Thursday, 30 December 2021

COVID-19 Response Team Head Says Cannot Rule Out Greater Presence of Omicron

ZAGREB, 30 Dec 2021 - Deputy Prime Minister Davor Božinović, who heads the national COVID-19 response team, said on Thursday that considering a rising number of new infections in the last two days, one could not rule out that there were more cases of the Omicron variant than the 24 cases confirmed by sequencing so far.

Speaking to reporters after a government session, Božinović said that some link the sudden rise in new infections to the Christmas holidays while some rule that connection out.

"We cannot prove it. If the rising numbers are not related to Christmas, they are related to Omicron," he said.

Speaking of New Year Eve's celebrations, the minister said that in force was a decision on longer working hours for hospitality establishments, allowing them to work until 2 am in the night between 31 December and 1 January.

Inspectors will be visiting cafes but considering their insufficient number, not all such establishments will be covered, Božinović said, noting that he believed people would not go to places where they believe their health would be at risk.

Sinj mayor's invitation irresponsible, risky

Considering that the coastal region of Dalmatia has the highest number of infections in the country, Božinović said that local public health institutes were monitoring the situation and would decide on a possible tightening of restrictions.

As for the invitation by Sinj Mayor Miro Bulj of the Bridge party to all to attend "a free" New Year's party in Sinj in the Dalmatian hinterland, Božinović said the invitation was irresponsible and risky.

"We cannot support such calls, in Istria, all public gatherings have been canceled, and some counties have organized New Year's Eve parties but with strict checks. That is a responsible approach," he said.

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Thursday, 25 November 2021

Sovereignists Want Parliament to Approve COVID Response Team's Decisions

ZAGREB, 25 Nov 2021 - The opposition Croatian Sovereignists want the Civil Protection System Act to be amended so that parliament could approve decisions made by the national COVID-19 crisis management team, and began on Thursday to collect signatures to table the motion.

The party wants the decisions the team makes to protect people from infectious diseases to enter into force only after being approved by parliament.

The crisis management team is an artificially created body with artificial powers which, by its decisions, restricts citizens' liberties, and only parliament should decide on that, MP Marijan Pavliček told the press.

MP Vesna Vučemilović said parliament should take a more active part in decision-making on COVID rules, adding that a more active engagement by all political actors would defuse the tensions in society.

Members of parliament should say what they think of any measure proposed by the crisis management team, said MP Hrvoje Zekanović, adding that "decisions should be made in parliament, not by some para-body."

MP Marko Milanović Litre said the government must take responsibility for the team's decisions.

Asked about Austria's initiative to ban the Bleiburg commemoration, Pavliček said Croatia's diplomacy must fight for the commemoration to continue to take place, adding that "in the past few years, that gathering was dignified, without any World War II insignia."

The gathering is held annually in Loibach Field near Bleiburg, Austria to commemorate soldiers of the Nazi-allied Croatian Ustasha regime and civilians killed there at the end of WWII.

For more on politics, follow TCN's dedicated page.

Thursday, 7 October 2021

28 Months in Jail for Death Threats Against COVID Response Team's Members (Jutarnji List)

ZAGREB, 7 Oct 2021 - The Zagreb Municipal Court has sentenced Boris Štitić, 36, to two years and four months in prison pending an appeal for attempting to extort money from three members of the national COVID-19 crisis management team - Alemka Markotić, Krunoslav Capak, and Vili Beroš, Jutarnji List daily said on Thursday.

Štitić, a Slovenian and Croatian citizen, is a nurse with three convictions for fraud.

Under the latest sentence, he must also pay over HRK 10,000 in court costs. He has been released from detention, in which he had been since October 2020, and the stay behind bars will be counted towards the final sentence.

Although he claimed he was innocent at the start of the trial, he eventually confessed, justifying his actions with the COVID restrictions and the impossibility to see his child, who lives with the mother in Slovenia, during the pandemic, although a few weeks before sending threatening e-mails to the three officials, they spent several weeks on the coast.

The court did not find any mitigating circumstances, finding as aggravating that Štitić attempted to extort money from persons engaged in the fight against the pandemic and committing the offenses in an, especially odious manner, without any empathy for others, subjecting the victims to stress by making death threats against them and their families.

On 30 September 2020, Štitić sent e-mails to Markotić, Capak, and Beroš in which he said they would die unless they paid €100,000 in the Monero cryptocurrency.

Markotić is the director of Zagreb's Dr. Fran Mihaljević Infectious Diseases Hospital, Capak is the director of the Croatian Institute of Public Health, and Beroš is the minister of health.

For more about politics in Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page.

Friday, 5 March 2021

Interior Minister Božinović: More People Attended Bandić Funeral Than Restrictions Allow

ZAGREB, 5 March, 2021 - Many more people than allowed under COVID measures gathered at Zagreb mayor Milan Bandić's funeral and it is up to civil protection inspectors to establish the circumstances and take action, the head of the national COVID response team said on Friday.

Speaking at a press conference, Interior Minister Davor Božinović said the organisation of Wednesday's funeral was in the remit of the city civil protection authority, adding that "perhaps more people (came) than even the city authorities expected."

He said no incidents were reported to the police and that it was up to civil protection inspectors to establish the circumstances and take action if necessary, and if so, to do it "in the shortest time possible."

Asked if revoking the regulation under which only 25 people were allowed at funerals was being considered, Božinović said there were deviations from every restriction, in which case action was taken, including penalties.

He said the Civil Protection Directorate told him that no one had intervened yet to prevent more than 25 people from attending a funeral.

As for restricting the large night gatherings of young people in Zagreb, he said the civil protection, municipal services and the police cooperated in such cases and that a course of action was a matter of tactics.

The message is that people should refrain from such gatherings, which are one way in which coronavirus spreads, Božinović said, adding that bars with outdoor terraces were now open again and they could sit there.

He went on to say that 459 attempts had been made to enter Croatia with a false PCR test, most of them in Vukovar-Srijem County. He said this was punishable with up to three years in prison.

The director of the Croatian Institute of Public Health, Krunoslav Capak, said at the press conference that the rise in new infections was up 15.7% on a weekly basis and that positive tests were also up, today by 10.9%.

Speaking of the Russian COVID vaccine, he said the European Medicines Agency had begun to assess it and that intervention import was still an option for Croatia.

Capak said that persons who received both doses of a COVID vaccine need not self-isolate if they were in contact with an ill person. "As for a Croatian strain, there is no confirmation of it."

Health Minister Vili Beroš said at the press conference that the weekly rise in new infections and the presence of new variants of the virus were a reminder "that the response to the epidemic is far from over."

"We must keep working on increasing vaccine availability and consider the beginning of the assessment of the Russian vaccine. That paves the way for procuring one more vaccine in Croatia," he added.

Beroš said a high vaccination rate could ensure a successful summer tourist season, but added that personal responsibility remained paramount.

To date 46,635 people have registered for vaccination online and 3,596 by calling a toll-free number. Most of them are aged 39-54, so Beroš appealed to older citizens to register too.

Beroš also said that talks with representatives of wholesale drug suppliers would resume next week to see how to settle hospitals' and pharmacies' debts.

He also commented on a statement he made before Bandić's funeral, when he said "the virus is not a champion of the long jump." He said he was talking about a funeral at which COVID restrictions were complied with and that the media later used it in the context of Bandić's funeral. "That statement was not appropriate, but it was about another event."

Thursday, 25 February 2021

Božinović: COVID Response Team Made 300 Epidemiological Decisions

ZAGREB, 25 February, 2021 - Interior Minister Davor Božinović said on Thursday that since the first case of coronavirus was identified in Croatia, the national COVID response team had adopted 300 decisions on epidemiological measures and issued about 41 million pieces of protective and quarantine equipment.

Of the 300 decisions the response team made between 19 March 2020 and 19 February this year, 28 are currently in force and of those 17 are in force at the national level, nine at the regional level and one at the local level, Božinović said while  speaking of the key activities of the response team in the past year.

Speaking at a cabinet meeting, Božinović said that when the first case of coronavirus was identified in Croatia, for the first time in history all 577 civil protection associations with 4,600 members had been mobilised.

During the most difficult days an additional 14,000 people were engaged on a daily basis as well as 7,000 police officers, he said.

He underlined that about 41 million pieces of protective and quarantine equipment had been issued by the Civil Protection Authority for the purposes of health and social welfare institutions, the Croatian Red Cross and state administration authorities.

"The majority of protective equipment was delivered by 12 ships and nine planes from China while 85% of the funds for this purpose was obtained from the European Union, totalling about €62 million," he explained.

There are currently about 15 million articles of protective equipment or about 600 tonnes stored in the Logistics Centre and regional warehouses.

Saturday, 28 November 2020

Centre for Dissolving COVID Response Team, Forming New One in Parliament

ZAGREB, November 28, 2020 - The Centre party on Saturday proposed dissolving what it called the ruling HDZ's national COVID response team and the establishment of a new advisory body by a two-thirds majority in parliament.

Speaking at an online press conference, the opposition party's co-president Dalija Oreskovic said people no longer trusted the response team because of "its inconsistent, incompetent and politicised measures."

The team "which lost its authority and credibility because of its oversights must be dissolved," she added.

Oreskovic said the time had come for top state officials to act statesmanly and nationally.

The party called on President Zoran Milanovic and Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic to sit at the table and show they were willing to talk, and on Plenkovic to sit at the table with the parliamentary majority as well as the opposition to find a solution.

Oreskovic said Centre was proposing the establishment of a response team of national unity, adding that only a team which did not comprise members of only one party and laws adopted by consensus could help restore trust.

Trust in those conceiving measures is the main tool for successfully fighting the coronavirus crisis, she said.

That body would comprise experts from all relevant fields chosen in line with expert criteria, not party affiliation, and their key decisions would be communicated by the prime minister, not the team's members, Oreskovic said, adding that before parliament voted on the new response team, it was necessary to adopt a law which would allow it.

Centre co-president Marijana Puljak said Croatia was in a deep recession and that the brunt of the economic crisis fell on businesses which, she added, the government treated as enemies, not partners.

She said the response team's measures were being changed by the week and that, as a result, entrepreneurs could not remain in business.

Puljak said the restrictions should not create a gap between the public and private sectors, and that "we should all form a single viable sector which would share the burden of the crisis."

She said the compensatory measures to date focused on job retention, leaving out expenses for rent, utilities and interest on loans, adding that it was necessary to urgently cut business costs, taxes and parafiscal levies.

Puljak said compensation should be conceived for the hospitality sector given that bars and restaurants were closed for the next three weeks, adding that local government should help.

Centre co-president Dario Carev said the national COVID response team was increasingly used to score political points and that the growing distrust in it resulted in citizens acting relaxed about COVID-19.

Instead of being an advisory tool in the fight against the epidemic, the response team has become a mask on the government's political face, he said, adding that Centre "won't keep quiet about the bad scenarios and even worse justifications being given these days by a team which has lost credibility and expertise."