As Prime Minister Albin Kurti announced movement restrictions in Kosovo, the country’s President, Hashim Thaçi challenged the measure at the Constitutional Court on the grounds that the government could not enact them unless a state of emergency was declared. But on 31st March, the Court ruled that a state of emergency was not a precondition for the Kosovo government to restrict freedom of movement and assembly. Hence, though a state of emergency has not been declared in Kosovo, the authorities have announced measures to tackle the COVID-19 outbreak.
Kosovo’s official website confirms 780 cases of COVID-19, 201 people who have recovered and 22 deceased as of 28th April 2020. According to Health Ministry, from 15th April 2020, at 5 pm, no one was allowed free movement outside their houses or apartments in the municipality and could only leave the house, once a day, for 1 hour and a half, to carry out necessary chores, financial tasks and other essential needs.
On 24th March, Kosovo’s government introduced movement restrictions on individuals. The restrictions prohibit individuals from leaving their house in between 10 am in the morning to 4 pm in the evening unless for essential work purposes. An overnight curfew was also put in place between 10 pm to 6 am. Residents have been advised to stay at home, especially people above the age of 65. As of 30th March, all schools, cafes, bars, restaurants and shopping centers would remain closed and public gatherings would remain suspended with restricted public transport access. Only food stores and pharmacies are still operative in the country. Several municipalities have also been placed under quarantine, meaning transport in and out of the municipality is restricted. These municipalities include Pristina, Prizren, Ferizaj, Viti/Vitina, Klina, Malishevo, Mitrovica North, Zvečan and Suharekea/Suva Reka.
The authorities have officially cancelled all flights entering into Kosovo since March 16 and closed land border crossing for non-Kosovo citizens. On 21st March, The Kosovo Internal Affairs Ministry announced the measure of preventive quarantine for a span of 15 days for every person who was entering Kosovo via any of the 6 border crossings except truck drivers and diplomats. According to updates from March, the only center for preventive quarantine was set up at the Pristina Student Center. People are allowed to leave Kosovo by land, but several border crossings with neighboring countries are already closed for passengers.
The authorities in Kosovo have also set up a hotline number and an online platform for local emergencies. A steering committee consisting of representatives from Health Ministry, WHO and National Institute of Public Health was created on February 25 to deal with the crisis. According to the Director of Institute of Public health, this committee already had Contingency, Preparedness and Response Plans in place. Media reports that frequent medical checks are being conducted on people crossing land borders. The Director also mentioned that 10 isolation rooms have been set up at University Clinical Center of Kosovo. A special intensive care unit has also been set up. WHO and Public Health Institute together confirmed on 27th February, that Kosovo already had an up-to-date laboratory with highly trained staff to conduct the required tests. Even though BIRN was unable to confirm how many test kits Kosovo has, WHO’s Isme Humolli told BIRN’s television show that 75 tests had been carried out and all had come back negative. Kosovo’s infectious diseases clinic currently has one ward of 22 beds available for potential COVID-19 patients, with authorities saying that the capacity can be increased to 130. There was no information found on the number of ventilators Kosovo currently houses.
In the month of March, Kosovo’s Prime Minister, Kurti faced a motion of ‘No Confidence’ in his Parliament, one of the reasons was the government’s inability to efficiently handle the COVID-19 outbreak in the country but it is a matter of speculation how the country will now deal with the crisis amidst a political challenge like this.
Regarding the economic situation, the report of the World Bank projects that the economy of Kosovo will contract by 4.5% in 2020, followed by a rebound in 2021. The outbreak of COVID-19 and the necessary containment measures are putting investment, private consumption, but also exports and remittances from the diaspora, under unprecedented strain. While consumption may rebound as the economy recovers, service exports and investment will take longer to recover. Against this background, public revenues will experience a significant shortfall. Fortunately, the emergency economic package has been introduced by the government to soften the economic blow expected to come as a result of measures to combat the spread of coronavirus. This government’s package, which was approved on 30th March, was set to provide EUR 170 million of support to Kosovo’s business community.
Written by Nikkon Balial, April 2020.