Croatia confirmed four new cases of coronavirus infection on Tuesday evening, bringing the total to 69 since the beginning of the outbreak last month. The country also announced tighter restrictions later this week, including the closure of all restaurants and bars, and a total ban on public events, joining the list of European nations who did the same to combat the pandemic.
As of Tuesday evening, Croatia performed more than 1,100 tests of suspected samples, with over 10,000 people quarantined or ordered to isolate at home, including 128 health workers.
Four new cases were reported on Wednesday, with daily up-ticks considerably lower compared to worst-hit European countries like Italy, Spain, or France. Out of 69 reported so far, there have been no deaths, and five people have fully recovered.
'Our measures are efficient'
"This shows that our measures are efficient, and that we have been implementing them in a timely manner," Health Minister, Vili Beros, told reporters, and added that the national health care system is being mobilised and getting ready for a potential surge in cases.
The authorities have designated the major KB Dubrava hospital in eastern Zagreb as the main treatment centre for the nation's coronavirus patients, and began setting up several testing centres around the city. The city, which holds about a fifth of the nation's entire population, accounts for nearly half of the country's case count so far.
Head of the Zagreb's Fran Mihaljevic Hospital, Alemka Markotic, said that all but one patients in Croatia exhibited only mild symptoms of the disease. The one patient, whose identity was not disclosed, is in a "more serious condition" but stable.
Interior Minister, Davor Bozinovic, announced that the government would roll out a new set of tighter restrictions on Wednesday. Although he did not elaborate further, the new measures will likely include closures of all restaurants and bars, malls, cinemas, museums, and gyms, similar to bans enforcing social distancing already seen elsewhere around Europe.
Government rolls out tax relief and emergency lending plans
Earlier on Tuesday, the government released plans for a rescue package to help the economy, as containment measures enacted throughout the continent are expected to devastate Croatia's tourism, hospitality, and transport industries, and is likely to hurt many small businesses.
The sweeping set of measures includes tax relief, an emergency lending programme for local governments and companies, and grace periods for the payment of previously granted business subsidies.
The central bank said that it expected a "sharp but short" period of contraction in the local economy, and added that it will continue its policy of maintaining the exchange rate to prevent the local currency kuna from depreciating. The bank traditionally keeps kuna within a very narrow fluctuation band, set between approximately 7.40 and 7.60 to the euro. On Wednesday, the exchange rate was 7.57.
The central bank's governor, Boris Vujcic, said that the bank would also maintain liquidity to prop up the national economy during this time of crisis. Earlier this week, it injected some 3.8 billion kuna (€500 million) into the local banking system through a structural repo auction, via five-year loans at a fixed interest rate of 0.25 percent.
Slovenia closes its airspace; Serbia introduces curfew
In neighbouring Slovenia, more than 20 new cases were reported on Tuesday, bringing its total to 275, including one fatality. Ljubljana had already imposed draconian measures to contain the outbreak, including closures of all restaurants, cafes, as well as schools.
Public transport has also been suspended, and on Tuesday all passenger air traffic has been banned. A special flight from Moscow was organised to re-patriate stranded Slovenians in that country, and another one is reportedly planned to bring back Slovenian tourists from Morocco.
Serbia went a step further on Tuesday, with President Aleksandar Vucic ordering a nationwide curfew, starting on Wednesday, to be in place from 8 pm to 5 am every day. Elderly citizens, aged 65 and up, would be banned from going out at any time, with designated grocery stores open for them on Sundays only.
The army will also take over all border crossings, migrants centres, and hospitals. On Tuesday, seven new cases were reported, bringing Serbia's total to 72. It too had no fatalities yet.
Bosnia and Herzegovina reported its 27th case of the disease on Tuesday evening, in the major city of Mostar. A state of emergency gas been declared in both of its halves - the Serb Republika Srpska (RS) and the Bosniak-Croat Federation (FBiH) - with all schools and universities shut down last week and bans on large public events enacted. FBiH announced it too would shut down all restaurants, bars, theatres and cinemas, starting on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the Srebrenica Genocide Memorial Centre, which commemorates the 1995 massacre of about 8,000 Bosniak men and boys in the ending stages of the 1992-95 Bosnian War, put up a video of a virtual tour of the site, in an ongoing initiative by world's museums to provide virtual tours avilable to anyone stuck at home in lockdown.
Also on Tuesday night, Montenegro became the last European country to report coronavirus infections, as its first two cases have been confirmed, the country's Prime Minister, Dusko Markovic, said. The patients, women aged 72 and 47, had recently visited the United States and Spain respectively, and are reportedly in good condition.
(€1 = 7.57 kuna)