The 8th March 2020, Albania confirmed the first cases of COVID-19; two people were tested positive after travelling to Italy. The Ministry of Health announced that the two people were taken to specialised structures. Also, it added that the virology laboratories would have started to test up to 500 people per day.

As the virus was rapidly spreading in Italy (and in the rest of Europe), the Albanian government requested the people coming from foreign countries at risk to begin a self-quarantine of 14 days. Moreover, the Ministry of Health solicited the people showing symptoms of the coronavirus, to contact the emergency number 127; they would have received instruction on how to proceed before being moved to specialised facilities and being treated.

The following days, as more people were tested positive to COVID-19, Prime Minister Edi Rama put in force a lockdown (valid for the entire country) that would have lasted until 3rd April. The government’s measures provide the indefinite closing of all the schools, restaurants, bars, shops, sports centres and recreational areas (including parks), and public gatherings are cancelled. Furthermore, public transportation is restricted, and the population has to respect 16 hours curfew; citizens are allowed in the streets from 5 am to 1 pm. Moreover, only one family member can go out to do essential shopping (groceries and items from the pharmacy), having at their disposal a limited time frame of 90 minutes; elders have to stay home. Those caught in violation of these rules would be fined of ALL 10,000 (EUR 81).

The government issued restrictions for the use of vehicles, that can be used between 5 am and 5:30 pm,  unless authorised by the Albanian State Police. The citizens caught in violation of the rules would have been fined up to EUR 5,000, and their driving licence can be suspended for three years. However, emergency vehicles, government vehicles, vehicles delivering food and medical supplies are allowed to travel.

The COVID-19 emergency did affect not only the internal travel but also involved the relationship with the neighbouring countries. As Prime Minister Rama declared that Albania was on war against the coronavirus, he decided to close the borders of the country. Ferries coming from Italy and flight coming from and to Albania were suspended indefinitely (the does not include extraordinary flights to repatriate Albanians), and the borders with Montenegro, Kosovo, North Macedonia and Greece were closed except for commercial transit.

On 25th March, the Prime Minister declared the state of emergency (usually used to address natural disasters) for 30 days, and it created an emergency committee with special powers to manage the pandemic.

In the meantime, the government arranged two economic packages to support the Albanian economy in this period of crisis for a total amount of ALL 45 billion (EUR 10 billion). The first one (Lek 23bn) entered into force on 19th March; it provides more funds to the healthcare system, the support of small businesses/self-employed paying them minimum wages and guarantee benefits to social assistance and unemployed. The second package (Lek 22bn) entered into force on 14th April; it aimed to support those businesses left out from the previous package, including the touristic sector and exporting companies. Moreover, the government allowed all the companies to defer payment of profit tax until after September.

Albania also received international support to face the COVID-19 pandemic; the European Union confirmed its financial help to the Western Balkans. Albania received four million to face the healthcare emergency, including testing control material and medical equipment (joined with the UNOPS). Moreover, the EU provided EUR 46.7 million to support the Albanian economy.

Moreover, Albania officially requested the Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Coordination Centre (EADRCC) international assistance for medical equipment, including ventilators, surgical masks, gloves and sanitising liquids.

Furthermore, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) approved a package of USD 190.5 million to Albania to support both the COVID-19 pandemic and the earthquake emergency that hit the country in November 2019. The latest updates from 23rd April, state that the Albanian Parliament, with 91 votes, approved the government’s proposal to extend the state of emergency until 23rd June.

Written by Luca Dilda, April 2020.