Serbia reimposes partial lockdown as surge in Covid-19 cases strains health system

Estonia’s PM tests positive as it registers world’s highest per capita infection rate

 Serbia’s prime minister Ana Brnabic has announced the closure of non-essential shops and services until Monday. Photograph: Andrej Isakovic/AFP via Getty Images

Serbia’s prime minister Ana Brnabic has announced the closure of non-essential shops and services until Monday. Photograph: Andrej Isakovic/AFP via Getty Images

 

Serbia is reimposing a partial lockdown to counter a surge in coronavirus cases that is straining the country’s health system, even as it leads the way in mainland Europe for the proportion of residents who have received a Covid-19 vaccine shot.

Officials in Serbia reported 5,201 new Covid-19 cases on Tuesday, the biggest such daily rise in three months, and 4,671 Covid-19 sufferers were being treated in hospitals across the country of 7 million people.

“We are closing everything and we’ll see what it will be like after Monday,” said Serbian prime minister Ana Brnabic when announcing that all non-essential shops and services would shut down on Wednesday for five days.

“Whether we extend [the restrictions] depends on all of us. I am appealing for maximum discipline, and for understanding of the situation facing our healthcare system and the fact that staff are working in terribly hard conditions,” she added.

The decision came at a meeting of Serbia’s coronavirus crisis team, during which medical experts argued for a longer shutdown.

“If there were no compromise solutions, then the economy would stop or the healthcare system would break down,” said Ms Brnabic.

Branislav Tiodorovic, an epidemiologist on the crisis team, said the surge in new cases was largely due to the now predominant and more infectious “British” strain of Covid-19, and dwindling compliance with current health guidelines.

“The assessment of the medical part of the crisis team is that the data will not be better, that we will even have worse numbers on Monday and we will ask for an extension of the measures,” he said, adding that “healthcare workers face a terrible problem and there are no more beds for seriously ill patients in hospitals”.

Vaccine rollout

Serbia is using Covid-19 vaccines from western, Chinese and Russian manufacturers and has already administered more than 2 million doses, according to Reuters data.

Over the last week, however, Serbia has recorded a daily rolling average of 659 new infections per 1 million people, compared with a figure of 106 in the Republic and 86 in the UK. Neighbouring Kosovo, Bosnia and Montenegro are also contending with some of the highest infection rates in the world. 

Hungary is using the same range of vaccines as Serbia and has administered more than 1.7 million doses, a higher rate per capita than any other EU state except Malta, but it is now facing what prime minister Viktor Orban described as probably “the most difficult week of the entire pandemic”.

Hungary reported 7,706 new Covid-19 cases on Tuesday and had the world’s fifth-highest per capita rate of infection, according to Our World in Data.

Estonia had the worst such infection rate, with a figure of 964 new cases per 1 million people. Its prime minister, Kaja Kallas, revealed on Monday that she had tested positive for Covid-19.