Former coronavirus-free Montenegro is now facing the challenge of juggling public health preservation with revival of the economy after a slew of new cases in a single week.
Since Sunday June 14, Montenegro has confirmed 35 new cases of coronavirus infection after nearly six weeks of no new active cases recorded.
On Saturday afternoon, when only 31 cases of COVID-19 had been confirmed, the Government of Montenegro publicly announced on Twitterthat the bulk of the country’s new infections had been imported from Serbia, with 12 cases brought in as a result of people attending a soccer match in Belgrade, and 14 cases from individuals traveling to Tutin.
When the first two initial imported COVID-19 cases were confirmed earlier in the week, Sarah Pavlovic, founder of the tourist organisation Montenegro Pulse, told the Sarajevo Times she was unsurprised.
“I never expected our corona-free status to be permanent,” she said, adding that, “with the reopening of borders, I think it’s inevitable that we’ll have new cases.”
Ms. Pavlovic told the Sarajevo Times she agreed with the borders being reopened in order to empower Montenegro’s tourism, and was expectant of the government devising a plan to balance tourism and public safety.
“I support the borders being open to countries with a certain level of cases, as long as there is a comprehensive test and trace programme in place,” she said.
“I think the coronavirus will be with us for a long time and the government will have to have a strategy for managing the risks while protecting our tourism industry, not just for this summer season, but perhaps for many more,” Ms. Pavlovic said.
Montenegro, which was Europe’s first country after the independent state of the Faroe Islands to become coronavirus-free, usually earns 75% of its annual income between June and December.
According to the Secretary of State for Montenegro’s Sustainable Development and Tourism Ministry, Damir Davidovic, the country is anticipating a 40% decline in tourist-generated revenue this year as a result of the global pandemic, See News reported.
Andrijana Radivojevic, an artist who recently posted photos of herself on Instagram in several popular tourist locations on the Montenegrin coastline, told the Sarajevo Times the beaches were “empty” and that visitors were scarce.
On Saturday afternoon, in an official statement on their website, the Government of Montenegro affirmed that the country is now tasked with combating the coronavirus whilst facilitating economic restoration.
“The National Coordination Body warns once again that our country is in a situation where it is fighting a battle for further preservation of public health, while implementing measures aimed at reviving the Montenegrin economy and preserving jobs.”
The government added that “any non-compliance with the prescribed measures is a direct attack on national interests.”
The mandatory wearing of protective masks in enclosed public spaces across the country in response to the new cases of infection, was officially reinstated on Thursday.
Ms. Radivojevic, told the Sarajevo Times she was not perturbed by this, as she felt the public health mandate to wear masks should not have been lifted at all.
“This doesn’t affect me in any way,” she said.
“I think they shouldn’t never ever have stopped wearing them in the first place.”
The Director of the Clinical Centre of Montenegro, Dr. Jevto Eraković, said in a statement published on the Government of Montenegro website on June 18 that he anticipates the country’s number of active coronavirus cases will escalate.
“In the coming period we can certainly expect more [people] infected,” he said.
“This certainly warns us that we must be especially careful in the coming period,” he added.
Dr Eraković urged the people of Montenegro to heed government health measures in order to collectively manage the country’s coronavirus outbreak again.
“I appeal to the citizens to respect the recommendations, not to think of any other motives than the health of the Montenegrin population, and thus enable us to do our job in the way we have done so far.
“We will successfully tackle this challenge, in exactly the same way as we have done so far,” he said.
As of Saturday evening, the municipality of Rozaje, which has the highest number of active coronavirus cases in the country with 14 cases recorded, is required to wear protective masks in open public spaces as well as enclosed establishments.
There is also a ban on public gatherings, celebrations and groupings of more than two people who are not members of the same household, in the Rozaje municipality.
Podgorica, the capital, currently has 11 active coronavirus cases.
Written by Miya Yamanouchi for the Sarajevo Times