly 800 coronavirus cases and 16 deaths have been recorded in Serbia, according to Johns Hopkins University, testing has been extremely limited and experts believe the figures greatly under-represent the real number of victims. Most people suffer mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, from the virus but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, more severe illness can occur, including pneumonia and death. Images of the transformation of a huge communist-era exhibition hall in Belgrade into a makeshift hospital for infected patients has triggered widespread public fear of the detention camp-looking facility that is filled with row-upon-row of 3,000 metal beds. The Serbian president said he was glad that people got scared, adding he would have chosen even a worse-looking spot if that would stop Serbs from flouting his stay-at-home orders. “Someone has to spend 14 to 28 days there,” Vucic said. “If it’s not comfortable, I don’t care. We are fighting for people’s lives.” “Do not Drown Belgrade,” a group of civic activists, has launched an online petition against what they call Vucic’s abuse of power and curtailing of basic human rights. It says his frequent public appearances are creating panic in an already worried society. “We do not need Vucic’s daily dramatization, but the truth: Concrete data and instructions from experts,” the petition says.

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Associated Press writers Jovana Gec, Pablo Gorondi in Budapest, Hungary, and Vanessa Gera in Warsaw contributed to this report.

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