The introduction of travel restrictions started gradually, with the closing of some border crossings on 13 March 2020, and the closing of all border crossings to North Macedonia for foreign nationals, passengers and vehicles (except freight vehicles, diplomatic corps representatives and other persons with special permit) as of 16 March 2020. Initially, the Ministry of Health issued an order asking people to self-isolate for 2 weeks if they entered the country recently and came from countries with a high or medium risk, according to the WHO’s list which was revised on a daily basis.
Ohrid is a highly frequented tourist area, but its airport was the first to close. Later, as of 00:00 a.m on 19 March 2020, Skopje International airport was closed except for state, military medical and emergency flights.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs set up a system of registration for Macedonian citizens stranded abroad and organized their return to North Macedonia with humanitarian flights. On arrival they were quarantined for 2 weeks in designated venues guarded by local security. People self-isolating were mostly citizens who were abroad when the coronavirus was spreading throughout Europe and elsewhere and returned home. By 30 March 2020, more than 9,000 people in the country of 2.1 million were in quarantine or in self-isolation. A number of fines had also been issued to people breaking quarantine.
On 22 March 2020, the Government urged hotels with more than 50 beds to allow them to be used for state quarantine, with up to EUR 10 a day provided per bed as compensation. Hotels that made their capacities available also needed to provide three meals a day for each person using a bed, as well as ensuring the maintenance of hygiene in the hotel. As of 24 March 2020, 8 hotels had offered capacity to serve as COVID-19 quarantine accommodation.
All suspected cases or contacts of a confirmed COVID-19 case are asked to self-isolate for 14 days in their homes.
As of 3 April 2020, the Government reaffirmed that inspectors would continue with intensive field surveillance in order to ensure full compliance with government measures and recommendations related to COVID-19. A total of 5 213 inspections were carried out and the general conclusion was that most entities were respecting the Government’s measures for prevention of coronavirus. That said, by the 4 April 1322 individuals had violated the curfew.
As of 9 April 2020, a decision was made to extend the 14-day state quarantine for people to be returned from Italy via humanitarian flight to be at least 21 days. Citizens returning to North Macedonia from countries with a high risk of COVID-19 also had to spend 21 days in quarantine. As of 12 April 2020, the mandatory state quarantine was expanded to include citizens arriving in the country via land convoys, in addition to humanitarian flights. As of 15 April, 152 citizens had been repatriated from Italy, and over 3,000 Macedonian nationals stranded abroad had been repatriated in total.
For quick and easy contact with the teams who help vulnerable people in home isolation a mobile phone app (www.pomagame.mk) is being used.
A citizen association called “Youth Can” created a digital platform “Time Bank” to allow citizens to share different options for activities they could do during isolation in their homes. The platform allowed users to convert the time spent in their own homes doing activities suggested by the platform into credits they can later use for purchasing products and services from different businesses.
There were several small outbreaks which were kept under control. For example, as of 23 May 103 police officers had been put in isolation in Skopje, Tetovo, and several other cities throughout the country, 14 of which have tested positive for COVID-19. Six COVID-19 cases had also been registered among textile workers in Shtip.
Health protection protocols have been poorly respected by the public especially in the popular tourist areas of Strumica, Prilep, Veles and Ohrid. Temporary bans have been introduced in several night clubs and pools because measures for protection against COVID-19 were not being respected. Regular inspections are carried out and there is a decision that if irregularities are identified, the immediate temporary closure of restaurants or other spaces will follow, and criminal charges may be brought against the owners. A social media movement has started whereby citizens post information about events and places that are breaking protective rules.
Specific periods of time were especially challenging for enforcement. During one holiday period – a long weekend in early June – the Interior Ministry registered 5,397 curfew violations, most of which were in Skopje (340), between 21:00 on Thursday (June 4) and 05:00 on Monday (June 8). 1,777 people were caught without appropriate protective equipment, i.e. face masks, with the majority of such offences registered in Strumica (417) and Ohrid (356). During that period, 8,701 police controls were conducted to check whether people were abiding by temporary stay-at-home orders.
In June it was decided that the names of people refusing to accept self-isolation orders were to be made public, involving some 450 self-isolation orders.
Eight mosques were temporarily closed in Kichevo on 3 July 2020 due to COVID-19, as the imam of one of the town’s mosques tested positive.
On 18 August 2020, the Government adopted a new protocol for isolation. According to the new protocol the isolation period for asymptomatic people is 10 days after the test, 20 days for symptomatic people and for the close contacts of a confirmed case the period is 14 days after the last contact with the confirmed case.