Policy responses for Serbia - HSRM


Policy responses for Serbia

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.

On April 22, the Government of Serbia decided to open its border with Hungary for people who live within 50 kilometres of the border and who work across the border or who have their property and relatives there. The government decided to allow the resumption of intercity transport as of May 4 and public transport in Belgrade and Nis as of May 8. It also announced that the country is ready to resume passenger air traffic on May 18, but it will depend on when other countries of the European Union will allow flights from their airports.

The government adopted on May 12 an amendment to the Decision on the protocol for entry of Serbian citizens into Serbia. Serbian citizens can enter Serbia and move without restrictions with a negative PCR test for coronavirus not older than 72 hours.

If a Serbian citizen enters Serbia without the proof of a negative PCR test, he or she is obliged to spend 14 days in self-isolation. During the period of self-isolation, Serbian citizens can do the test in one of the reference laboratories in the country and in case the result is negative, they can stop the self-isolation.

Foreign nationals without approved temporary stay or residence status in Serbia may enter the Republic of Serbia under two conditions – a negative PCR test for coronavirus not older than 72 hours and a permit issued by a commission consisting of representatives of the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Construction, Transport and Infrastructure, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of the Interior.

Also, the COVID-19 Crisis Response Team recommended the government to fully open the borders for people coming from four neighbouring countries, that is, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Albania, Montenegro and North Macedonia, as of June 1 (https://www.srbija.gov.rs/vest/en/156024/entry-into-serbia-with-negative-pcr-test-or-self-isolation.php).

On May 19, the Crisis Response Team recommended the government to open an administrative crossing to Kosovo-Metohija.

As of 22 May, all border crossings have been opened without restrictions and a negative test or a special permit for both domestic and foreign citizens are not required any more to enter the Republic of Serbia. Also, there is no longer a measure of 14 days self-isolation upon arrival in Serbia. All persons entering the territory of the Republic of Serbia are handed health warnings, stating that they are entering a territory where the virus is still circulating, as well as providing instructions on how to prevent the infection.

As of 21 May, Air Serbia resumed a limited number of flights to London Heathrow, Frankfurt, Zurich and Vienna.

Starting on 25 May, citizens of Hungary and Serbia are allowed to travel between the two countries without undergoing a mandatory quarantine upon entry (https://www.srbija.gov.rs/vest/en/156522/hungary-opens-border-to-serbian-citizens.php).

On July 4, a plane with medical supplies from Turkey arrived in Belgrade with aid intended primarily for Novi Pazar and Tutin in the fight against the coronavirus epidemic. The Turkish Ambassador to Belgrade explained at the airport that the help that arrived was the result of cooperation with central and local authorities. The Ambassador reminded that in April, on the order of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey sent the first aid plane to Serbia, and later two trucks.

On July 30, the government adopted a conclusion regarding direct and fiscal benefits to economic entities in the private sector, which refers to the second aid package for the economy, with the aim of mitigating the economic consequences of COVID-19. This package includes the payment of 60% of the minimum wage twice, as well as the postponement of taxes and contributions on wages for one month, and it is worth RSD 66 billion. The measures will start to be implemented immediately. Approximately one million and fifty thousand employees in 235,000 business entities are entitled to this aid.

When it comes to the conditions for the use of measures, employers have the obligation not to reduce the number of employees by more than 10% in the period of three months from the payment of the last direct benefit, that is, by the end of the year at the latest.

On August 14, the Crisis Response Team proposed to the government to make a decision that all citizens coming to Serbia from the territory of Croatia, North Macedonia, Bulgaria and Romania should have a negative PCR test that is not older than 48 hours. The decision is valid from August 15, and does not refer to Serbia citizens who come from the territory of those countries. It was also decided that there are no more restrictions for the citizens of Montenegro in terms of entering Serbia. (https://www.srbija.gov.rs/vest/en/159955/mandatory-pcr-test-for-citizens-of-four-neighbouring-countries.php).

The Serbian government adopted on August 27 a programme of subsidies to support the work of the hotel industry of Serbia, due to business difficulties caused by the epidemic of COVID-19 disease caused by SARS-COV2 virus. The programme covers privately-owned hotels in 67 municipalities and cities in Serbia which will receive subsidies in the amount of €350 per single bed and €150 per room in dinar counter value. The hoteliers will lose the right to the subsidy if they cut the number of employees by over 10% in the period from 15 August to 31 December 2020.

On November 3, the Minister of Health, with the German Ambassador, participated in the handover ceremony of a donation of five clinical ventilators intended for intensive care from the German Embassy for the total value of €145,000. During the ceremony, the Minister also expressed gratitude to Germany for providing approximately 200,000 doses of flu vaccines to the citizens of Serbia.

On November 9, Serbia, Albania and North Macedonia signed a memorandum of understanding to battle the coronavirus pandemic at an online conference. The President of Serbia said that the countries will introduce measures together and that experts and medical teams would talk and cooperate.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic welcomed on 25 December 2020 at the Batajnica military airport an airplane carrying a donation of medical equipment from the United Arab Emirates to Serbia. Vucic stated that the medical equipment, worth several million euros, is personal help of Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al Nahyan and it is enough for an entire COVID-19 hospital. The donation included ventilators, scanners, magnetic resonance devices, X-ray machines, as well as 30,000 protective gowns, which were distributed to hospitals and clinical centres throughout Serbia, where they were most needed.

The President recalled that on 29 March, the United Arab Emirates sent a plane with the first part of the aid with protective equipment for the fight against coronavirus

Serbia received on 8 February donation from Slovakia worth €97,000 containing PCR tests, protective clothing for medical workers, hygiene kits and electricity generators, intended for the University Clinical Centre of Serbia.

The Government of Serbia is implementing the principle of solidarity promoted by WHO since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Serbian Government delivered to neighboring countries several shipments of vaccines between February and April 2021 (https://www.srbija.gov.rs/vest/541990/srbija-donirala-jos-10000-astrazeneka-vakcina-crnoj-gori.php):
some 40,000 Sputnik V and 8,190 Pfizer vaccines to North Macedonia,  30,000 AstraZeneka vaccines to Bosnia and Hercegovina, and 10,000 AstraZeneka vaccines and 4,000 Sputnik V vaccines to Montenegro.

Pursuant to the Decision to Declare the State of Emergency, taken on 15 March 2020 to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, state borders of the Republic of Serbia are closed to all foreign nationals (http://www.mfa.gov.rs/en/themes/covid173202019). Since 20 March 2020, 8am, all border crossings for entry of passengers into the Republic of Serbia have been closed. However, entry through border crossings may be provisionally authorized based on the approval of the competent state administration authority. There are no area lockdowns in the country, but all public road and railway transport has been discontinued. This does not affect freight and mail transport.

On 13 March, the Government established the Crisis Response Team for the economic and financial aspects of the response to COVID-19. Measures implemented by then include a decision to invest an additional RSD 24 billion (226 million USD) in capital infrastructure projects (https://www.srbija.gov.rs/vest/en/151236/economic-measures-regarding-coronavirus-situation.php). The National Bank of Serbia lowered its benchmark interest rate to 1.75% and introduced a moratorium on credit and leasing repayment during the state of emergency (http://rs.n1info.com/English/NEWS/a578929/NBS-declares-moratorium-on-loans-repayment-in-Serbia.html). On 20 March, the Government also issued a decree on tax measures, including that the tax authorities will not cancel agreements on delay in paying tax debts, will not use enforced collection and will not calculate the interest rate during that period (http://rs.n1info.com/English/NEWS/a580101/No-enforced-tax-debt-collection-in-Serbia-during-state-of-emergency.html). The Government has invited small and medium-size enterprises to propose projects for solving problems related to the health and well-being of the population caused by the Covid-19 pandemic and to apply for financial support that could be up to RSD 6 million (56,000 USD) per project (https://www.srbija.gov.rs/vest/en/151632/call-for-financing-of-innovative-solutions-for-combating-consequences-of-covid-19.php).

On 31 March, the Government presented a package of economic measures to mitigate the effects of the coronavirus epidemic on the economy, worth €5.1 billion. All Serbian citizens of legal age will receive direct assistance in the amount of €100. €2.2 billion will be allocated, primarily, for liquidity support for the private sector. €200 million will be invested through a development fund for subsidized loans, with 1% interest for entrepreneurs, micro-, small-, medium-sized enterprises, farms and cooperatives. The state is also planning a guarantee scheme that is negotiated with commercial banks amounting €2 billion. The state will pay entrepreneurs, sole traders, micro-, small- and medium-sized enterprises three minimum wages to help them overcome the crisis. The state also proposed support in the amount of 50 % of the minimum wage for employees of large enterprises who have received a decision on termination of work. Within the framework of the tax policy, the state has adopted three measures for the amount of €1.3 billion. These measures are: deferral of payment of payroll taxes and contributions for all private companies during the state of emergency, and for a minimum of three months, deferral of payment of income tax for the second quarter of 2020 and exemption from VAT for all those who donate and deal with donations (https://www.srbija.gov.rs/vest/en/152964/state-sets-aside-51b-to-mitigate-coronavirus-economic-blow.php)

The Government also recommended to all employers to pay full wages to their employees who are in self-isolation or ill with COVID-19 because of direct exposure to the risk due to the nature of their job.
The Government also decided to pay all pensioners one-off financial assistance in the amount of RSD 4,000 (36 USD) (https://www.srbija.gov.rs/vest/en/151314/covid-19-crisis-response-team-formed.php) and the rights of beneficiaries of social welfare allowances and child benefits were automatically extended during the state of emergency (https://www.srbija.gov.rs/vest/en/152205/further-payment-of-allowances-for-several-categories-of-beneficiaries-extended.php). The prices of basic foodstuffs have been capped at the level that existed on 5 March (http://www.pravno-informacioni-sistem.rs/SlGlasnikPortal/eli/rep/sgrs/vlada/odluka/2020/35/1/reg). For foreign nationals who have previously been issued work permits, their permits will be considered valid for the duration of the state of emergency (https://www.srbija.gov.rs/vest/en/152484/government-recommends-payment-of-full-amount-of-pensions.php).

To support senior citizens (older than 65 years) who are placed under 24-hour lockdown, the government and local self- governments organized a network of volunteers who are assisting senior citizens in the procurement of groceries and other necessities. For senior citizens with an income of less than EUR 250 the most of local self-governments provide food and personal hygiene packages.  The Red Cross also organized its network of 1,600 volunteers who are visiting the most vulnerable groups of the population (approximately 40,000 households), including poor older people, Roma and homeless people. For 55,000 Roma families, food and personal hygiene packages were provided (https://www.srbija.gov.rs/vest/459833/crveni-krst-donira-50500-paketa-romskim-naseljima.php).

Since the start of the COVID-19 crisis, the Serbian government has strengthened its cross-border cooperation with numerous partners.  The first foreign aid to combat the COVID-19 virus arrived in the Republic of Serbia from the People's Republic of China on 16 March with 1,000 COVID-19 tests (https://www.srbija.gov.rs/vest/en/151479/first-assistance-for-serbia-from-peoples-republic-of-china.php). On 21 March, another airplane arrived from China with medical goods (masks, medical ventilators, medical equipment and medicines) and 6 epidemiology experts who came to Serbia for two weeks to provide advice on the COVID-19 response (https://www.srbija.gov.rs/vest/en/152025/airplane-with-medical-equipment-from-china-lands-at-belgrade-airport.php). In total, eight planes with equipment, either donated or purchased, had arrived from China by 2 April. Some of the cost of transport was borne by the EU, as part of the EU support for the response against COVID-19. On 29 March, the Ministry of European Integration and the EU Delegation to Serbia welcomed a second cargo Boing 747 from Kerala, India, with 90 tons of medical protective equipment, that was purchased by Serbia, with the cost of transport being funded by the European Union as part of the accounced €93 million package for Serbia. The procurement of equipment in India was supported by the Indian Government.

In April, as a part of the EU assistance package, an additional 100 oxygen concentrators arrived in Serbia, in addition to 100 containers equipped for the triage and emergency care of patients potentially infected with coronavirus that are distributed to healthcare facilities across the country (https://www.srbija.gov.rs/vest/en/154727/eu-funded-triage-containers-continue-to-be-installed-throughout-serbia.php).

The United Arab Emirates also provided support to Serbia with 10 tons of PPE; it announced support in ventilators shortly. The aid from the United Arab Emirates was agreed after talks between President Aleksandar Vucic and Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed, the Crown Prince of the United Arab Emirates (https://www.srbija.gov.rs/vest/en/152772/first-part-of-aid-from-uae-arrives.php). Russia also supported Serbia with a donation of 15,000 COVID-19 tests (https://www.kurir.rs/vesti/drustvo/3434927/stigla-pomoc-iz-rusije-iz-moskve-u-beograd-stiglo-15000-testova-za-koronu).
On 3 and 4 April, 11 planes carrying medical and technical supplies and protective equipment, sent by the Russian Federation, arrived to Serbia. The aid included 16 special motor vehicles for the disinfection of facilities and roads and the large amount of medical and technical supplies and protective equipment. The group of Russian experts also arrived to Serbia to work together with members of the Serbian Ministry of Defence. The Russian experts are divided into eight medical teams, and each team will have a general practitioner, an epidemiologist, an anaesthesiologist, a medical technician and an interpreter. The rest of the delegation is made up of chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear defence (CBRN) experts (https://www.srbija.gov.rs/vest/en/153350/medical-aid-from-russia-transported-by-11-airplanes.php).

On 2 April, another plane arrived to Serbia with Chinese experts who will install two machines, which will help Serbia to produce medical masks in the country. The two machines will be able to produce 192,000 masks a day (https://www.srbija.gov.rs/vest/en/153080/another-plane-arrives-from-china-with-medical-assistance.php).

On 22 March, Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vucic had a meeting with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban in Budapest to discuss bilateral relations, cooperation and solidarity in the battle against the coronavirus and plans for supporting the economic development of both countries after the pandemic ends. This was the first meeting of the Serbian President with some foreign official after the state of emergency was introduced (http://rs.n1info.com/English/NEWS/a580633/Vucic-and-Orban-discuss-economic-cooperation-after-coronavirus-pandemic-ends.html). The close cooperation with Hungary has continued through a video conference between the Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto and the Serbian Minister for European Integration Jadranka Joksimovic on 30 March, where they discussed the cooperation in procurement of medical equipment. Hungary already sent to Serbia medical assistance in the form of 200,000 masks and 10,000 protective suits.

On 8 April, Turkey provided donation to Serbia containing various medical devices, including 100,000 protective masks, 2,000 protective suits and 1,500 COVID-19 tests (https://www.srbija.gov.rs/vest/en/153644/serbia-receives-assistance-from-turkey.php). On 11 April, USAID with WHO support provided donation of 6,000 COVID-19 tests to Serbia. This is the first part of the larger package of support planned by the USA.  Additional medical equipment and devices will be procured in total value of 650,000 USD.

On June 1, the Observatory of Public Sector Innovation of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) published the data on innovative responses of the governments to the crisis caused by COVID-19 (https://oecd-opsi.org/covid-response/). With 22 innovative solutions, Serbia is one of the top five countries in the number of innovations reported to OECD related to COVID-19 (https://www.srbija.gov.rs/vest/en/156741/serbia-among-top-five-countries-of-oecd-initiative-for-reporting-innovative-responses-during-coronavirus-pandemic.php).