Read the report on the current situation in North Macedonia.
Before listing the most important measures taken by the North Macedonian government to protect citizens and contain the spread of Covid-19 it should be pointed out that early parliamentary elections had been set for 12 April 2020, which President Stevo Pendarovski has postponed until further notice.
The government under Prime Minister Oliver Spasovski (Zaev having resigned before the scheduled new elections) has made numerous decisions and passed many measures between 10 March 2020 and 08 April 2020. The safety measures decreed were the following:
- All educational institutions are closed for a period of 14 days.
- All employed women who have children younger than 10 years of age have to stay at home in order to make possible the closing of educational institutions. This applies both to the public and private sectors.
- Mass gatherings of more than 1,000 people are forbidden, all sport events are cancelled; bars, restaurants, and shopping malls will have reduced hours, between 7 am and 6 pm. Cinemas, sport centres, museums, libraries, and theatres are closed.
- Self-isolation is compulsory for all citizens coming from states which the WHO has classified as middle and high-risk.
- The export of medical equipment, supplies, and materials is prohibited.
- A health locator ticket has been implemented for all citizens arriving from abroad by plane in order to maintain contact with them for possible health issues.
- The presence of Red Cross volunteers has been reinforced at border crossings in cooperation with the police to control the entrance of citizens from abroad.
- All legal and private persons who disobey these the measures will be prosecuted according to Articles 205 and 206 of the Criminal Law. The articles clearly state that during an epidemic of a dangerous infectious disease those who do not act in accordance with the regulations or orders aimed at its containment or prevention will be punishable by a fine or by imprisonment of up to one year.
- All medical staff who retired in the last 5 to 6 years, particularly specialists in infectious diseases, and epidemiologists are called to contribute in their local institutions.
- All employees who have chronic diseases such as serious cardiovascular diseases, diabetes type 1 and 2, chronic respiratory diseases, and cancer, are to be released from work with valid medical documentation (this list continues to be amended) and to be allowed to work from home if possible.
- All employees in the health sector are forbidden to take vacations, and all medical students with relevant specialisations are being assigned to work in the most important institutions.
- All employees in the public and private sectors who show symptoms are be sent to the health centres, and extensive hygiene measures have been put in place.
It has been assumed that the cases of infection have been spread by North Macedonian citizens who lived in northern Italy. The Minister of Health Venko Filipche has demonstrated a high level of professionalism and responsibility. The government officials responsible for the North Macedonian economy and finances have monitored the situation and have come with several economic measures to deal with it:
- Private enterprises are enjoined to not fire employees.
- There is a weekend curfew from 4 pm of Friday afternoon until 5 am Monday lasting of 61 hours throughout all state territory. During workdays the curfew is from 4 pm to 5 am. In addition, there are curfews for citizens 67 and older who can go out between 5 and 11 am, while those younger than 18 can go out from noon to 9 pm.
In order not to interrupt work in the factories, the Ministry of Informatics and Public Administration will issue special licenses during the curfew for citizens who are:
- employees of state authorities,
- employees in public and private healthcare institutions,
- media workers and other media employees who are part of mobile media teams,
- employees in bakeries and bakeries with up to five employees,
- employees of funeral businesses
- members of the municipal crisis headquarters,
- and individuals and legal entities previously authorised by the General Coordination Headquarters to ensure full coordination of coronavirus containment measures.
The government has also issued two packages of economic measures comprising:
- interest-free loans to support private sectors most affected by the crisis
- subsidies to cover salaries in these sectors for the next two months in order to prevent unemployment. This financial support for the private sector will not be available for companies that have fired workers. Unfortunately, at this point there is still no information on what steps the government will take when employees were dismissed before enactment of these measures. The food-service sector, especially bar and restaurant owners, reacted negatively to the credit and subsidy package, threatening to fire workers. The Minister of Economy has called this sector a gray zone and the area with the greatest record of tax evasion.
The National Bank has issued recommendations for the corona crisis, asking banks not to pay dividends in this period; unfortunately, two banks did not follow the recommendation. Most of them have postponed loan repayments for the following 3 to 6 months, but none of the banks have cancelled interest payment for the incoming months. This means that there will be compound interest, which is an additional burden for citizens.
This was perceived negatively by the public because lowering the salaries of managers in state-owned enterprises and those of public officials will not have the desired effect – all the more so that a majority of employees live month to month only on their salaries without savings.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has organised repatriation flights for North Macedonian citizens who were stuck abroad or were blocked at the airports because of the immediate closing of the borders, thus causing them to lose their jobs. The Ministry arranged eleven flights bringing back more than 2,700 citizens who were obliged to stay in quarantine for 14 days after their arrival. Although the state quarantine is organised and paid for by the state, and citizens are generally accommodated in private hotels that have signed agreements with the state, those concerned had to pay for their flight ticket themselves. Moreover, there were some adverse public reactions to the additional measures requiring citizens to stay another 14 days in private home quarantine. Many of them have complained that after arrival they were not informed after of where they would be quarantined, that the service was on a very low level, and that the behaviour of the police officers in charge was unprofessional.
Religious leaders in Macedonia have called for financial support from the government for holidays such is Easter. The Muslim religious leader Reis ul Ulema Suleymani even threatened the government with calling citizens to flock to the mosques en masse if they do not receive financial support. On the day after this threat, the government have granted 120,000 euros to religious universities in both religious communities, Muslim and Christian Orthodox. When there was adverse public reaction to this grant, the government tried to justify it by claiming that it was part of a previously established annual grant. This split-second decision by the government raises the question of whether North Macedonia is a truly secular state as the Constitution declared it to be.
After its first reactions on 10 March 2020 until today, the government has turned from being swiftly acting and responsible government into an easily frightened and panicked institution. The epidemic’s peak is expected to be reached at the end of April.