SEATTLE, Washington — On March 6, 2020, Serbia recorded its first COVID-19 case. Three months later, Serbia had nearly 10,000 cases. However, preventative measures made it possible for Parliament to lift the state of emergency on May 7. What did the government do to reach this point of opening the country, and what safety measures are still in place?
Serbia Declares a State of Emergency
On March 15, 2020, President Aleksandar Vučić of the Republic of Serbia declared a state of emergency. The decision stemmed from the president, the COVID-19 crisis response team and the crisis team after the country accrued 47 more cases in 9 days. In Serbia, the government can respond to crises with a state of emergency or “an extraordinary situation.” The main difference between the two lies in the ability to create restrictions that violate the constitution, which is possible in a state of emergency but not in an extraordinary situation. Serbia’s response to COVID-19 with a state of emergency gives the decision-making power to President Vučić.
With this power, the president postponed the country’s elections from April to autumn and adopted various populist measures. President Vučić implemented lockdown restrictions that could only be lifted by himself. Although seemingly in the best interest of the country’s citizens, the president held unconstitutional authority. The restrictions passed were similar to those in other affected countries, including a “prohibition of movement” first for elderly citizens as of March 17 and for the general population on March 19. The same day, Serbia responded to COVID-19 by shutting down borders to passenger traffic and began planning to bring citizens home from abroad.
Collaboration with China
The day after the first COVID-19-related death in Serbia, China came forth on March 21 and announced its support and intentions to aid Serbia through this crisis. China sent epidemiologists and a large shipment of medical supplies to Serbia, followed by another shipment of masks, ventilators and medicines. The collaboration extended beyond medical aid on March 23 when Chinese experts traveled to Serbia to assess Serbia’s response to COVID-19. Based on the pandemic’s activity in China, experts advised Serbia on more measures to help with the crisis. In the following weeks, China shipped additional medical assistance, four million masks and two mask-making machines to Serbia. China continued sending medical supplies to Serbia for the height of the country’s pandemic.
Protecting Women and Children
On April 10, the Gender Coordination Body, the Ministry of European Integration and the EU Delegation in Serbia announced that 14,000 vulnerable women would receive hygiene packages, food and other assistance. The project was partially funded by the “Key Steps to Gender Equality” project and executed by volunteers and Red Cross emergency teams. About a week later, Serbia announced its partnership with UNICEF to respond to the aftermath of the virus as it affects children and vulnerable families. Nineteen orphanages in Serbia accepted hygiene packages along with and 4,000 foster families.
On April 22, Serbian Minister of Health Zlatibor Loncar announced a drop in new infections, and cases continued to drop in the following days. Prime Minister Ana Brnabic stated on April 28 in an address to the country that Serbia had a low mortality rate of 1.9% and announced the start of antibody test production in Serbia. The next day, Deputy Prime Minister Zorana Mihajlovic claimed air traffic would reopen on May 18 provided that other European countries followed suit.
Serbian Parliament voted to lift the state of emergency as of May 5, 2020. This ended movement restrictions for all citizens and reopened public spaces like transportation and malls. However, these spaces are subject to safety measures such as social distancing. Serbia reopened kindergartens and preschool facilities while maintaining safety measures. In regards to travel, Serbia lifted 14-day quarantine measures. Serbia’s response to COVID-19 included designated hospitals and clinics for treating the virus, which remain open.
Although Serbia still has COVID-19 cases, the height of the pandemic passed. The country, like many others around the world, is now dealing with the messy aftermath. With aid from other countries and organizations, Serbia was able to effectively respond to the virus and minimize the reverberating damage in the country.
– Kiyomi Kishaba