Croatia to resume cultural activities on 18 May

The EURACTIV Network provides you with the latest news on how the country is dealing with the coronavirus health crisis. [Shutterstock]

**This article is continuously updated with the latest developments.

As of Monday (18 May), cinemas, theatres and concert halls will reopen but will need to apply social distancing measures including keeping 1,5 metres between a limited number of spectators. While pools can reopen, elderly care homes can be visited. 

Already on 14 May, public schools, fitness centres and other recreational facilities were allowed to reopen as long as they follow the sanitary guidelines set up by epidemiologists.

As of 11 May, Croatia opened its borders and abolished e-passes, meaning people are now allowed to move freely within the country without the prior approval of the government. Coffee shops have also been allowed to reopen as long as they operate outdoors and follow epidemiological guidelines.

Meanwhile, Health Minister Vili Beros told a press conference on Monday (18 May), that “it has been 84 days since the coronavirus appeared in Croatia. In the last 24 hours, we have diagnosed two more patients”.

Since then, the four new cases that were identified all came from the Slavonski Brod-Posavina County, the National Civil Protection Authority said on Tuesday (19 May).

As of Tuesday (19 May), Croatia reported 2,232 confirmed COVID-19 cases (four new cases in the last 24 hours). There have been 96 deaths, and 1,967 have recovered. 

Croatia’s Civic Guard, which is in charge of the pandemic, is very satisfied with the country’s current epidemiological situation despite the island of Brač having emerged as the new epicentre, noting that while the number of newly infected people has been a one-digit number for several weeks now, the death rate is one of the lowest globally.

After the hospital in Split declared the wrong person to have died from coronavirus after mixing the files of two patients, the hospital’s now-former head, Julije Meštrović, has now resigned. The bereaved family not only found out about the death two weeks later but also that their family member had been buried in the other family’s tomb in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Croatia’s Health Minister Vili Beroš has initiated an internal investigation.

Call to save tourism sector and the economy

Croatia’s tourism council announced on Monday (11 May) that it expects that only 30% of last year’s turnover will be achieved in the sector in 2020, which is considered to be one of the bedrocks of the country’s economy.

Previously, Tourism Minister Gari Cappelli said on Monday (27 April) that it was necessary for the EU to have a common exit plan for the coronavirus crisis, which would include a common protocol on travel, as well as something he called a “COVID-19 passport.”

Cappelli, who addressed the press after a video conference with EU tourism ministers, said he hopes that before the end of May, agreements could be reached at least at the bilateral level with individual countries to open so-called tourism corridors, adding that a respectable number of countries are interested in such an option.

While Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic told Die Welt in an interview on Monday (18 May) that he hoped this year’s tourist season would still be successful given how well Croatia responded to the crisis, a Croatia Airlines flight, which brought 75 passengers from Germany to Croatia at the beginning of May, has become the cause of a new outbreak.

Although most recent data indicates that 12 passengers are thought to have contracted the virus, authorities have requested that other passengers self-quarantine in the following days and are still searching for four passengers whose names have been on the list.

The government also focused on the country’s wider economy.

On 1 April, Croatian PM Andrej Plenković presented the second economic relief package tailored for entrepreneurs who are struggling amid the coronavirus crisis.

The government has increased the minimum wage from HRK3,250 to HRK4,000, which should benefit more than 400,000 workers. Also, the state is going to cover all additional contributions for workers on condition that employers keep them in their jobs. This measure is worth 8.5 billion HRK.

Croatian lawmakers appealed to the government to help local agricultural producers and vulnerable social groups affected by the coronavirus crisis. Social Democratic Party (SDP) leader Davor Bernardic recalled that his party had drawn up a third package of 10 measures worth HRK 1.7 billion (€224 million) to alleviate the consequences of the crisis for more than a million socially vulnerable people.

Government exit strategy – several phases

On 23 April, the government unanimously adopted the plan to end restrictions and gradually relaunch economic and other activities on 27 April in three phases, which would respectively start on 27 April, 4 May and 11 May.

To kick-start phase 3 of the government’s exit strategy, which is set to begin on 11 May, hotels and camps in the western Croatian region Istria (the closest to the Italian border) will be allowed to open. Authorities are also considering to abolish e-passes for movement around the country around 11 May, Interior Minister Davor Bozinovic confirmed on Wednesday (29 April). 

There will also be a gradual reintroduction of various services depending on when the state borders open and on market demand, the tourism commission decided during a conference call on 4 May, the day phase 2 launched.

On 4 May, the government launched its second phase of relaxing COVID-19 measures and allowed businesses with close client contacts, such as barbers and hairdressers to reopen.

The attendance of funerals had been broadened to include “extended families” without any limits to their number, although they are having to adhere to epidemiological instructions, said Davor Bozinovic, the head of the National Civil Protection on 4 May, adding that the “ban on flower deliveries and musical services” had been lifted.  When it comes to marriages, ceremonies, the circle of guests is being expanded, while the ban on wedding parties remains in force.

In a letter to PM Andrej Plenković and other ministers, the country’s teachers’ union demanded that schools should not be reopened on 11 May, and shouldn’t do so until all the necessary preconditions have been met. Unlike other EU countries where schools are to reopen, Croatia has not conducted the necessary analyses or consultations with professionals and social partners, nor has it ensured the more than necessary conditions for schools to operate, the union underscored.

Meanwhile, the Croatian Football Federation’s (HNS) Executive Committee has decided that semi-final matches for the Croatian Cup competition will be held on 30 May, which will mark a resume of football matches suspended by the epidemic since mid-March.

Read more about the government’s relaxing of measures:

‘No pressure’ as government gradually enacts measures 

As of 22 March, public transport was shut down, including intercity lines of buses and rails, while shops could stay open till 5 pm from 23 March.

“As of today, all markets are forbidden to work, and tomorrow citizens are prohibited from leaving their place of residence,” Božinović announced on 22 March.

On 8 April, Croatia’s foreign and European affairs ministry called on Croatian citizens temporarily or permanently living and working abroad to postpone all travel to Croatia that is not necessary until further notice ”to minimise exposure and reduce the risk of coronavirus infection,” PM Andrej Plenković said. The prime minister also called on citizens to “show understanding, be patient and keep social distances,” as long as it is needed.

And while the government had already relaxed its ban on keeping farmer’s markets open, it then reversed its decision.

Although it lifted the ban on 9 April by reopening these markets, the decision was later reversed and PM Andrej Plenkovic called the decision a ‘misnomer’.

However, since the lockdown measures were introduced, Croatia has had a declining infection rate and authorities never considered the system to be under “severe pressure”.

Just before lifting restrictions, Krunoslav Capak, the chief of Croatia’s Public Health Institute (HZJZ) said on 23 April that the “current reproductive number is favourable” as it stood at about 0.8.

The day before (22 April), he said that the rate of new infections had been declining, while Health Minister Vili Beros said the system was “slowly going back to normal.” Yet, according to the head of Zagreb’s Fran Mihaljevic Hospital for Infectious Diseases, Alemka Markotic, “the situation in Croatia is very good” but was still at its peak.

On 14 April, Beroš told a press briefing that “our system is still not under severe pressure,” adding that “the strategy in combating the spread of the virus is working thus we will consider a relaxation of the restrictions in the time ahead.”

A week before, on 7 April, parliament Speaker Gordan Jandroković said Croatia had found a good balance In dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, between protecting public health and fundamental values and freedoms.

However, it appears that retirement homes across the country felt more of the pressure. For instance, after 49 residents of a nursing home in Split were taken to hospital for additional tests late on the evening of 7 April and employees who came in contact with them had to self-isolate, authorities started to investigate the nursing home for not reporting concerns that some of the residents had been experiencing symptoms.

Meanwhile, Croatian researchers in Zagreb’s Fran Mihaljevic Hospital for Infectious Diseases have managed to develop the coronavirus in laboratory conditions, and this breakthrough is seen as an important step closer to finding a COVID-19 vaccine.

ZAGREB – Reactivating the economy

Croatian ministers have been tasked to define a list of crucial social and economic activities they would like to launch to gradually reactivate the economy after the health crisis, Croatian PM Andrej Plenković announced after yesterday’s internal government meeting.

Epidemiologists …

Enforcing restrictions

On 27 April, the day phase 1 started, Interior Minister Davor Božinović said that inspectors have been visiting businesses throughout the country as have been allowed to re-open. The country is entering a period “where there will probably be more unknowns,” he said the day before (26 April).

Already on 21 March, Božinović had told a press conference that the government’s biggest challenge was “making people obey restrictions,” adding that “if everyone followed the rules, there would be no need for more drastic measures, but facts point to a different situation.”

Read more about the economic situation in Croatia:

Croatia handles earthquake damage amid COVID-19 outbreak

The Croatian government is struggling to mitigate the damage caused by a 5.5 Richter-scale earthquake on Sunday (22 March) and simultaneously, protect citizens from the coronavirus outbreak. EURACTIV Croatia reports.

Zagreb earthquake complicated coronavirus response

After Zagreb was hit by a major earthquake on the morning of 22 March, which damaged many buildings, Health Minister Vili Beroš urged people to comply with social distancing measures despite being forced to go outside. “Earthquakes are dangerous but the coronavirus is even more so,” Beroš said, noting that “there was no major damage to health facilities in Zagreb.”

The head of Croatia’s public health institute, Krunoslav Capak, as well as the health minister said that no significant increase in COVID-19 infections had been noted after the 22 March earthquake, which indicates that citizens had been following the rules even during the disaster.

Since many residents of Zagreb fled after the earthquake, the crisis management team imposed a ban travelling from town to town from 24 March and announced stronger measures against those who don’t respect their rules and organise so-called “corona parties.” 

While government members agreed to donate their March pay, the prime minister urged retailers, once again, to not raise prices of products or exploit the two crises for profiteering.

More on the earthquake can be found here:

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