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Montenegro & Dealing with Coronavirus

Updated: Apr 10, 2020

by Jason Gold

On the 17th of March Montenegro confirmed it’s first 2 cases of the Corona Virus. It was the last country in Europe to get Corona Virus, this was because of the incredibly proactive measures it had been taking since mid-January.

After the breakout of the Virus in China exploded (late Dec/early Jan) a decision was taken by the Montenegro Government to stop all commercial and tourist activity with China. This presented some difficulties for the China/Montenegro construction project of a new multi-billion Euro motorway which is into its third year. It was agreed with China that the Chinese workers already here numbering many thousands could stay but for the time being no more could arrive.

Soon after the situation in Northern Italy became critical towards the third week of February. Montenegro banned all flights to and from Northern Italy. This was very problematic for Montenegro Airlines, which was already in financial difficulty but on Feb 29th all said flights were stopped.

At the time President Djukanovic said, “I am more interested in the health of our citizens than the economic situation of our Airline “.

By the second week of March, anyone entering Montenegro was being questioned extensively on their recent travels before being allowed entry. If they were transiting by road from European “Hotspots“ through Montenegro to Albania via the Montenegro/Croatian border, they could only do so if they agreed to a police escort through Montenegro’s territory to the southern border with Albania.

From the weekend of the 14th March most borders of Montenegro were closed and on the 16th March all borders were closed to foreigners, except those with either temporary or permanent residency. This emergency law applied to air passengers too.

It was in this week that the first two cases of the coronavirus appeared in the country, brought in by two Montenegrin women arriving back here from overseas trips. Within 24 hours of this happening the entire country went on lockdown, beginning with ALL educational institutes and quickly (24 hrs.) the closing of all public places. Cafes, restaurants, bars, clubs, casinos, theatres, in fact everything except food shops, chemists and banks.

A massive campaign through all Media, Television and Digital platforms including Mobil Phone networks told people to “STAY HOME SAVE LIVES “.

With instructions and an emergency phone number to call if anyone felt the slightest symptoms of the virus. Anyone suspected as a possible positive was sent to medical isolation for 14 days for monitoring.

As this was going on the government with the State Airline were making plans with foreign governments through Montenegro’s ambassadors to organize special flights to get Montenegrin nationals home.

Agreement was reached with many countries and in return the Montenegro government offered to repatriate those countries nationals stranded in Montenegro.

So far flights have brought Montenegro nationals back from London, Paris, Ljubljana, Zurich, Vienna and elsewhere. On arriving back in Montenegro these flights are met by medical teams in Hazchem suits and immediately isolated for tests of the Virus.

All internal transport in Montenegro has been stopped, including taxis. Private cars are allowed but only with a maximum of two people, one in the front and the other in the back.

In the past 8 days, there has been another 45 + case. Virtually all have been traced back to the original two cases and a third early case. Thus far the government has carried out over 5,000 tests (population 620,000) and continues to monitor a few hundred people in quarantine. If anyone breaks their prescribed quarantine they are liable to 12 years prison sentence. The Prime Minister, Markovic said,

“Montenegro does not have the capacity to lose any of it’s citizens and therefore we take an order to quarantine extremely seriously”

Montenegro is a fully functioning democracy and an E.U. candidate country but it takes the health of its citizens very seriously and puts health before corporate profit. The W.H.O. representative for the region was so impressed with the way Montenegro has been and is dealing with the Corona Crisis that it has asked Montenegro government if Montenegro would head a joint co-operation initiative for the region regarding the crisis. The answer was yes and the initiative will be at presidential level.

The Montenegro Sea Port of Bar has been kept open for international aid and assistance for all countries in the region to use.

The medical facilities here are good but nowhere near sufficient to deal with this crisis and therefore Montenegro needs help and donations. Individuals and corporates here and Montenegrins who live overseas have donated over 2,000,000 Euros.

The EU has given 3.000,000 Euros immediately for medical assistance and further financial help has been promised by the W.H.O. but this tiny country needs all the help it can get and is taking the lead in the Western Balkans in the fight against coronavirus.

Jason Gold is a British photographer and writer who has his studio in Montenegro. He is founder and Chair of Labour International Central Eastern Europe Branch and an elected Delegate on the Executive Delegates Committee of Labour International. Republished with permission

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