COVID-19: Serbia Set To Impose Weekend Lockdown; WHO Finally Visits Turkmenistan

Serbia

After a record daily COVID-19 death toll in Serbia, President Aleksandar Vucic has announced a return to strict limits on physical gatherings and plans to reimpose a three-day curfew in the Balkan country starting on July 10.

He said on July 7 that the situation in the capital, Belgrade, was critical and that hospitals in the city of around 1.3 million are almost full.

Serbian authorities have incrementally ramped up anti-pandemic measures amid a COVID-19 spike since rapidly reopening weeks before June 21 elections that gave a landslide victory to Vucic and his ruling Progressive Party allies.

Vucic told a press conference on July 7 that gatherings will be limited to five people from the following day, and he said he will request that a government task force declare a nationwide weekend curfew ahead of a reassessment of the situation.

“Be prepared for a curfew starting on [July 10], probably from 6 p.m., until [July 13], 5 a.m.,” Vucic said. “I personally would like to have this for all of Serbia. But whether the task force and Prime Minister [Ana] Brnabic will listen to me, that we will have to see.”

There was initial confusion when Vucic appeared to be asserting a lockdown only in the capital and not nationally, but he later clarified his remarks to say that he will propose both to the task force.

Thirteen COVID-19 deaths were reported in Serbia in the previous 24 hours, officials said on July 7, with 299 new infections logged.

“We have to protect citizens, so I don’t care about political reactions and protests,” Vucic said. “The anger should be directed to me, not doctors.”

Officials say 330 people have died of COVID-19, while the total number of registered cases since the first coronavirus infection was detected in Serbia on March 6 is 16,719.

In Belgrade, where around 80 percent of the confirmed infections are reported, officials have transformed the Stark Arena venue into a makeshift hospital.

Amid the curfew, Vucic said, officials would create possibilities of going outdoors for pet owners and “mothers with children,” along with separate hours for the elderly.

“All regulations will be announced after a task-force meeting” on July 8, he said.

After the presumed weekend curfew, he said, “on [July 13] we will see what to do next.”

Despite mounting cases in Serbia and many other parts of the Balkans, the European Council on June 30 included Serbia on a list of 15 countries from which it was lifting restrictions on nonessential travel into the EU.

But on July 6, Greece banned the entry of tourists from Serbia because of the spike in coronavirus cases in the country.

After initially mocking the gravity of the global coronavirus outbreak in February and March, Vucic declared a state of emergency on March 15 and imposed a strict lockdown and reported case numbers stayed relatively low.

Lawmakers declared an end to the state of emergency in early May and gradually reopened most areas of society ahead of the June 21 elections.

But as cases soared, the government reimposed the obligation to wear face masks on city and intercity public transportation just two days after the elections.

They followed up with a state of emergency in the capital, including a mask requirement for all public transport and enclosed public spaces, on July 3.

Emergencies have also been declared in a number of western Serbian municipalities where spikes and complaints of insufficient medical equipment have prompted protests.

Vucic has rejected as “not authentic” a recent report — purportedly leaked from a key database — suggesting that Serbia’s infection and death figures are around twice what authorities are reporting.

Turkmenistan

A long-delayed mission from the World Health Organization (WHO) has arrived in Turkmenistan, the only Central Asian nation that has not officially registered a single coronavirus case.

Catherine Smallwood, the mission’s leader, said her group will work with Turkmen authorities on aspects of COVID-19 preparedness and response, namely coordination and control systems at the national level, epidemiology and surveillance, laboratory services, patient management, infection prevention and control, and risk communication.

The mission, which arrived late on July 6, will be in Turkmenistan for 10 days.


The WHO has been trying to send a mission to Turkmenistan for more than two months to investigate Ashgabat’s claims that there are no coronavirus cases in the country.

Smallwood said that her group’s trip to the energy-rich, mostly desert country of some 6 million people, was postponed due to travel restrictions imposed over the pandemic.

“Turkmenistan managed to establish a national multisectoral COVID-19 task force; approving a COVID-19 Preparedness and Response Plan; and developing COVID-19 guidelines for prevention, diagnosis, and treatment. Reorganization of facilities and staff at all levels of the health system is a critical step the government has been taking: this includes repurposing facilities and training healthcare workers,” Smallwood said, stressing that the WHO has helped, and will assist Ashgabat deal with the long-term impact of the pandemic.

Although Turkmen officials insist that there is no coronavirus in the country, multiple reports have quoted medical personnel, unnamed officials, and local residents as saying that a significant number of people have been hospitalized with symptoms consistent with COVID-19.

 

Copyright (c) 2015. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.

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