The President of Serbia declared a state of emergency on the entire territory in a televised address on 15th March 2020. Serbia closed its borders to all foreigners not living in Serbia, while Serbian citizens entering the country were required to self-quarantine for up to 28 days, otherwise, they would face criminal charges of three years in prison. A very important policy reaction caused by the state of emergency is that General elections scheduled for 26th April have been postponed.
Two days after the declaration of a nationwide state of emergency, Serbia introduced a night curfew as a protection measure. The centre of the Serbian capital Belgrade, usually bustling with people and cars, was empty and quiet as this curfew began. Night curfew was imposed every day from 8 pm to 5 am. Furthermore, people aged above 65 (70 in rural areas) were not allowed to leave their homes at any time, what were some of Europe’s strictest measures to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.
All schools, faculties, and kindergartens were closed as well as all shops, except delivery. Later on, new protection measures were introduced, as of 20th March, all border crossings were closed for passengers entering Serbia by roads, railway, and river traffic, except for goods lorries. Furthermore, all intercity bus and train lines were suspended as of noon 20th March.
Mass testing had been announced in late March. However, due to insufficient equipment, lack of tests, horrible conditions of hospitals, no protective measures for nurses, not enough space in the waiting rooms, the action was poor. Army (both Serbian and Russian) had helped to establish centres for the infected ones and organized several testing spots, However, testing was deficient. The whole procedure had been taking long; tests were not accurate, several hospitals, according to a detained and now released journalist Ana Lalic, did not have protection for nurses, etc. This all has to be mentioned with the fact that the European Union is the main sponsor of the Serbian healthcare system. Without the EU’s help, the situation would have been even darker.
No, there are not enough medical supplies. Special equipment was shipped from main donors – the EU and China. Since the EU has delivered the aid later, then China, it has come under criticism of the Serbian government. Russia also has sent help, as well as the USA, UAE, Turkey, and Norway.
A group of Serbian opposition leaders on 30th April staged a protest during an evening curfew to voice their criticism of the populist government’s measures against COVID-19. Government critics have insisted that the authorities of autocratic President Aleksandar Vucic have used the state of emergency to curb democracy and media freedoms. According to The New York Times, Vucic has denied this.
The President of the Republic of Serbia has announced that all the small and medium-sized companies will receive help for the following three months to “survive” under the condition that they don’t fire 10 percent of employees. All hairdressers, shoemakers, and bakers will receive from the state a minimal wage (EUR 255.27 as of January 2020). Every citizen older than 18 will receive EUR 100 to support the spending and to support local businesses. Later it was revised, and these vouchers would be available only for pensioners and welfare users.
In early May, based on the decision of lawmakers, Serbia lifted the state of emergency and night curfew. The reason behind this decision was that the rate of new infections from the coronavirus declined. In response to improving health conditions, the Serbian government is lifted restrictions on movements with certain measures still in force until further notice. To be more precise, walking was allowed (but not in a group) and celebrations, including weddings, baptisms, and birthdays, are expected to be permitted beginning 15th June.
Company Air Serbia postponed the renewal of limited regular passenger flights from 18th May to 15th June. Another travel restriction is a mandatory 14-day quarantine for everyone entering the country without a negative PCR test results taken at least 72 hours prior to entry. Foreign citizens also have to obtain a permit for entering the country issued by the Serbian embassy or consulate in the country from which a foreign national arrives. Additional movement restrictions can be imposed on foreign citizens entering Serbia.
Written by Igor Suvorov in April 2020, edited by Patrícia Petríková in May 2020.