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.

North Macedonia mobilized a whole-of-government approach to fight the 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 initially urged citizens not to travel. Citizens of North Macedonia could still enter the country after special request to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and a hotline was in place for that purpose. However, citizens of North Macedonia wishing to exit the country were requested to sign a form that they would not return to the country within the next three months. Special conditions were considered for foreign diplomats and members of their families.
There was to be no public transport during 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 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. In the municipalities of Kumanovo and Debar, all public transport to and inside the city was stopped. 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/)
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.

There were no restrictions on the import of goods. As of 15 April 2020, for food products and medical products deemed essential, faster transport was provided through the CEFTA member states. This means that at the border crossings there were special lanes for the carriers of these products.
From June 2020, for people entering Macedonia with special and humanitarian flights, mandatory state quarantine was replaced with domestic isolation and a PCR test done in the previous 72 hours.

Wizz Air announced that it would extend the suspension of all flights to the country until 14 June. The suspension was a result of extended national travel restrictions for all foreign flights to and from North Macedonia. Airports in North Macedonia were not to be opened before 15 June. Most operating flights were 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.

Neighbouring countries adopted different travel policies for citizens of North Macedonia. In June, Serbia gave the green light for the entry of citizens from North Macedonia. Slovenia, Bulgaria and Montenegro had already introduced a 14-day quarantine for all coming from the country, whilst Cyprus had not put North Macedonia on the list of countries whose citizens can enter the country.

In June 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 were allowed to remain in the country for up to five hours and were 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 could leave the country, but were obliged to sign a statement at the exit that they would not request government support in case of a problem while abroad. Upon re-entry, they had to present to border authorities the results of a diagnostic test taken within the past 72 hours and needed to sign a statement for mandatory 14-day self-isolation. In cases when PCR results were not available or not valid, individuals were subject to a mandatory 14-day state quarantine.

Greece announced it would open certain land borders with North Macedonia and Albania on July Flights between North Macedonia and Albania were allowed between June 15-30, but only for specific purposes (not tourism), and only to the Athens airport.

As of 12 Oct 2020, the Government of North Macedonia decided to allow unlimited 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. As of October, Macedonian citizens were able to travel to Albania and Kosovo without obligation to submit a negative coronavirus test, but the Government appealed to citizens to travel abroad only when there was 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. They also introduced a number of new restrictions such as an export ban of wheat and wheat flour to all countries for an indefinite period, the prohibition of companies to initiate procedure to go bankrupt during the crisis, and the issue of vouchers to travel agencies for arrangements that were cancelled as a result of COVID-19.
On 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 were no pay cuts for employees in North Macedonia’s public sector. Furthermore, athletes, artists and media workers were to get paid minimum wage in April and May. Workers were laid off as a result of the crisis were to be 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.
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 included:
• North Macedonia's finance ministry offered 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) is supporting 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 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 rose to 24.69 denars, while the excise duty on Eurodiesel increased to 18.12 denars. The excise duty on the extra light oil EL-1 rose 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, and 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).

Overall, Prime minister Oliver Spasovski said that the government would implement a third package of measures aimed at reducing the impact of the coronavirus outbreak by supporting both citizens and the economy. Under a set of economic relief measures, 100,000 citizens who are unemployed or receive wages lower than 15,000 denars ($263/243 euro) per month were to receive a stimulus payment of 9,000 denars each, as well as vouchers and cash to spend on domestic tourism. Some 100,000 young people would 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 included financial compensation for people who lost their jobs in the period between 11 March and 30 April.

The new set of measures encompassed 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 was to be provided to companies for the development of innovative products and services.  The government also boosted financial support for agricultural workers and planned a new programme to finance micro agrobusinesses.

In North Macedonia, 100,000 citizens were to receive a payment card for domestic tourism for a 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 were to receive payment cards and vouchers for the total amount of 12 million euros. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development also initiated a research programme aiming at the development of small and medium-sized enterprises in North Macedonia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Romania, Serbia and Slovenia.

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.

Since the outbreak of COVID-19 in the country, many citizens have been forced to purchase certain products online, which has 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 significant 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 %.
In addition, 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.

A platform was introduced in June for the distribution of vouchers for summer holidays in tourist areas in the country. With this measure, citizens with monthly incomes lower than 15,000 denars could receive 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 have been 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. 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.

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 will require further consultations, as well as legal and systemic changes (e.g. tax changes), meaning implementation may not start until 2021. The measures are organized in three pillars, based around direct financial support (to stimulate consumption of domestic products and services); private sector support; and fiscal sustainability. Each is designed to specifically support key vulnerable groups and affected sectors:
Overall 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.  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.


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.

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.

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. Multiple volunteer projects and initiatives have also been founded, such as preparing emergency food packages for the socially vulnerable people.

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.

On 28 October, with the adoption of the rebalance of the budget, the Government decided to allocate 54 million denars as a reward to all health professionals involved in the treatment of COVID-19 patients.

On 11 November, the budget for 2021 was adopted. The budget is about 4 billion euros and is 2.1 percentage points lower than the 2020 budget. The 2021 budget has three main goals:
1. To provide support and further improvement of the health sector, which remains a top priority, primarily for the protection of the health and life of all our citizens;
2. To support economic recovery, i.e. to help all micro, small, medium and large companies which as a consequence of the pandemic need support, but also to stimulate companies that work successfully to further develop, expand, increase production and exports and thus accelerate economic growth;
3. To maintain and enhance the basic functions of the state and to enable the effective implementation of the necessary reforms for Euro-Atlantic integration, with a special focus on judicial reform.

On 11 December 2020, the Government adopted a new set of measures for mitigating the COVID-19 impact on the economy with a volume of about 8 million euros. This new set of measures is intended to support:
• Pop artists (around 731), with financial assistance in the amount of 2 gross minimum wages (21,776 denars);
• 40 associations from the Association of Dance Associations with grants of 2,000 euros for each association;
• Private institutions for children - kindergartens with subsidies of 1,500 denars per foster child, for a period of 6 months, for a total of 1,216 children in 17 kindergartens, so they receive the same treatment as public kindergartens in the country;
• Financial assistance for the 12 design studios for organizing weddings that are prohibited in this period with a one-time amount of 90,000 denars;
• Grants for educational centers for children as well as for playgrounds (per number of employees, with two gross salaries up to 21,776 denars);
• Grants for foreign language centers, as well as for playgrounds, with two gross minimum salaries of 21,776 denars;
• Financial assistance for night clubs based on the presented total gross turnover from 2019 for a total of 24 entities and in the total amount of funds of 7,380,000 denars;
• Subsidizing the salaries of employees in 48 youth organizations and youth organizations of 21,776 denars per month, for 2 months and for part-time employees in these organizations;
• Financial assistance to Macedonian Railway Transport in the amount of 110 million denars, and for Public Enterprise State Roads in the amount of 180 million denars;
• Financial support of 14,500 denars per employee for two months for effective working hours for 58 licensed carriers with licenses for 376 bus lines;
• Financial assistance for payment of salaries for the City Shopping Center in the next two months for the support of 260 employees, of which 219 are in full-time employment, and 41 with a contract for temporary employment in the total amount of 8,926,545 denars;
• Financial support of about 36 million denars for payment of 2 salaries to 598 employees of Joint Stock Company Water Economy;
• Scale payment of financial assistance to: independent artists, film workers, artists and cultural workers, from 14,500, 18,000 or 21,500 denars, depending on the income, for a period of 3 months, for a total of 462 beneficiaries for which a total of 24,948,000 denars are provided;
• Financial assistance for a total of 53 companies that perform transportation in Skopje and which employ 100 people represented through MAKEKSPRESS TRANSPORT DOO Skopje for payment of a one-time financial assistance of 14,500 denars per employee, for two months, in the total amount of 2.9 million denars; as well as
• Financial assistance for a total of 83 companies employing 181 people represented through Public Transport Company Skopje, for payment of a one-time financial assistance of 14,500 denars per employee, for two months with a total of 5,249,000 denars.

The application for interest-free loans under COVID 3 has started on 15 December 2020. This measure is implemented through the Development Bank and financially supported by the EU in the total amount of 30 million euros and 1 million euro from the state budget. The credit line is intended for micro and small companies, sole proprietors and artisans whose operations are affected by COVID-19, and had a drop in revenue of at least 20%.

On 12 January 2021, the Government adopted a decision to extend the deadline for using the funds for financial support of low-income citizens, pension beneficiaries, beneficiaries of the right to social security of the elderly, young people, single parents, children without parents and parental care, artists and other cultural actors, filmmakers and pop artists until March 31, 2021. With this extension of the deadline for financial support of 6,000 denars, about 24,000 citizens will be able to use this financial support as one of the COVID-19 measures to mitigate the consequences of the pandemic.

On 19 January 2021, the Government decided to abolish import duties - customs rates on certain raw materials used in the processing industry in order to support the operating conditions of these companies and to increase their competitiveness during the pandemic and the impact of it on the operation of companies in the processing industry. This decision will be in place as of February 1 and the companies will be exempted from customs duties in the amount of 7.1 million euros for 71 separate raw materials used in the metal processing industry.

On 16 February 2021, the Government adopted a fifth set of economic measures designed to revitalize the economy, for the amount of 9.7 billion denars or 160 million euros. The 29 measures in this set are organized around four pillars:
• Direct financial support to businesses, to maintain jobs in sectors still affected by the pandemic such as tourism, crafts, catering and industry for organizing events
• Additional financial support to the private sector through interest-free loans to retain and/or increase the number of employees as well as support of the recovery of the companies
• Creating a more favourable business environment (systemic redefining of the customs tariff, reduction of the other parafiscal duties and tax relief and postponement of several public duties)
• Supporting citizens affected by the pandemic.

Education
All educational institutions initially 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 was considered too soon to open kindergartens. The epidemiological situation was to be monitored and a decision to be made later on. Meanwhile there was extensive work on drafting protocols for schools, whether they will operate with a smaller number of pupils in classrooms or in two shifts, and other similar operational concerns.


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 was endorsed by the President who declared an extension of the national emergency until 31 May 2020. The army of North Macedonia supported the response to the COVID-19 crisis in enforcement activities, border control and physical security for places with heightened security needs provided by the Ministry of the Interior.

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 has focused on 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 also supported the country in assessing the situation in view of the eventual relaxation of restrictive public health measures. WHO emphasized that there should be gradual release of restrictions, combined with 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 COVID-19 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;
• Supporting 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.

Travel
By 17 June 2020, the government had 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. 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.

Although North Macedonia opened the border crossings, there was no great interest in leaving the country. 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 had 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 stated that it planned 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 (having been closed since 18 March 2020). Flight protocols were designed in line with international standards. Passengers had to arrive at the airport three hours before their flight, as protective measures will prolong security checks. Limits were not imposed on the number of passengers per flight, but passengers were 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 was placed at the airport’s entrance.

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, were 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.

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, citizens of Kosovo could enter North Macedonia without a PCR test.

Education
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 so that the school year was 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.  The Government also 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 reopened on 1 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.