Policy responses for North Macedonia - HSRM

North Macedonia


Policy responses for North Macedonia

6. Measures in other sectors

6.1 Measures in other sectors

Many MEASURES IN OTHER SECTORS beyond the immediate scope of the health system are being taken to prevent further spread of the virus. This section contains information on many of these areas, including border and travel restrictions and economic and fiscal measures, among others.

Travel

As of 17 June 2020, the government has opened all border crossings in the country by applying current measures. The measures of providing a valid negative PCR test upon entry into the country and mandatory self-isolation of 14 days remains in force. The 14-day state quarantine measure remains in force for all citizens or foreigners with regulated residence in the country, who, when entering the territory of North Macedonia, do not submit a valid PCR test or submit an invalid PCR test.

Although North Macedonia opened the border crossings, there was no great interest in leaving the country on 17 June 2020. There was no congestion on Tabanovce for entering the country either. However, those who decided to travel, in order avoid the state quarantine, used the services of a private laboratory that tests for COVID-19. Several vehicles waited up to five hours to enter, as border guards questioned the credibility of the Austrian PCR test. Most who stayed at the border for a maximum of ten minutes were from neighboring countries, returning from work abroad and will have to exit the country within 5 hours.
Wizz Air extended the suspension of all flights to and from North Macedonia until 13 July. It also plans to reduce its Skopje fleet from five to four aircraft as a result of the effects of the coronavirus Covid-19 pandemic and the opening of new bases across the continent.

Skopje International Airport and Ohrid St. Paul the Apostle Airport reopened on 1 and 2 July respectively with Wizz Air flights returning (they have been closed since 18 March 2020). The first set of tourists are expected to arrive at the Skopje airport from the Netherlands and Poland in mid-July. Flight protocols have been designed in line with international standards. The passengers will have to arrive at the airport three hours before their flight, as protective measures will prolong security checks. Limits have not been imposed on the number of passengers per flight, but passengers will be obliged to wear face masks for the duration of the flight and cabins have been equipped with HEPA filters that destroy 99.9% of viruses and bacteria. A thermal camera has been placed at the airport’s entrance and the isolation room will also become operational.

Citizens of North Macedonia will not be able to travel to EU countries starting on July 1. From the Balkan countries, the doors of the EU will be opened for the citizens of Serbia and Montenegro. The EU has decided to ban citizens of almost every country in the world, including the United States, from entering its territory for fear of spreading the coronavirus pandemic. Only 14 countries have met the criteria for travel to the EU since July 1, and the European Council yesterday began the official procedure for the adoption of the visa regime document, the content of which will be officially announced on the 3 July.

As of 26 June 2020, all land border crossings had been opened for unimpeded movement of passengers and vehicles. As of 9 July 2020, however, citizens of Serbia, Kosovo, Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina upon entry at the border crossing on the territory of North Macedonia, are required to submit a medical certificate with a negative test result of RT PCR SARS-CoV-2, made 72 hours before entering the territory of the country. They must also submit a completed personal statement data about their place of residence and the duration of their stay.

Skopje International Airport and Ohrid Airport "St. Apostle Paul” re-opened for commercial flights as of 1 July 2020. The new rules require passengers to arrive at airports three hours ahead of the flight, to wear a face mask at all times, and to keep a safe distance from each other. It is also forbidden to enter the airport buildings unless you are a person travelling.

Protective masks, scarfs or other means of covering the mouth and nose are obligatory in all enclosed areas, such as markets, pharmacies and banks. They are also compulsory in outdoor places where there is crowding and a two-metre distance can’t easily be maintained.

If symptoms occur (fever, tiredness, dry cough) in any travelers, they should contact their health care provider or a designated telephone hotline service and inform them of their travel history and symptoms. Under no circumstances should they visit a health facility.

Albania and Turkey are the only countries where citizens of North Macedonia can go on vacation. In late July Bulgaria and Austria opened the borders for North Macedonia citizens who can present a negative PCR test taken within the past 72 hours.
Greece has banned flights to and from Turkey, Albania and North Macedonia until July 31 due to the pandemic.
The Medzitlija and Doirani border crossings between North Macedonia and Greece are closed for passenger and freight transport until August 4 except the Evzoni border which remains open.

North Macedonia’s two international airports, Skopje and Ohrid, processed 432.607 passengers during the first half of the year, representing a decrease of 63%. In comparison to this time last year, traffic frequency at the Bogorodica border crossing with Greece has reduced by almost 90%. Since July 1, the day when Greek nationals were allowed to visit the country without any obstacles, only 11,818 Greeks have crossed the border: an average of 700 people a day – less than 10% of the 8,000 daily visitors before the pandemic crisis. The results of the drop in the number of Greek tourists are devastating to the local economy and across a number of different sectors.

On 19 August 2020, the Commission for Infectious Diseases recommended to the Government to introduce mandatory PCR test for all passengers from Kosovo transiting through North Macedonia.

On 26 August, the Government adopted the recommendation from the Commission for Infectious Diseases according to which all passengers who are citizens of Kosovo and transit North Macedonia, must submit a negative PCR test not older than 72 hours. 

As of 12 October 2020, the citizens of Kosovo can enter North Macedonia without PCR test.

North Macedonia mobilized an all-of-government action to fight this new coronavirus, including scaling up emergency response mechanisms in all sectors. A Steering Committee was formed to support the coordination and management of the national crisis, composed of Ministers of the Interior, Health, Transport and Communications, Defence, Foreign Affairs and the Head of the Assessment Group. The Committee holds meetings as needed with the Minister of Health and the Operational Crisis Committee for decision-making at the highest level.

• Mobility (transport)
The Minister of Foreign Affairs urged citizens not to travel.

Citizens of North Macedonia can still enter the country after special request to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. A hotline is in place for that purpose.

Citizens of North Macedonia that wish to exit the country are requested to sign a form that they will not return to the country within the next three months.

There are no restrictions on the import of goods.

On 30 March 2020, the Government adopted a Protocol for entry of foreign diplomats accredited to the country and their family members into North Macedonia. According to the protocol, foreign diplomats and their family members should not be, in principle, exempt from mandatory quarantine upon the entry into the country. In order to comply with the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and at the same time to comply with the national laws and regulations, the state quarantine measure will be applied only as it is deemed necessary.

In the municipalities of Kumanovo and Debar, all public transport to and inside the city is stopped.

The Ministry of Health and the city of Skopje agreed to increase the number of local buses in Skopje in the morning and the afternoon hours to reduce overcrowding.

There will be no public transport in the restricted hours and intercity public transport was decreased by 50%.

Passengers and staff in vehicles are required to wear masks and disinfect vehicles. There is also a maximum utilization of up to 50% of the capacity for passengers in vehicles.

The country’s official travel advice sites provide up-to-date information (https://vlada.mk/node/20488?ln=en-gb and https://travel.mfa.gov.mk/)

As of 15 April 2020, for food products and medical products whose fast transport is deemed essential, faster transport will be provided through the CEFTA member states. This means that at the border crossings there will be a special lane for the carriers of these products. In North Macedonia, green corridors have been activated since Monday, at the border crossings Tabanovce, Blace and Kjafasan.


Starting from June 2020, for people entering Macedonia with special and humanitarian flights, the mandatory state quarantine will be replaced with domestic isolation and a PCR test done in the previous 72 hours.

Upon a proposal from the Foreign Ministry, a protocol has been drawn up for foreign diplomats and members of their families who, with a negative test confirmation, are able to smoothly do their job.

Wizz Air announced that it will extend the suspension of all flights to the country until 14 June. The suspension is a result of the extended travel restrictions for all foreign flights to and from North Macedonia.

Airports in North Macedonia are not to be opened before 15 June. At the moment, the number of flights compared to last year is just 7 to 10%, and these include military flights, special medical, state and humanitarian flights and repatriation flights for citizens who were out of the country during the outburst of the pandemic when the borders were closed.

Serbia has given the green light for the entry of citizens from North Macedonia. Slovenia, Bulgaria and Montenegro have already introduced a 14-day quarantine for all coming from the country, Cyprus has not put North Macedonia on the list of countries whose citizens can enter the country, and Greece may not open the border on 15 June for North Macedonia. Albania has announced that it will monitor the number of infections in the country and then decide under what conditions it will allow citizens of North Macedonia to enter. Kosovo demands a negative test not older than 4 days or 14 days of domestic isolation for those who want to enter from North Macedonia.

The Government adopted a protocol for visitors transiting through the country, either through land crossings with neighboring Albania, Bulgaria, Greece, Kosovo and Serbia, or through the international airport in the capital Skopje. Transiting visitors are allowed to remain in the country for up to five hours and will be obliged to fill out a form upon entry in North Macedonia and to hand it over to the border police at the exit as proof of the duration of transit. Macedonian citizens can leave the country, but they are obliged to sign a statement at the exit that they will not request government support in case of a problem while abroad. Upon re-entry, they must present to border authorities the results of a diagnostic test taken within the past 72 hours and need to sign a statement for mandatory 14-day self-isolation. In case when PCR results are not available or are not valid, then people are subject to a mandatory 14-day state quarantine.

Greece announced it would open the land borders with North Macedonia and Albania on July 1. Only a few border crossings will be operational, including Evzoni (Bogorodica) to North Macedonia. Regarding airlines, flights from North Macedonia and Albania will be allowed between June 15-30, but only for specific purposes, not for tourists, and only to the Athens-based airport. As of July 1, all tourists arriving in Greece will have to fill out a form – Passenger Load Factor – including data on their contacts in Greece. COVID-19 tests will be made by random selection, and possible positive cases will be sent to a 14-day hotel quarantine.

The Montenegrin Institute of Public Health has updated the list of countries whose arrival in the country is not subject to special restrictions and as of mid-June North Macedonia was not on the list.

As of 12 Oct 2020, the Government of North Macedonia decided to allow unimpeded entry of foreign nationals from Serbia, Kosovo, Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina without medical confirmation by negative PCR SARS CoV-2 test upon entry/transit. For now, Macedonian citizens may travel to Albania and Kosovo without obligation to submit a negative coronavirus test, but the Government appeals to citizens to travel abroad only when there is an urgent need.

• Economy
The Government adopted a decision to freeze the price of basic products such as bread, salt, oil, milk and dairy products, eggs, flour, meat, pasta, medicines and disinfectant products at the level of the day when WHO declared the outbreak to be a pandemic (unless they have since been imported at higher prices). Tracking and reporting of price fluctuations is undertaken by the Market Inspectorate, with extraordinary control of warehouses and distribution centres to make sure there are no hidden stocks of basic products.

The Minister of Finance proposed the use of a EUR 400 million Eurobond loan with a maturity of up to 12 months to support the state's liquidity in times of pandemic and economic downturn, for the health sector as well as the wider economy. This loan is a loan from foreign banks on favourable terms and with a low interest rate, below 2.75%.

To provide a comprehensive and coordinated approach in identifying and repurposing the available bilateral assistance to the COVID-19 response, all public administration bodies receiving bilateral donor assistance are to report promptly to the office of the Deputy Prime Minister and the Secretariat for European Affairs the amount of funds available for each project. The Secretariat for European Affairs will then submit a formal request to the bilateral donors for the reuse of funds in accordance with the identified priority needs for COVID19.

The Government adopted a decision to abolish customs fees for critical products (wheat products, sunflower oil, sugar, sanitary products, masks, sanitary and medical uniforms etc.), as well as all customs fees for the import of protective medical equipment such as face masks, gloves and disinfection products.

In addition, the Government adopted the following measures:
• An export ban of wheat and wheat flour to all countries for an indefinite period;
• An assessment of wheat and flour stock in the country by the Ministries of Economy and Agriculture, Commodity Reserves Agency and the milling industry;
• A report on the stock of all food products (Commodity Reserves Agency), prepare a list of food products that may require emergency import (Ministries of Economy and Agriculture, Commodity Reserves Agency);
• The prohibition of companies to initiate procedure to go bankrupt during the crisis
• The issue of vouchers to travel agencies for arrangements that were cancelled as a result of COVID-19.
• A measure that all shops inside malls, except food stores and supermarkets, should be closed
• Production plants, factories and transport will continue to operate during the curfew and for this purpose the employers will issue special permits for the movement of workers during the curfew.

As of 31 March 2020, the Government adopted a second set of economic measures to mitigate the effects of COVID-19. It includes financial support to private companies enabling them to pay salaries in the amount of minimum wage (14,500 denars – EUR 250) to their employees in next two months, April and May. Also, all elected and appointed office holders, including the President, the PM, ministers and lawmakers, will see their salaries reduced to the amount of the country’s minimum wage. Its estimated amount stands at nearly EUR 200 million. Under the new measures, there will be no pay cuts for employees in North Macedonia’s public sector. Furthermore, athletes, artists and media workers will get paid minimum wage in April and May. Workers who will be laid off as a result of the crisis will get paid 50% of average salary. The set also offers subsidies to cover 50 per cent of salary contributions and no-interest loans for the companies, provided by the Development Bank. Also, auto mechanics, hair salon owners, barbers, bakers, etc., can apply for the government support envisaged in the second set of measures. The government has decided to establish a solidarity fund for donations from individuals and legal entities to mitigate the impact of the coronavirus.

As of 13 April, the Government adopted the Information on the need to use macro-financial support from the EU for non-EU countries and approved the draft text of the Letter for formal request for this type of support.

The government decided to cut EUR 105 million from the budgets of ministries and other users of state money. EUR 25 million have been reallocated from the Ministry of Defence, and there will be no capital investments for the Ministries of Education and Labour and Social Policy, as well as no other expenses which the government does not deem to be a priority. These 6.5 billion denar have been reallocated to the following programmes: 5.9 billion for the programme for financial support of measures for COVID, 19.95 million for a special fund for the tourism sector, 6 million for independent artists, and 30 million for sportspersons.

Additional financial measures include:
• North Macedonia's finance ministry will offer two issues of government securities worth a combined 1 billion denars ($17.4 million/16.2 million euro) at auctions on April 28, according to notices published by the country's central bank. The offer comprises 200 million denars worth of one-year Treasury bills and 800 million denars of 30-year T-bonds. The central bank will sell the government securities on behalf of the finance ministry through a volume tender, in which the price and coupon are set in advance and primary dealers bid only with amounts.

• The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) will support the country's economy during the coronavirus crisis with a 250 million euro ($269 million) financing package. The funding will be directed towards the financial and energy sectors, small and medium-sized enterprises, as well as big companies. Part of the funds will be used for infrastructure projects that have to be finalized by the government in cooperation with the EBRD.

• Considering the fall of the oil prices of about 20 denars in the period from January 8 to April 6 this year, the government of North Macedonia has increased excise taxes on oil derivatives as an anti-crisis measure in the fight against COVID-19. The excise duty on the Eurosuper 95 and Eurosuper 98 fuels will rise to 24.69 denars, while the excise duty on Eurodiesel will increase to 18.12 denars. The excise duty on the extra light oil EL-1 will rise to 9.14 denars. North Macedonia's government decided on 21 April to increase the excise duty on oil derivatives by 3 denars ($0.053/0.049 euro) per litre, as the additional funds will go to finance measures in support of the economy and citizens during the coronavirus crisis. The director of the Energy Regulatory Commission, Marko Bislimovski, informed that Consumption of oil derivatives has decreased by 40 percent, and revenues from excise duties and tax on oil derivatives were reduced by 10-15 million euros compared to the same period last year. (1 euro = 61.62 denars)

• On 14 April 2020 the Government announced Decree No. 44-3136/1 exempting donations made to government entities due to the coronavirus pandemic from VAT. The decree entered into force the same day.

Prime minister Oliver Spasovski said that the government will implement a third package of measures aimed at reducing the impact of the coronavirus outbreak by supporting both citizens and the economy.

Under the latest set of economic relief measures, 100,000 citizens who are unemployed or receive wages lower than 15,000 denars ($263/243 euro) per month will receive a stimulus payment of 9,000 denars each, as well as vouchers and cash to spend on domestic tourism, Spasovski told a news conference streamed on the government's YouTube channel on 17 May 2020.

Some 100,000 young people will also get 3,000 denars in stimulus payment each, in addition to vouchers to cover part of their education expenses and to enroll in trainings and courses for IT and digital skills.

Moreover, the government is introducing no-VAT weekends that will apply to certain goods, such as clothes, white goods and books to stimulate household spending and increase profit in certain industries.

The package also includes financial compensation for people who have lost their job in the period between 11 March and 30 April.

The new set of measures encompasses an additional EUR 31 million in interest-free loans for micro and small companies founded or run by women entrepreneurs and employing young people. Additional financing will be provided to companies for the development of innovative products and services.  The government is also boosting financial support for agricultural workers and will implement a new programme to finance micro agrobusinesses.

The European Council adopted €3 billion of macro-financial assistance to ten enlargement and neighborhood partners, including North Macedonia, to help them cope with the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic. The financial assistance will be provided in the form of loans on highly favorable terms as follows:
Albania: €180 million
Bosnia-Herzegovina: €250 million
Georgia: €150 million
Jordan: €200 million
Kosovo: €100 million
Moldova: €100 million
Montenegro: €60 million
Republic of North Macedonia: €160 million
Tunisia: €600 million
Ukraine: €1200 million.

In North Macedonia, 100,000 citizens are to receive a payment card for domestic tourism in the total amount of 16 million euros as part of the third set of economic measures. In addition, 100,000 young people up to the age of 29 years are to receive payment cards and vouchers in the total amount of 12 million euros.

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development has initiated a research programme aiming at the development of small and medium-sized enterprises in North Macedonia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Romania, Serbia and Slovenia. The aim is to produce free, publicly available, high-quality research reports to overcome information barriers that depress market liquidity. Making markets more transparent by increasing the amount of reliable information is regarded as key to increasing the availability of financing for SMEs. The 2-year research programme will be implemented by WOOD & Company, an investment bank specializing in emerging markets. The programme is also fully aligned with the objectives of the European Commission’s Action Plan on Building a Capital Markets Union.

The Economic Chamber of Macedonia (SKM) and its regional partners united in the Chamber Investment Forum (CIF) have started an initiative for strengthening the economic cooperation among the Western Balkan countries in time of the pandemic.

On 30 May 2020 the Government adopted a decree legalizing the issuance of low-income vouchers to encourage domestic tourism during a state of emergency, as part of a third package of economic measures to support citizens to mitigate the effects of the Corona crisis and support the consumption of domestic products and services.

The tourism voucher, with a value of 6,000 denars issued by the Ministry of Economy, will be given to low-income employees for accommodation and food services in categorized catering facilitiesand registered providers of tourist activitities.

The unemployment rate in North Macedonia in the first quarter of 2020 was 16.2 %, while the average unemployment rate in 2019 was 17.3 %, and in the last quarter of 2019 it was 16.6 %. According to the latest data from the State Statistical Office, the number of active population in Macedonia in the first quarter of 2020 is 967,733, of which 156,627 are unemployed, the activity rate is 57.4 % and the employment rate is 48.1 %, while the unemployment stands at 16.2%.

• As of 5 June 2020, over 34,000 companies had applied for subsidies for salaries, and 90 % of the applications had been processed and approved.

• The platform for the distribution of vouchers for summer holidays in the touristic centres in the country is anticipated to be operable by 15 June 2020. With this measure, citizens with monthly incomes lower than 15,000 denars can get a voucher of 6,000 denars which they can use for reservations in the touristic capacities around the country. They can use these vouchers till the end of 2020, and they are to compensate with their own funds if the arrangement they intend to purchase is more expensive than 6,000 denars. The vouchers will be distributed in accordance with income data from the Public Revenue Office.

• The Organization of Employers of Macedonia (OEM) concluded that over 82% of companies in North Macedonia are negatively affected by the COVID-19 crisis. Nine sectors, in which 62% of all employees work, are deeply affected by the crisis, while around 40,000 jobs are under serious risk. The sectors most affected by the crisis are service-providing businesses, retail sale, transport and storage, processing industry and construction. Managers of over half of companies included in the research claim that their businesses will not make it through the crisis. Also, over 70% of business owners believe that the state should prolong the measure of subsidising salaries for another six months, in order to avoid shutting down a great number of businesses.

• The Federation of Trade Unions of Macedonia (SSM) announced that they had received several reports by citizens that the companies they worked for payed them lower salaries, despite the fact that they have applied for the governmental measure of subsidised salaries, with 14,500 denars per employee. The SSM stated that they will take all legal measures to pursue the companies that conform to this practice, if their investigations prove that these companies indeed underpay their employees.

• The COVID-19 crisis led to half a million passengers less that projected at the airports in North Macedonia. The first four months of the coronavirus crisis in North Macedonia have caused serious damage to air traffic. Due to the decision on the 18 March to close the two airports as a measure to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in North Macedonia, by the end of May half a million passengers were “lost”. The data provided by the State Statistical Bureau indicate that during April 2020 there were only 1,853 passengers using air travel – and all of them were citizens that were brought back to North Macedonia by the Foreign Affairs Ministry through humanitarian flights. In contrast to these numbers, during April 2019, 213,261 passengers were registered at both airports in Skopje and Ohrid, while in May 2019 there were 219,141 passengers. In March 2019, there were 175,437 passengers while during March 2019, there were 79,469 passengers.

By 23 June 2020, another 476 Interest-free loans had been approved by the Macedonian Development Bank for companies that had applied for interest-free loans as part of governmental measures for overcoming the economic consequences from the COVID-19 pandemic. With this, the number of companies seeking assistance through this measure reached 1,700, and the government announced that they will consider possibilities of increasing these funds, since many other companies have expressed an interest to apply for this measure. By 23 June 2020, 738 loans had been approved with the “Kovid 1” crediting line, estimated at around 5.54 million euros for companies with a total number of 6,524 employees.

As of 27 September 2020, the Government adopted the fourth set of 31 economic measures worth €470 million. The package is to be implemented in the last quarter of 2020 as continuation of the previous COVID-19-related measures, with a possibility to extend beyond 2020. The Government should be able to implement these measures faster, building on the previous experiences, however, some of these will require further consultations, as well as legal and systemic changes (e.g. tax changes), hence implementation will start as of 2021.
The measures are organized in three pillars, designed in a more straightforward manner and targeting vulnerable groups and most affected sectors:
1. The first pillar includes direct financial support to citizens in order to stimulate private consumption, focusing on domestic products and services and most affected sectors. The measure is to be implemented by providing debit cards of 6,000 MKD (around 100 €) for extended target groups including 5,726 single parents, retired and older people with pensions/income below 15,000 MKD (around 250 €), as well as students, filming industry workers and passive jobseekers. The cards are to be used for domestic products and services only, with a total allocated amount of €27.6 million, potentially covering around 280,000 beneficiaries.
2. The second is aimed to support the private sector in ensuring liquidity and preserving jobs, as well as to introduce new technologies, increase competitiveness and productivity. These measures include:
- Job retention incentives which will depend on the level of companies’ loss. The measure is aimed at companies, but also individual entrepreneurs, farmers and service providers, with a total allocated amount of €70 million, potentially supporting 250,000 jobs;
- A three months extended grace period for COVID-19 related loans provided by the Development Bank with no interest, and an additional €100 million into the credit scheme;
- Support for the tourism industry with the job retention scheme extended to 150 tourist guides (total €160,000), tourist tax return for 4,740 hotel venues (€2 million) and grants for 500 tour operators depending of the number of employees and the type of license held (€1.9 million). Grants between € 3000 and €-10,000, depending on last year’s turnover, will also be provided for wedding organizers and licensed restaurants (€1 million);
- Tax incentives: the tax deferral for companies is to be extended to the end of the year, reducing taxes in the crafts sector from 18% to 5%, introducing a single tax of 10% for restaurant services (now at 18% for beverages and 5% for food); tax exemption for donations and workers’ learning & development,  VAT free weekends for domestic products and IT equipment, state guarantees for loan and customs debts, cancelling parafiscal fees for companies etc.
3. The third pillar is intended to support financial and fiscal sustainability in the economy as a whole, including the financial stability of the municipalities. Not many details on this pillar are currently available.

News on the economic impact of COVID-19 in North Macedonia from the World Bank for fall 2020:
The economic outlook in North Macedonia  and the rest of the Balkan countries seems grim by a deepening recession as the Covid-19 pandemic progresses.  The World Bank issued its latest Regular Economic Report (RER). It explains the grim outlook by drops in both domestic and foreign demand, coupled with disruptions in supply chains, forcing all six countries in the region into negative growth territory for 2020. According to the World Bank’s latest Regular Economic Report, economic growth is forecast to contract by 4.8 percent in 2020, 1.7 percentage points lower than forecast in April. A second, stronger wave of the pandemic since mid-June is delaying economic recovery in the region. Travel restrictions and social distancing measures have also depressed growth in those countries more reliant on tourism.
North Macedonia is trying to cope with its deepest recession in two decades, affecting all sectors of the economy, and economic activity is forecast to decline by 4.1 percent in 2020. Although government support in North Macedonia has cushioned the impact of the crisis on the labor market, the unemployment rate increased, to 16.7 percent, for the first time since 2011, as 17,690 people lost their jobs in the second quarter of the year. Government support programs also helped alleviate some impact on workers and firms, but fiscal space narrowed, as debt exceeded 60 percent of GDP. With the end of the economic crisis uncertain, pressure on labor markets and incomes is likely to continue for some months, notes the report. The report acknowledges that the speed of recovery, in the short term, will depend on how the pandemic evolves, the approval of a vaccine that allows for the normalization of economic activity, and a sustained recovery for the region’s main trading partners, especially the European Union (EU).


NORTH MACEDONIA COVID-19 SOCIOECONOMIC IMPACT AND RESPONSE

• The Council for Media Ethics in Macedonia (SEMM) reacted to the tendency of the media to speculate on the number of infected and deceased citizens as a result of the coronavirus and has encouraged to file complaints with SEMM whenever journalistic texts seem to be outside the professional standards.

• 11,904 persons have lost their jobs between 11 March and 31 May this year. Out of 11,904 persons, 5,703 persons (47.9%) got the status of unemployed due to the expiration of the fixed-term employment contract, 3,082 persons (25.9%) got their status due to an agreed termination of employment, 1,169 persons (9.8%) were fired by the employer, 1,112 people (9.3%) have resigned, 380 people (3.2%) lost their jobs due to business reasons (technological, economic, organizational and similar changes), 104 people (0.9%) lost their jobs due to bankruptcy of the companies in which they worked. Most of the workers whose employment was terminated (4,230) are from the manufacturing industry, 2,324 people worked in the wholesale and retail trade sector 2,324 people or 19.5%, 1,432 persons worked in the sector of accommodation facilities and food service activities. Of those who lost their jobs, 6,961 (58.5%) have secondary education, 3,128 (26.3%) have no education and primary education, and 1,815 (15.2%) have higher and high education. The total number of unemployed people registered with the Employment Agency in the period March-May 2020 increased by 12,297 people.

• The Fund for Innovations and Technological Development (FITD) to support female entrepreneurship with the latest public call for funds by introducing sub-criterion for the public call for support for companies to deal with consequences from the COVID-19 pandemic: All companies which have women in the managing structure will receive 5 extra points for the evaluation of the applications.

• The Ministry for Labor and Social Policy pays 155.6 million denars to unemployed people for May 2020 or 16,012 unemployed people benefited from this measure, in accordance with the Law on Employment and Insurance in case of unemployment and the Law on Financial Support for People who were left jobless due to privatization of state enterprises. This measure also covers the citizens who were dismissed from their jobs between 11 March and 30 April as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

• The Public Revenue Office (PRO) has received over 27,100 applications for the measures of the government for financial assistance to the business sector amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Over 20,000 applications are for the measures subsidies for payment of salaries, and of these 16,610 were accepted. 2,240 companies applied for the measure for subsidies for payment of salary contributions, and of these 1,909 applications were accepted. Companies can apply for these measures till 7 June 2020.

• The Organization of Consumers of Macedonia (OPM) highlighted interest for shopping online among the citizens is increasing, mainly because of the COVID- 19 pandemic and the restrictions for movement in public and business activities.

About 140,000 jobs are saved through the governmental measure for subsidization of the payment of salaries for April, May and June in the companies affected by COVID-19 crisis as part of the second set of measures for supporting the economy during the pandemic, according to Finance Ministry estimates.

• Citizens can request a return of VAT as late as 31 July 2020, after numerous complaints by citizens that they have clicked to donate the VAT return on the application to the COVID-19 fund by mistake or have changed their minds. Citizens use the VAT Return Application on their mobile phones to scan receipts from retail businesses and gain 15% of VAT return from the total VAT calculated in the final price of the product or service. In addition, the Government adopted a decree to stimulate purchase of domestic products towards revitalizing the Macedonian economy. Citizens who buy domestic products will now get 20% VAT return when scanning their fiscal receipts within the MyVAT project, instead of 15%.

• Since the outbreak of COVID-19 in the country, many citizens were forced to purchase certain products online, which led to an increase of e-shopping activities in North Macedonia according to data from the National Bank of Macedonia (NBRM). Data shows that there has been an annual growth of credit transfer transactions of 4.9 %, an increase in transactions in physical persons of 1.3 %, and a slight decline of 0.7 % in legal persons since the beginning of the health crisis in the country. Physical entities have started utilizing the benefits of online banking more. The number of electronic credit transfers initiated by citizens has increased by a whopping 30.3 % annually, i.e. a 21.4 % increase monthly. Citizens used computers for payments. Specifically, in payments done via computer, there is a high annual growth in March of 26.4 %, i.e. a 27.2 % monthly growth, twice as high as the annual growth in the first quarter of this year which amounted to 13.8 %.

• 117 companies with a total number of 3,001 employees have been approved funds from the interest-free crediting line “Covid 2” for overcoming consequences from the COVID-19 pandemic. So far, 1.6 million euros have been paid to 83 out of the 117 companies that were approved funds. “Covid 2” was open for all businesses from all sectors compared to the crediting line “Covid 1”, where only companies from the sectors of tourism, catering and transport were allowed to apply. For “Covid 1” the Development Bank of Macedonia received applications from 704 companies, of which 476 were approved, and will gain around 316 million denars, while 286 applications were rejected because the companies did not fulfil certain conditions for gaining the finance. Both crediting lines are part of the governmental measures for maintaining the liquidity of companies in time of pandemic.

By 23 June 2020, the funds from the “Startup 2” had been exhausted and the Fund for Technological Development will work to provide support to an additional 21 companies. A total of 53 companies are part of the first investment wave projected at 1.9 million euros of which 1.5 million were provided by the Government in cooperation with the World Bank and the remaining 400,000 will be provided by entrepreneurs.

The scope of people who are eligible to receive monetary compensation from the Government has been expanded to include citizens who lost their jobs between March 11 and April 30, regardless of whether they signed a consensual agreement for termination of employment or were fired by the employer and they will be able to receive monetary compensation from the Government for two months.

The Government adopted a Decree to reduce the financing of the political parties from 0.15% to 0.04% which amounts to a reduction of about four million euros in the funding of political parties.

The surface of land planted with tobacco in Strumica is reduced by 20 % compared to 2019. In 2019, 2,700 contracts for purchasing of tobacco were signed with producers, but this year their number is barely 2,000. The total reduction of surfaces planted with tobacco is 1,200 hectares. On the national level, the production of tobacco is expected to be around 23,000 tons, or 4,000 less than in 2019.

The managers of the business entities assessed that the confidence indicator in the manufacturing industry in May 2020, standing at 13.0, is 8.0 percentage points lower compared to May 2019. The situation with the current volume of production orders in May 2020 is less favorable compared to the previous month, the expectations for the production volume for the next three months are also less favorable, and the stocks of finished goods have decreased. The estimation of the economic situation is less satisfactory compared to the previous month, as well as compared to May 2019. The number of employees is expected to decrease. The average capacity utilization level of the business entities in May 2020 decreased to 65.4 % of normal utilization. The factors that had the greatest influence on limiting the production volume in May 2020 were insufficient foreign demand with 21.3%, shortage of skilled labor with 18.4 %, uncertainty of the economic environment with 14.6 % and insufficient domestic demand with 12.7 %.

According to the data of the State Statistical Office, the price index in agriculture in May 2020 decreased by 9.8 % in the group Input, while in the group Output it increased by 5.8 % in comparison with May of the previous year. In May 2020, compared with May 2019, the price index for Input 1 (goods currently consumed in agriculture) was 89.5, and the price index for Input 2 (investment in agriculture) was 100.2. In the group Output in May 2020, compared with May 2019, the price index of Crop production was 107.7 and the price index of Livestock production was 100.1.

According to the Association for E-trade in Macedonia, the citizens spent almost 28.9 million euros on online shopping in the first quarter of 2020, of which 10.1 million in March only which is a 61.5 % increase compared to the same period in 2019. Many of the e-shopping transactions that used to be directed at foreign shops in 2019, are now directed towards Macedonian businesses. Having this in mind, 59.4 % of the total transactions for e-shopping in the first quarter of 2020 ended up in Macedonian companies, while the rest in foreign ones.

According to the latest reports of the National Bank of Macedonia (NBRM) the COVID-19 crisis still has negative effects on the banking system. Namely, after the interest rate of the treasury bills decreased in the past three months, NBRM decided to retain it at 1.5 % in May 2020. From NBRM they inform that the reduction of the interest rate of treasury bills maintained the liquidity of the banking system and the support of crediting processes in the economy. NBRM also registered increase of the foreign exchange reserves in May 2020 of around 600 million euros, adding that the trade deficit is expected to remain within the predicted limits. NBRM also registers annual increase of credits and deposits.

According to the data of the State Statistical Office, in 2019, the business entities engaged in construction activities completed construction works in the amount of 30.4 billion denars. Of that amount, 12.3 billion denars were for constructions in private ownership. During 2019, building activities were performed on 2,412 structures, and a total of 3,916 dwellings were completed, with total useful floor area of 258,328 square metres , of which all are in private ownership. The average useful floor area of the completed dwellings is 66.0 square metres. By regions, most construction activities were performed in the Skopje region, followed by East, South-West etc.

A reward of 10 thousand denars for March, April and May this year are provided for the contribution and additional engagement of the employees of the Ministry of Defense and the members of the Army for overcoming the situation with COVID-19.

Both deposits and crediting are on the rise. Total deposits are up by 7.8% on an annual basis, largely due to the increase in household deposits, while corporate loans registered a monthly growth of 3.3%, the National Bank said in a press release Friday. According to central bank data, total deposits have continued to rise on monthly level.
On 31 July, the Energy Regulatory Commission informed that the price of electricity paid by households on the regulated market would increase by 7.4%.
The purchase and sale of almost all agricultural products in the second quarter of 2020 has decreased by 16.2% compared to the same period last year.
In the second quarter of 2020, bus transport decreased by 68.6% in city and 74.8% in intercity compared to the same period last year.
Industry turnover in the period January-June 2020 decreased by 17.5% compared to the same period last year.

Transparency: According to the Index for transparency for 2020, implemented by the Center for Civil Communication, the Ministry of Health is ranked as “very good” in terms of its active transparency with 81.3 percentage points.  Compared to the Index of 2019, there is an increase in 3.8 points from 77.5 percentage points. In three years, the Ministry of Health has seen a shift from “weak” to “very good” ranking, which is the highest category in the ranking and a record jump of 43 places. The overall active transparency of all 98 involved institutions (ministries, government and municipalities) for 2020 is 58.2% out of 100%. Active transparency is improved by 2.2% compared to the last years when it was 56%. This year, the highest ranked is the Ministry for Defense (97.9%), followed by eight municipalities, the first of which is Veles (94.4%).

The Management of Housing and Business Premises is to reduce the lease prices for objects like restaurants, cafés and other catering businesses by up to 20% or even 30%, in order to reduce the impact caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The usage of payment cards in March 2020 had increased by 113%, compared to the same period in 2019, research of the “VISA” company reveals. According to this research, North Macedonia is absolute leader in the Western Balkan region when it comes to the use of payment cards, with over 68% of citizens using these cards, whereas in Albania only 10% of citizens use payment cards. Of the citizens not using payment cards, 38% said that their respective banks did not provide them with such an opportunity, while 9% are not aware at all that payment cards exist and can be used for paying for products and services. 18% are concerned about their security and the security of their money, which is why they do not want to use payment cards.

According to the Federation of Trade Unions of Macedonia (SSM) the consumer basket of an average family of four in Macedonia for June 2020 amounted to 33,487 denars, or 800 denars more than in May. This means that if one family’s only incomes are two minimum salaries of 14,500 denars, they would not be able to make it to the end of the month without major deprivation of certain products. According to SSM, an average family in June needed 14,366 denars for food products, 10,422 denars on housing, 8,000 on communal expenses, 2,200 denars for house appliances, 2,330 denar for hygiene products, 2,447 denars for transport, 2,144 denars for shoes and footwear and around 1,000 denars for visit of cultural events.

According to the preliminary data of the State Statistical Office, the total value of exported goods from Macedonia in the period January-May 2020 amounted to 120.7 billion denars, a 25.2% decrease compared to the same period in 2019. The value of imported goods in the same period was 169.3 billion denars, or 20.6% less than the same period last year. The trade deficit in the period January-May 2020 was 48.6 billion denars. Import coverage by export in the period January-May 2020 was 71.3%. The external trade by products shows that in the exports the most significant products are supported catalysts with precious metal or precious metal compounds as the active substance, ignition wiring sets and other wiring sets of a kind used in vehicles, aircraft or ships, parts of the seats of subgroup 821.1 and motor vehicles for the transport of 10 or more persons, including the driver, with compression-ignition internal combustion engine (diesel or semi-diesel). In the imports, the most significant products are the platinum and platinum alloys, unwrought or in powder form, petroleum oils and oils obtained from bituminous minerals (other than crude), flat-rolled products of iron or non-alloy steel, not clad, plated or coated and other metals of the platinum group and alloys thereof, unwrought or in powder form. In the period January-May 2020, according to the total external trade volume, the most important trade partners of Macedonia were Germany, Great Britain, Serbia, Greece and Bulgaria.

According to the State Statistical Office data, the Consumer Price Index and Retail Price Index in June 2020 in comparison with the previous month were 100.8. An increase in the Consumer Price Index in June 2020, in comparison with the previous month, was registered in fresh or chilled fruit by 13.6 %, fresh or chilled vegetables other than potatoes and other tubers by 6.2 %, dry fruits and nuts by 3.5 %, beers by 0.9 %, bread and cereals by 0.6 %, sugar, jam, honey, chocolate and confectionery, food products, wine by 0.3 %. In June 2020, there was also an increase in the indices of liquid fuels for household by 18.6 %, liquid fuels and lubricants for personal transport equipment by 9.7 %, other services in respect of personal transport equipment by 1.9 %, bicycles by 1 %, electric appliances for personal care by 0.8 %, services for maintenance and repair of the dwelling, major household appliances, pharmaceutical products by 0.5 %, small electric household appliances, hairdressing salons and personal grooming establishments by 0.4 %, jewelry, clocks and watches by 0.3 %, other medical products by 0.2 %. A decrease in the Consumer Price Index in June 2020, in comparison with the previous month, was registered in spirits by 0.6 %, meat, eggs by 0.5 %, cheese and curd, oils and fats, mineral waters, soft drinks, fruit and vegetable juices by 0.4 %, whole milk by 0.2 %. In June there was also a decrease of the indices of information processing equipment by 5.7 %, gas for households by 4.2 %, motor cars by 1.5 %, gardens, plants and flowers by 0.8 %, pets and related products by 0.5 %, materials for the maintenance and repair of the dwelling, equipment for sport, camping and open-air recreation by 0.2 %. The Consumer Price Index in June 2020 in comparison with June 2019, increased by 1.7 %, while Retail Price Index increased by 0.2 %.


Enforcement

According to the authorities, over 30 000 inspections were carried out in one month. These were mostly done by the Market Inspectorate and due to the ban on the operation of catering facilities and prices of certain products. After these controls, 162 catering facilities were closed. About 350 cafeterias were also sealed during this period, which was cited as a possible source of the coronavirus. The general assessment is that the measure is respected.

As of 29 April the Food and Veterinary Agency, whilst checking markets, restaurants, butchers, production facilities and green markets (a total of 1,645), has imposed 5 fines and 675 fines, mainly for lack of education on safe food handling and 64 solutions for poor hygiene.

The Labor Inspectorate, in terms of control over the protection of workers' rights, conducted 3,236 inspections, issuing 42 decisions and 152 warnings to employers. Most of the offenses concern non-compliance with paid leave for women and men who have a child under 10 years of age, pregnant women and the chronically ill. The general assessment of the Labor Inspectorate is that during this period most employers follow the recommendations for protection of employees from the spread of coronavirus.

The Transport Inspectorate carried out 751 inspections, and it was concluded that the decision to reduce the transport capacity by 50 percent is respected.

The State Sanitary and Health Inspectorate has carried out 732 inspections of private and public health constitutions and nursing homes, and it has been established that medical care procedures are followed when treating patients with coronavirus.

The Drug Enforcement Agency conducted 240 inspections of wholesalers and pharmacies, concluding that the rules in pharmacies and drug prices are in compliance with government recommendations.
The public enterprise Butel has reduced the prices of funeral services.

12,799 inspections were carried out by the six inspection services between 27 May and 3 June. Of these 11,504 controls were performed by the State Market Inspectorate. More than 25 criminal charges for violating laws or protocols are to be pursued, as are prosecutions against around 20 unregistered catering facilities in Skopje, Tetovo, Gostivar, Debar, Struga and Kumanovo.

The Council of Inspectorates in the period from 10 June to16 June performed 6,188 unannounced inspections in relation to acts adopted by the government to stem the spread of the coronavirus. The Head of the Council urged hotel owners to stick to the new protocols for work in order to avoid disciplinary measures like fines or even charges.

By 23 June 2020, 11 criminal charges had been filed in relation to the work of the hospitality facilities. The most fines issued by the State Market Inspectorate concerning the work of hospitality facilities have been in the Municipalities of Cair and Tetovo. The fines were related to non-compliance with protocols, work after 10 pm, work in the internal part of the facilities, and unregistered facilities. Also, 24 catering facilities had been detected as working as unregistered taxpayers in Skopje, Tetovo, Kumanovo, and Stip.

In the period between 10 March and 30 June 2020, 197 cases of violations of employment rights were registered, which affected 2,723 workers. More than 60% of applications were regarding female workers. The most critical were the first six weeks after the declaration of the state of emergency, when 145 of the total number of registered violations were reported. Employers immediately began mass layoffs, or cancellations of their employment contracts, according to the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights

Thirteen charges were filed over a wedding held in the Skopje’s municipality Chair during the curfew in mid-June.

The Interior Ministry is proposing charges against the man who tried to forcibly take the body of his mother, who died from COVID-19, from the 8th September hospital. The man came armed and accompanied by his relatives and threatened a doctor demanding that the body of his mother is given without the necessary precautionary measures or autopsy. The man was also ordered into quarantine, as he was also infected with the virus. Several police units had to be dispatched to the hospital to prevent a more serious incident. The Minister of Health condemned the attack on the doctor, emphasizing that it is discrediting all health workers who have been fighting for every human life for more than 4 months.

As of 30 June 2020, over 24,000 citizens had been fined or cited for not wearing a mask.

State aid
The Government оf North Macedonia announced financial relief measures for businesses affected by the epidemic as part of the national response to COVID-19:
• Interest-free loans, as direct assistance to micro, small and medium-sized enterprises in the fight against COVID-19, have been available to companies since 23 March 2020. In this first phase, these loans are directed to the most affected sectors: hospitality, tourism and freight. The purpose of these loans is to help the most affected sectors bypass their initial liquidity needs during this period. The loans are with 0% interest rate, the repayment period is up to 24 months and the grace period is 6 months. The loans will be given by the Development Bank of North Macedonia (€5.7 million).
• Subsidies for payment of contributions for employees in the transport, tourism and service sectors for the months of April, June and July 2020.
• On 27 March 2020 the Government announced that micro-, small-, and medium-sized enterprises from the travel, freight shipping, and hospitality industry can apply for no-interest loans of EUR 3,000 to 30,000. The loans will be distributed through the Development Bank of North Macedonia.
• The amount of credit the bank will provide will vary with the size of the enterprise (i.e. the number of employees). Businesses with up to 10 employees are eligible for loans of EUR 3,000 to EUR 5,000. Businesses employing 10 to 50 people are eligible for loans of EUR 10,000 to EUR 15,000. Businesses employing 50 to 250 people are eligible for loans of EUR 15,000 to EUR 30,000. The interest rate is 0%; repayment is due in 24 months, with a six-month grace period. The first instalment will be paid in nine months.
• The Government adopted a decision to reorient the funds from the non-productive expenditures into funds for dealing with the health-economic crisis caused by the coronavirus. €50.1 million from the European Investment Bank are diverted to support small and medium enterprises.
• The Government will finance the organization and reconstruction of the public areas of the Clinical Center “Mother Teresa” in Skopje to ensure smooth functioning of the clinics during the increased workload due to COVID-19 and to improve the transfer and transport of patients with coronavirus infection
The Ministry of Health is developing an intervention that would enable the extension of the maternity leave. The purpose of this is to support mothers because at this time they cannot enrol babies in kindergarten
• The Deputy Minister for Labour and Social Policy appealed to the employers during a video session on social protection: “If employers cannot keep employees due to the consequences caused by the pandemic with COVID-19, then the dismissal should be considered redundancy and not contractual dismissal, so that employees have the right to apply to the Agency for compensation.”

• The Government decided to provide financial aid to theological faculties, as announced in the Official Gazette on 8 April; it will allocate EUR 122,000 to the Macedonian Orthodox Church-Ohrid Archbishopric (MOC-OA) and the Islamic Religious Community (IRC). According to the decision of the Government, EUR 73,000 will be given to the Orthodox Faculty St. Clement of Ohrid and the Faculty of Islamic Sciences will receive EUR 49,000.

• About 70% of the citizens accepted the offer for postponed payment of bank loans according to which they will be exempted from paying the installments and interest in the next half year.
• The Government invited the citizens to donate the tax rebate that is due to be paid out in early May back to the budget.  Several months ago, the Government introduced the rebate program that gives back 5% of the value added tax that is paid on all purchases. Hundreds of thousands of taxpayers are taking part in the MyVAT rebate program. North Macedonia is starting at a staggering budget deficit in 2020, expected to reach 700 million to 1.3 billion euro of the projected revenue that were projected at a little under 4 billion.

• An amendment to the Law of Social Protection during the state of emergency has been adopted. The Decree facilitates the right and access of materially unsecured households to guaranteed minimum assistance and enables monetary allowance to cover part of the costs for energy consumption in the household from April to September 2020.


The Government announced improvements in the conditions for the financial support measure of 14,500 denars per employee – with greater flexibility in the condition of maintaining the number of employees, the opportunity to combine with the measure “50% subsidy contributions” for the most affected sectors, and the opportunity to transform aid into grant (non-refundable) funds.

The Ministry of Labour and Social Policy adjusted the social protection system to support the most vulnerable citizens to cope with the challenges:    
• Access to the social protection system has been easier
• The criteria for access and the use of the right to Guaranteed Minimum Assistance have been relaxed
• 30,000 households will continue to receive 1,000 denars of energy allowance in the period April-September
• Children continue to receive education allowance
• Access to compensation for disability and compensation for assistance and care from another person without follow-up consultations continues during the state of emergency
• The availability of services for victims of domestic violence across the country has increased
• In cooperation with UNICEF and the National Network against Violence against Women and Domestic Violence, a free phone line has been established for positive parenting – 075 230 530
• In cooperation with UNDP, services for support of people with disabilities and older people have been established.
• Cabbage producers will get financial support of 3 denars per kilogram of sold cabbage for the period from 5 April-5 May 2020
• 140 workers who have been illegally laid-off during the crisis caused by coronavirus have returned to work.
• In the period between 15 April and 28 April 2020, the Helsinki Committee has received 24 reports of violations of workers’ rights, covering 552 employees. In the second half of April, the number of reports for work dismissals is decreasing, but the number of reports from workers whose salaries have not been paid or even reduced by 50% increased.

The First Lady, Dr Elizabeta Gjorgievska, along with volunteers from partner organizations, prepared humanitarian packages to support the most socially vulnerable people, affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Humanitarian aid packages are part of the President’s initiative ‘We Volunteer for a Solidarity Society’ under the motto “We Are Here, We Serve the Community, We Help Each Other!” #WeAreHere. Partners in this humanitarian initiative are the Red Cross of the Republic of North Macedonia, the initiative #RetweetMeal, “Kindness”, the Association for human and social development – Project “Happiness” and “Food for All – Food Bank”. The goal of this initiative is forcitizens, socially responsible companies, civil society organizations, diplomatic missions in the country, as well as international organizations and institutions, in accordance with their capabilities and resources, to join and to provide the necessary assistance to as many of fellow citizens as possible. So far, a dozen socially responsible companies, one diplomatic mission and citizens have joined the humanitarian initiative. The President’s Mladi Hub Office in Skopje works three days a week (Monday, Wednesday and Friday), and volunteers take care of the reception of products, as well as the preparation of humanitarian packages and their distribution.

By 23 June 2020, the Government had allocated a total of MKD 29.5 million for the implementation of 40 projects related to COVID-19 by civil society associations and foundations.

Young people aged 16-29 from low-income families will receive governmental financial support to improve the standards of pupils and students, strengthen purchasing power and develop IT skills. The Government will grant 3,000 denars each for the procurement of school supplies (such as for writing, drawing, and sports footwear). Every regular student that is enrolled in the 2020/2021 school year in a public secondary school that is not over 16 when the regulation enters into force and that comes from a family household whose average monthly income in 2019 was not greater than the average wage per employee for March 2020 according to the state statistical office is eligible for the measure. The government will provide vouchers for young people up to the age of 29 for digital skills training. The platform www.digitalizriajse.mon.gov.mk will be used. The second measure concerns an amount of up to 6,000 denars for university students from low-income families. It will be used to pay part of the tuition or for accommodation in a student dormitory or for private accommodation. It is estimated that around 100,000 citizens will be covered by these measures.

The City of Skopje has started a programme for providing subsidies for craftsmen. The city will provide 1 million denars in form of subsidies for pottery makers, blacksmiths, hatters, tailors and many others. The public call is already open and will last until 15 December 2020. Applicants can apply for funds for purchasing of new equipment and tools, with subsidy coverage up to 80 % of the expenses, but not more than 50,000 denars.

The measure for exemption of companies from advance payments of personal income tax and corporate income tax will remain into force for June and July 2020. Companies engaged in business activities in the sectors of preparation and service of food, tourist agencies, tour operators and related activities as well as accommodation facilities mostly use the measures. 90% of the companies exempted from corporate income tax advance payments are micro and small. This supports the liquidity of the affected companies to cope and recover in the following period more easily.

The Public Revenue Office started the procedure for subsidies for contributions of media employees as of 30 June 2020.  For every employee, the media whose applications will be approved will receive a 100 % coverage of the contributions paid to the salaries of the employees for the months June, July and August.

As of 10 July, over 55,000 employers used the measure for subsidization of salaries for the months April, May and June and the measure covered over 319,000 employees, which received from the state around 4.4 billion denars. The Public Revenue Office has also approved over 2,000 requests for coverage of social insurance for the employees, while 973 applications were received for suspension of the obligation for payment of profit taxes.

On 12 October 2020, the Government adopted the Information for establishing an interest-free credit line with a grant component for micro and small enterprises “COVID 3” in the total amount of 31 million euros of which 1 million euros is from state funds and the rest are from the European Union.

Education
All educational institutions are closed until further notice. The Government adopted a decision to introduce online educational classes through the national broadcaster and other means. 30,000 children from socially disadvantaged families have received free internet to follow online education.

The Government adopted a set of measures to provide for the smooth functioning of the educational system during the COVID-19 pandemic, including online completion of the school year and for graduating students to be exempted from taking the graduation exam. Other measures include:
• The enrolment of first graders will begin in July, instead of in May.
• The mandates of the management and administration in the schools are extended, as well as the validity of the directors’ licenses.

• The validity of the University study programmes is extended for an additional year and the deadlines for accreditation, approving a new study programme or higher education institutions are extended for 3 months after the termination of the state of emergency.

On 29 May 2020 the Government adopted the Protocols for determining the procedure for enrolment of students in the first grade in primary schools, as well as for enrolment of students in first year of high school.  A protocol for performing exams of public and private higher education institutions has also been adopted.

At the proposal of the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy, a Protocol was adopted on activities in the institutions for care and education of preschool children after the abolition of the state of emergency, which was developed in cooperation with the Commission for Infectious Diseases. The protocol for kindergartens determines the procedures and obligations of the institutions for care of children of preschool age, of educational staff and of parents.

As of 23 June 2020, according to the Minister of Health, it is too soon to open kindergartens and the objective is to protect older people because children transmit the virus. The epidemiological situation is to be monitored in the upcoming period and then a decision will be made. In addition, there will be intensive work on drafting protocols for schools, whether they will operate with a smaller number of pupils in classrooms or in two shifts etc.

On 18 August 2020, the Government decided that the children attending first to third grade will be attending classes in person according to the capacities of the schools to implement the plan and protocols of the Ministry of Education and with parents’ permission. Children having chronic conditions will be attending online. In the schools that have practical learning component in companies, the pupils to attend in person by adhering to the general protocols for protection and the protocols of the companies.

On 26 August, the Government adopted the Protocol for the realization of the educational process in primary schools with physical presence of students in the school year 2020/2021 and the Protocol for realization of the education process in secondary schools with physical presence of students in the school year 2020/2021.
The Government instructed the Ministry of Education and Science to change the calendar for the academic year 2020/2021 and the school year is to begin on 1 October 2020, instead of 1 September 2020.

On 14 September 2020, the Government recommended to the Ministry for Labor and Social Policy in collaboration with local self-governments to adapt additional state capacities currently not used for accommodation of children from kindergartens in those municipalities where needed. 
On 14 September 2020, the Government adopted the Recommendation for revising the Protocol for activities in the facilities for accommodation and education of children. Groups of children up to the age of 2 years now have a maximum of 12 children and 2 employees per shift.

The North Macedonian Prime Minister and Minister of Education have introduced the new national platform for online teaching, which will be the only way of teaching as of October 1st, if there are no conditions in place for in-person teaching.
The platform is meant to be user-friendly, innovative and entertaining. It is connected to several audio and video materials, and also quizzes and tests for pupils.
Schools have reopened on 01 October 2020 with in-person classes resuming for grades 1 to 3.  Limited in-person classes for other grade levels are being provided at some schools, in accordance with government restrictions. Most students are taking online classes.

Civil protection
The President declared a national emergency on 18 March 2020 for COVID-19 on the whole territory in North Macedonia for the duration of 30 days.  On 16 April 2020 the National Security Council recommended extension of the state of emergency for an additional 30 days.  On 15 May, the Government recommended the state of emergency to be extended for an additional 14 days.  On 30 May the state of emergency has been extended for an additional 14 days. 

The President of North Macedonia introduced a state of emergency for a period of 8 days (15-22 June 2020).

The Government adopted the Protocol for exit and entry at the state border of North Macedonia for elected Government officials. According to this protocol, each business trip should be approved by the Main Coordinating Crisis Headquarters, but only if this business trip is related to COVID-19 and to the Euro-Atlantic processes in the country.

This recommendation has been endorsed by the President who declared an extension of the national emergency until 31 May 2020. The army of North Macedonia is supporting the response to the COVID-19 crisis in the following ways:
• Taking control of the entire formerly called green line border to be controlled and supervised by army personnel to prevent illegal entry and exit. This will enable the police to concentrate on the tasks, at home, inside the state.
• Joint participation of mobile police and army teams to check entrances and exits from settlements, especially in crisis, but also mobile checkpoints in the areas of engagement. Joint police and army teams will be able to exercise control over the observance of the curfew, the respect for self-isolation and, if self-isolation is not respected, immediate measures to be taken, and to refer these persons to state quarantine and state isolation.
• Providing physical security for the vital facilities provided by the Ministry of the Interior so far. This means that the army will take over the security of facilities such as the State Assembly, the Government, but also important locations such as prisons. The Army would only function in combined teams with the police, because the police is trained to deal with this type of civilian threat, but the army would reinforce in numbers the capacity of the police, and with equipment.

Cross-border collaboration and coordination with partners
North Macedonia has mobilized an all-of-government action to fight this new coronavirus, including scaling up emergency response mechanisms in all sectors. Actions and readjustments of measures are continuous and monitoring of the situation is ongoing on daily basis. Tracking and reporting of trade measures of other countries is carried out by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

North Macedonia is using NATO’s Next-Generation Incident Command System (NICS) to coordinate its national response to the COVID-19 crisis and to provide its public with real-time information and advice.  In 2019, North Macedonia adopted the NICS system to coordinate all parts of government in the event of an emergency. Experts from the Crisis Management Centre in North Macedonia have adapted the system to enhance the country’s response to the coronavirus. NICS provides the public with real-time information on the current status of the pandemic in their area, as well as information on whom to contact for items such as food and medicines (http://nicspublic.cuk.gov.mk). The system also enables all of North Macedonia’s institutions, as well as organizations such as the Red Cross, to communicate and coordinate their activities as effectively and efficiently as possible. North Macedonia has become the 30th member of NATO on 27 March 2020. The NICS system is part of the NATO Science for Peace and Security (SPS) project “Advanced Regional Civil Emergency Coordination Pilot” (ARCECP), a collaboration between the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Lincoln Laboratory (MIT LL), the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS)  Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) and the Western Balkan countries. 

The German Embassy to North Macedonia is allocating funds from its budget for small-scale projects as assistance to the Skopje-based Clinic for Infectious Disease, the Clinic of Anaesthesiology, Reanimation and Intensive Care, and the Clinic of Neurosurgery meant to treat Covid-19 patients. Ambassador Thomas Gerberich, Health Minister Venko Filipche and HOPE’s regional manager Dr. Vlatko Uzevski signed a donation agreement amounting to MKD 2,450,000 (approximately EUR 48,000) for the purchase of medical equipment.

As of 29 March 2020, North Macedonia adopted the NICS system to coordinate all parts of government in the event of an emergency. Experts from the Crisis Management Centre in North Macedonia have now quickly adapted the system to enhance the country’s response to the coronavirus. NICS provides the public with real-time information on the current status of the pandemic in their area as well as information on who to contact for items such as food and medicines. The system also enables all of North Macedonia’s institutions, as well as organizations like the Red Cross, to communicate and coordinate their activities as effectively and efficiently as possible. The NICS system is part of the NATO Science for Peace and Security (SPS) project “Advanced Regional Civil Emergency Coordination Pilot” (ARCECP), a collaboration between the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Lincoln Laboratory (MIT LL), the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) and the nations of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, North Macedonia and Montenegro.

In other partnership activities:
• The International Federation of the Red Cross supports older people and people with disabilities in terms of shopping and basic needs for hygiene, protection and their livelihood The International Federation of the Red Cross is also providing support to homeless people. Local authorities are appealing to profitable businesses to get involved in donating food and personal hygiene products to vulnerable categories of citizens and socially disadvantaged families.
• The Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, in partnership with UNDP and supported by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, has introduced services for support of people with disabilities and other vulnerable groups during the COVID-19 state of emergency. The activities will be implemented in 27 municipalities by engaging 200 unemployed people as service providers and about 1500 people will benefit from these services.
• The Open Society Foundation will allocate packages with food and hygiene products worth USD 100,000 to the most jeopardized Roma families who have been are socially and economically hit by the health crisis.
• The Humanitarian Relief Foundation distributed food and hygiene packages to 300 families (elderly, ill, people with disabilities and families in need) in North Macedonia in Skopje, Veles and Vrapcishte.

WHO Action in North Macedonia
WHO action in the COVID-19 outbreak in North Macedonia aims at limiting the spread of the virus, protecting population health and the health of health workers at the frontline, and preserving health system capacity and resilience to respond and provide essential services to the population.

WHO is the lead UN agency for health and the main technical and health policy advisor to the government on COVID-19 containment and mitigation. It works in close coordination with other UN agencies. The Western Balkan countries, including North Macedonia, belong to the priority countries for the WHO European Region.

Technical support, guidance and assistance are provided through the WHO Country Office from all levels of the organization.

There is an abundance of technical guidance WHO has developed in all areas of work, supporting the country in developing technical plans and implementing priority interventions in the framework of a strong nation-wide strategic response.

WHO is supporting the country in assessing the situation in view of the eventual relaxation of restrictive public health measures. WHO guidance is available on “Considerations in adjusting public health and social measures in the context of COVID-19”. This document provides guiding principles for adapting measures (loosening/ tightening). This will be followed by:
o Indicators (criteria) for when measures can be adapted
o Practical advice on how to adapt measures in key settings such as schools, workplaces etc.

WHO emphasizes that there should be gradual alleviation, close monitoring and constant calibration of measures. As measures are loosened, surveillance should be tightened. Different surveillance approaches (identification, confirmation, isolation, and contact identification and quarantine, event-based surveillance, sentinel ILI/SARI surveillance etc.) should be applied.

WHO continues to be actively engaged in:

• Providing messages and infographics in national languages for use in Ministry of Health and other media channels (e.g. WHO Facebook/Twitter ; Ministry of Health Facebook/Twitter; WHO Europe website for COVID-19)
• Providing technical advice and support to many national and international partners for stepping up everyone’s engagement in halting the virus spread and its impact on North Macedonia.
• Ensuring lab and testing tools are available for COVID19 related testing kits and PPE.
• Strengthening infection prevention and control
• Assisting the Ministry of Health in gaps and needs assessment and bridging those gaps for better health system coping and response.
• Establishing bilateral partnerships, resource mobilization, and joint plans to address gaps and needs of the Ministry of Health.
• WHO supports the country to raise awareness about maintaining essential health services and the importance of immunization in preventing diseases and protecting life at the time of COVID-19.