Monday, 3 May 2021

Croatia Tourist Figures for April and Labour Day Better Than in 2020

May 3, 2021 -  During the Labour Day weekend, there were 41,400 tourists in Croatia, who generated 157,000 bed nights, which is 277% more bed nights than in the same period last year, and the number of bed nights for all of April was 116% higher year on year. 

The 41,400 tourists in Croatia over the Labour Day weekend increased as much as 2,000% compared with the same period in 2020 when the country was in lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic, and there were hardly any tourists at all.

This year's numbers give "some hope and optimism and indicate further positive trends," the HTZ said.

There were 239,000 tourists in Croatia in April, which is 2,356 more than in April 2020, while the number of bed nights increased by 116% to 846,000.

In the first four months of the year, 592,000 tourists were registered in Croatia, and about 2 million bed nights, which is about 90% of last year's results or a contraction of 10%. The HTZ noted that in the first two months and a half of 2020, there weren't travel restrictions in the world but that they were imposed afterward.

Brnjac: Croatia prepared for more tourists

Commenting on the results, Minister of Tourism and Sports Nikolina Brnjac said, according to a press release issued by her ministry, that Croatia recorded a successful four months despite the pandemic.

"Croatia is recognized as a responsible and safe tourism destination, which is confirmation of all the efforts we are investing in creating optimal preconditions for tourists and citizens," said Brnjac.

Great interest has been expressed by guests from Germany, Austria, Poland, and Slovenia, she said, adding that "this positive trend will continue with a favorable epidemiological situation."

Data from eVisitor and eCrew (nautical tourism) indicate that foreign tourists were predominant during the Labour Day weekend, accounting for 23,000 of 41,400 tourists and 157,000 bed nights generated during that weekend, 112,000 were by foreign tourists.

The majority of bed nights were generated by domestic tourists, followed by Slovenia, Poland, and Germany.

Most bed nights were recorded in Istria, Kvarner, Split-Dalmatia County, and Zadar County, with Rovinj, Zagreb, Poreč, Zadar, Dubrovnik, Mali Lošinj, and Split as the most popular destinations in terms of bed nights.

Follow the latest on flights to Croatia HERE and the latest travel updates and COVID-19 news from Croatia HERE.

For more on travel in Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page.

Saturday, 24 April 2021

President: Croatia Flag Removal From Ambassadorial Residence Could Not Happen in Zagreb

April 24, 2021 - Commenting on an incident in Belgrade where the Croatian flag was removed from the residence of the Croatian ambassador, President Zoran Milanović said on Friday that such a thing, Croatia flag removal, could not happen in Zagreb.

"I thought an ambassador's residence was a protected building, and this is the case in Croatia. So I think that it (what happened in Belgrade) could not happen here. Croatia's law enforcement authorities would prevent it," Milanović said in response to questions from the press after he attended a special session of the town council in Križevci on the occasion of the town's day.

Croatian Ambassador Hido Biščević said on Thursday it was no accident that the Croatian flag was taken down from his residence in the Serbian capital city and that the incident reflected "part of the atmosphere" in Serbia's society, which he said continued to feed on hate speech.

Milanović said that Biščević was an experienced diplomat and "I hope that he knows what he is doing."

The president went on to say that Croatia and Serbia have several outstanding issues, and Croatia is generally ready to shelve all of them except the issue of people who went missing in the 1991-1995 war.

Milanović also accused Prime Minister Andrej Plenković and his cabinet of a stalemate in the process of the appointment of new Croatian ambassadors.

He said that it was Plenković who turned down the model of a 50/50 quota whereby half of the nominees for diplomatic missions are proposed by the head of state and a half by the government and added that such a model had been applied in the past during the presidential term of Stipe Mesić and the governments led by Ivo Sanader and Jadranka Kosor.

He complained about a lack of communication with the premier and added that this adversely affected the state affairs.

Milanović also criticized the government for disbursing extremely small outlays for the Croat ethnic minority in Serbia, which is why local Croats depend on Serbian President "Aleksandar Vučić and (Serbian) Radicals."

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

Thursday, 8 April 2021

Preparations for Upcoming Uncertain Season in Croatia Continue

April 8, 2021 - Preparations for the upcoming uncertain season in Croatia continue.  A look at the latest in Kvarner. 

During Easter, two virtual presentations of Kvarner were held for Italian agencies and journalists, organized by the Kvarner Tourist Board, the Croatian Tourist Board (HTZ), HTZ Representation in Milan. If the COVID-19 restrictions allow, Italians will be able to reach Kvarner by catamaran!

During the presentation, Kvarner tourist destinations have a long tradition in health tourism - Opatija, Crikvenica, and the island of Lošinj - were presented through short promotional films. The Italian market is one of the most important for Kvarner and Croatia, but the epidemiological situation is not good there either, and the pandemic has impoverished the Italians. Among other things, emphasis was placed on the offer of health tourism in Kvarner, a key, traditional, and essential tourist product this year.

Regarding the situation in this important market, the director of the CNTB's representative office in Milan, Viviana Vukelić, said there was a mini lockdown in Italy from April 3 to 6 and that travel between regions was banned.

Novilist.hr reports: "There are no tourists in Italy itself, the resumption of tourism will be extremely slow and associated with the gradual easing of measures, vaccinations, the opening of airlines, border measures, and more. Given the above circumstances, the tourism industry's focus in Italy is currently on locals and guests from the surrounding countries.

In general, tourists from Italy will decide on travel at the last minute, prices will be looked at, and the key criterion will be health security," said Vukelic, adding that the projections of what will be the tourist flows this year, with constant restrictions and introduction of sudden and new travel measures, difficult to articulate. 

"However, when we talk about Croatia, there is interest in traveling to our country, which numerous partners confirm. In these uncertain times, it is important to maintain market presence and visibility.

For example, in cooperation with the Kvarner Tourist Board, we held two virtual presentations of Kvarner intended for Italian partners, tour operators, and representatives of B2B media. In addition to the beauties and motives of Kvarner, the emphasis in the presentation was placed on all measures implemented for a safe stay in the destination, as well as on the health offer of Kvarner, active tourism, and gastronomy.

The presentations were very successful and gathered 80 participants, and the largest number of questions related to post-COVID treatments in Kvarner, sports tourism, travel with families and children, beaches, said the director of the Milan CNTB Office and pointed out that it is clear that everyone is looking for security and free space to distance themselves.

With this aim, the implementation of the Safe Stay in Croatia campaign will soon start on the Italian market, followed by a B2B campaign in specialized tourist media, and after that, the implementation of the main invitation campaigns. The BIT virtual fair in Milan will be held on the Italian market at the beginning of May, while the BMT fair in Napoli has been announced for May 28.

Although in Italy the focus is on the domestic guest, among other things, because Italy did not even have a winter ski season, some agencies are thinking about Croatia. Thus, Paolo Gorini, owner of the Gomoviaggi agency, which last year had a catamaran connection between Lošinj and Italy, told us that even though the situation is still very uncertain, they are preparing a program for the summer of 2021.

This summer, they plan to focus on the most favorable holiday period for Italians, and they also plan to introduce some innovations. They have already contracted a Dash 8Q400 Croatia Airlines aircraft for the line between Split and Ancona.

With a capacity of 76 passengers, the aircraft will fly from July 31 to August 28, with three flights a week. In Split, they also rented a small cruise ship with 15 cabins, so their guests can use the flight plus cruise if they wish. We also find out that they are in negotiations with Italian and Croatian shipowners about renting catamarans.

"We intend to work with two lines. The first is from Pescara and Cesenatica to Lošinj, Novalja, and Rovinj. From mid-July to the end of August, two weeks of travel to Rovinj, two trips a week to Lošinj, one of which will continue to Novalja on Saturday.

The second line we are planning is from Civitanova to Lošinj and Hvar, again from mid-July to the end of August, with two trips a week to Hvar and one to Lošinj. Of course, all this will depend on the development of the situation with COVID-19, which made a bad joke with us last August.

Namely, we were forced to stop the line in mid-August, when we already had hundreds of reservations that we had to cancel. But let’s hope for the best this year," Gorini concluded.

Follow the latest travel updates and COVID-19 news from Croatia HERE.

For more on travel in Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page.

Friday, 2 April 2021

Croatia Features in New York's Condé Nast Traveler!

April 2, 2021 - Croatia features in New York's Condé Nast Traveler!

Croatia, as a desirable tourist destination, graces the cover of the April issue of the renowned New York travel magazine Condé Nast Traveler. 

Condé Nast Traveler Magazine is a luxury travel magazine aimed at the upmarket, independent traveler. It provides its audience with the latest travel news, guides, tips, and ideas including some of the most beautiful places, best vacation spots, and places to visit worldwide. 

As Htz.hr reports, a photo of Lake Mir and the surrounding cliffs of Telašćica Bay is on the cover, while the same issue of the magazine published a large article entitled Time and Tide, which describes the beauties of the Northern Dalmatian coast and islands. Croatia is described in the article as "a country of extreme beauty and resilience, where sun-bleached islands smell of sage and salt, and limestone-paved cities proudly carry their history." Special emphasis is placed on the charm of sailing through the Kornati archipelago, but also on the beauty and historical significance of Zadar and Šibenik, which are located in the immediate vicinity.

Conde_Nast_Traveler_naslovnica-2.png

New York travel magazine Condé Nast Traveler April cover 

"Americans eagerly await new trips to Croatia, which is confirmed by numerous direct inquiries and reservations through travel agents and numerous articles in leading American media such as Condé Nast Traveler, Forbes, USA Today, The Washington Post, CNN Travel, Travel + Leisure, Departures, Lonely Planet et al. We need to continue to build the image of a safe and responsible destination and clearly communicate information about the epidemiological situation, protocols in the country and the conditions for travel to Croatia," concluded HTZ director in the US, Ina Rodin.

Conde_Nast_Traveler_članak-2.png

Time and Tide article on the beauties of the North Dalmatian coast and islands

While this may be the first Croatia cover for the New York travel magazine Condé Nast Traveler, it surely won't be the last! 

For the latest travel info, bookmark our main travel info article, which is updated daily

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Thursday, 25 March 2021

Minister Davor Bozinovic: Tourists Will be Able to Enter with Antigen Test

March the 25th, 2021 - Interior Minister Davor Bozinovic has spoken out about the new measures set to be introduced as the current ones are due to expire at the end of this month. As we look towards the tourist season, it seems that negative antigen test results will be enough to enter the country.

As Poslovni Dnevnik writes, the current anti-epidemic measures are set to expire at the end of the month. ''At the beginning of April, we will adopt new measures,'' said Minister Davor Bozinovic at today's press conference of the National Civil Protection Headquarters. It all depends on us as to whether it will be just an extension, whether there will be some more restrictive solutions introduced or whether we'll be more liberal,'' Interior Minister Davor Bozinovic stressed.

Bozinovic confirmed that those who violate the measures will no longer be entitled to financial aid from the state.

"It's important to look at whether someone is violating the measures and whether or not they're registered. It doesn't matter if they only get a warning, which is also a form of sanction, or a misdemeanor warrant has been issued, the National Civil Protection Headquarters will send out a list of all these legal entities and they will no longer be entitled to any support grants," Minister Davor Bozinovic warned.

As part of the preparations for the upcoming tourist season, he said that tourists who have been vaccinated, who have overcome the disease (and can prove it with a doctor's certificate of recovery) or have a negative antigen test result will be able to enter the Republic of Croatia.

He also assessed that the regional approach to tightening the current measures is justified due to the preparations for the tourist season because "the EU will assess the incidence in our counties and make decisions for citizens who plan to travel there."

For more current information on coronavirus specific to Croatia, bookmark this page.

Sunday, 14 March 2021

KBC Zagreb Hospital First in Croatia to Introduce Immunoadsorption Method

ZAGREB, 14 March 2021 - On the occasion of World Kidney Day, observed on 11 March, a medical team from the KBC Zagreb hospital presented the immunoadsorption method allowing organ transplantation in patients in whom such a procedure would not be possible during the COVID-19 pandemic.

KBC Zagreb is the first hospital in Croatia to apply the immunoadsorption method to remove specific pathological antibodies in the process of transplantation while preserving the protective bodies in the patient's blood to protect them against infections. In that way, the patient is not exposed to the additional risk of infectious complications, the head of the hospital's Kidney Transplantation Department, Nikolina Bašić Jukić, told a press conference.

This method has enabled us to perform transplantation in two highly-sensitive patients and to save the life of a 30-year-old woman after lung transplantation because of chronic antibody-mediated rejection, she added.

The director of KBC Zagreb, Ante Ćorušić, said that immunoadsorption enables a better medical outcome in transplant patients at the time of the coronavirus pandemic. "This method is slightly more expensive but is much more effective. This is a great success not just for the Department of Nephrology but for the entire transplantation team, including urologists and cardiologists."

At this largest centre for kidney transplantation in Croatia, 43 patients received new kidneys last year. Ten such procedures have been performed this year, and only five patients remain on the waiting list.

The transplantation program was interrupted twice last year due to an escalation of the coronavirus pandemic, as a result of which fewer than average procedures were performed. The annual average ranges between 70 and 80 procedures, the head of the Department of Urology, Željko Kaštelan, said.

To keep up with news in Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page

Thursday, 4 March 2021

Croatia Scores Better Than USA On Global Freedom Rankings - Večernji List Daily

ZAGREB, 4 March, 2021 - Croatia ranks better than the USA, according to the criteria applied by Freedom House to measure global freedom, the Večernji List daily reported on Thursday.

Croatia's total score of 85 points places it in the category of free countries, and the total score of the USA is 83, according to the latest annual Freedom in the World report, in which Freedom House, a non-governmental organisation, rates people’s access to political rights and civil liberties in 210 countries and territories.

In the section Political Rights, Croatia's score is 36 out of the total 40 and in Civil Liberties it scores 49 points out of maximum 60 points.

The three Scandinavian countries -- Finland, Norway and Sweden -- top the ranking with the maximum 100 score.

Freedom House describes Croatia as "a parliamentary republic that regularly holds free elections. Civil and political rights are generally respected, though corruption in the public sector is a serious issue."

Concerning the European Union, of the 27 member states, Croatia fares better than Bulgaria, Romania, Poland and Hungary, while it fares worse than the remaining members according to assessments made by this nongovernmental organisation.

As for the global developments in 2020, the NGO says that "as a lethal pandemic, economic and physical insecurity, and violent conflict ravaged the world, democracy’s defenders sustained heavy new losses in their struggle against authoritarian foes, shifting the international balance in favor of tyranny."

Freedom House says in its latest report that "the countries experiencing deterioration outnumbered those with improvements by the largest margin recorded since the negative trend began in 2006. The long democratic recession is deepening."

"The impact of the long-term democratic decline has become increasingly global in nature, broad enough to be felt by those living under the cruelest dictatorships, as well as by citizens of long-standing democracies," it added.

Monday, 21 September 2020

Flights to Croatia: Eurowings Reduces Traffic to Croatia in October

September 21, 2020 - The latest news for flights to Croatia as Eurowings reduces traffic to Croatia in October.

Croatian Aviation reports that Eurowings has announced its flight schedule for October. The company will continue to operate to destinations in Croatia, but several lines that were in operation in September will no longer be available. The company will continue to operate to three Croatian airports.

In September, Eurowings had as many as 76 weekly rotations to Croatia, operating to six Croatian airports: Zagreb, Pula, Rijeka, Zadar, Split, Dubrovnik, and Zagreb. In October, the company will operate only to Zagreb, Split, and Rijeka.

Lines to Split

Eurowings will have 5 routes to Split Airport in October, only one less than in September. The Split - Hanover line is canceled while the following remain in traffic:

Split - Dusseldorf 3 times a week, every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday (one flight less per week compared to September),

Split - Hamburg 2 times a week, every Tuesday and Sunday (two flights fewer than in September),

Split - Cologne 2 times a week, every Thursday and Saturday (four flights fewer than in September),

Split - Stuttgart 2 times a week, every Thursday and Saturday (two flights fewer than in September),

Split - Berlin 2 times a week, on Tuesdays and Saturdays, as well as in September.

Lines to Pula, Zadar and Dubrovnik are canceled

Eurowings regularly operated on routes to the three airports in September, but will not October. The following lines are canceled:

Pula - Dusseldorf,

Zadar - Cologne,

Zadar - Stuttgart,

Dubrovnik - Dusseldorf,

Dubrovnik - Berlin,

Dubrovnik - Hamburg.

18 operations per week to Zagreb

Eurowings will keep the same number of weekly flights to Zagreb as it did in September. The company will operate regularly on two lines: from Stuttgart and Cologne.

Zagreb - Stuttgart will operate 4 times a week, every Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday, identical to September.

Zagreb - Cologne will operate 5 times a week, every Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Sunday. The same number of weekly flights is available in September.

One active line to Rijeka

The company will continue to operate to Rijeka in October. Eurowings will maintain traffic on the Rijeka - Dusseldorf route, once a week, every Saturday. The last flight on this line has been announced for October 24. This year's second line, Rijeka - Hamburg, was canceled at the beginning of September.

In October, Eurowings will operate to three Croatian airports with 42 operations per week on 8 routes, which is almost 50% fewer weekly flights compared to September. Cancellations of individual departures still remain possible and will depend primarily on the status of bookings.

For the latest travel info, bookmark our main travel info article, which is updated daily

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Sunday, 3 May 2020

CRO Cards to Begin from June 1: A Look at How They'll Work

May 3, 2020 - From June 1, CRO cards will be in circulation, where employers will be able to pay their employees 2500 kuna to be used at physical retail outlets of restaurants and accommodation in Croatia, the Ministry of Tourism has revealed.

"The project was approved by the government last year, the process with the banks is now complete, and the cards will be ready for use from the beginning of June. Contracts were signed with seven banks (Agram Bank Zagreb, PBZ, Erste, RBA, OTP, HPB and Podravska). Since this is a card that should control the use of money exclusively in Croatia, those who receive the card can pay with it through the POS devices of these banks. Payment will be possible at points of sale in accommodation and food and beverage service activities. Online use will not be possible," Tourism Ministry spokeswoman Sladjana Vignjevic told Index.

She claims that many interested companies would introduce CRO cards for their employees.

"This amount is non-taxable to employers. According to the survey we conducted, every other employer expressed interest and a lot of big companies want to introduce it, and 63 percent of them prefer the amount of 1000 to 3000 kuna, but we determined it to be 2500 kuna. The card will certainly affect domestic tourism," Vignjevic said.

Already at the end of 2016, the introduction of CRO cards was mentioned to the public, on which employers would pay a certain amount, which would be non-taxable, thus honoring their employees with summer holidays in Croatia. Initially, this was intended to intensify the preseason and postseason, that domestic tourists at that time go to the Adriatic and only then can use this amount from the card. Although it was announced for 2017, the project has not yet started, but on June 1, as stated by the Ministry of Tourism, everything will be ready and citizens will be able to pick up these cards at the mentioned banks.

As the arrival of foreigners to the Adriatic is questionable due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Ministry of Tourism wants to encourage local guests to come during the season, not just in the preseason and postseason, as mentioned in previous years.

Hrvoje Bujas from the Voice of Entrepreneurs Association thinks that in the current situation, when companies have fallen and have started cutting salaries and laying off workers, it is unrealistic for employers to provide workers with 2500 kuna for a vacation simultaneously. No matter what, as the Ministry states, it is a non-taxable amount.

"It is crazy that anyone will pay a single kuna on that card. Now, whether the state pays the public sector or its public sector employees certain funds on the card, that is their job. However, it is clear that employees in the private sector will not receive this card. I also find that it is unusable, cannot be used online, and thus prevents online travel agencies in Croatia, which are hit hard by the crisis, from selling hotels in Croatia," Bujas told Index.

He states that he discussed the issue with Tourism Minister Gary Cappelli via video call.

"We pointed to this problem and suggested that it be technically resolved and a module added to allow online use in Croatia. In principle, we have nothing against CRO cards, indeed, if it will help tourism, and some of our members are satisfied, but I'm sure they will not be used in the private sector," Bujas says.

"Plus, as I said, the big problem is that online agencies will not be able to use that card and that in the digital age they are not included in the market, these agencies are put up against a wall. And they are counting on some part, when it will already help hotels and restaurants, and in addition, it would help small renters who go through agencies to guests," Bujas added.

"In the end, it is quite clear that this will only be of service to the public and state sectors," Bujas said.

Veljko Ostojic, director of the Croatian Association of Tourism, believes that any boost in tourism is welcome, including CRO cards, but states that they are timed wrong.

"The question is how many entities will be able to afford this opportunity to use the CRO card in this framework. The timing is not the best. As far as I understand, the one who can give, will, but no spectacle will happen," Ostojic told Index.

He said that he felt that any boost for domestic tourism was welcome.

"I'm not looking at this project as a one-year project, but as a long-term one that will last for many years. The project should be looked at in its entirety. If it doesn't work the first year, ok, we do not need to find defects immediately. I think the project is good, but yes, timing is not the luckiest," Ostojic concluded.

To read more about travel in Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page.

 

Sunday, 29 March 2020

Did I Just Recover From The Coronavirus?

March 29, 2020 — The chills hit shortly after lunch on March 9. I curled into a fetal position on the couch and threw a blanket over my shivering body.

It was the early stages of life during a pandemic. The deadly, still-mysterious and oft-dismissed coronavirus had lifted the handbrake on the global economy and was about to transform many hospitals into dens of tragedy.

I stabbed a thermometer under my tongue and checked the news: Italy was fumbling its early response. Fresh cases were trickling into Croatia via returnees. 

The World Health Organization in a press conference said, “Now that the virus has a foothold in so many countries, the threat of a pandemic has become very real. But it would be the first pandemic in history that could be controlled.”

My temperature was 37.6℃ (99.7℉) — ignorable in almost all circumstances. 

Two days later, the WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic. I reached for my thermometer.

A Smorgasbord of Maladies

I developed a cadre of symptoms over the next 24 hours — some obvious, others I ignored then later added to the tally.

First came chills and body temperature fluctuations of up to 37.8℃ (or 100℉). Then diarrhea, dizziness, nausea, and an intense one-day headache, debilitating fatigue which felt like gravity doubled its force on my body. 

I didn’t cough.

A doctor assured me over the phone it was a stomach bug. I agreed. She suggested I stay hydrated and call back in three days if the symptoms didn’t clear up.

While she spoke, I Googled “fever diarrhea + coronavirus”, aware of the perils of patient self-diagnosis and the “worried well.”

The less-obvious symptoms arrived one-by-one over the first 48 hours. All food became tasteless. I couldn’t smell anything. My nasal passages, sinuses, and throat felt drier than gravel. 

The fatigue and lethargy became all-consuming. A trip from the restroom to the couch felt torturous. Sustained movement lasting more than 90 seconds required hours of nap time.

It rendered me useless to my wife and our three dogs, who seemed to roll their eyes at me. 

I’m hypersensitive to all maladies. An odd mole has me planning my funeral. An unexpected cough has me Googling “early lung cancer symptoms” (which runs in the family).

I’m arguably not mentally equipped for an undiagnosed mild fever in the middle of a global pandemic. 

Croatia had 13 confirmed coronavirus cases by the end of the day.

The Limited Testing Commandment

In Croatia and many other countries, coronavirus was — and in some places still is — treated like a game of tag: You can’t be “It” unless an already-infected person or surface touches you. 

Vili Beroš, the steadfast Croatian health minister who has become an unexpected hero, has repeatedly downplayed the efficacy of widespread testing. Isolation, tracking, treatment and social distancing are key, he says.

“If we continue to fight in this way against the epidemic, we will see fewer harmful consequences,” he said at the Civil Protection Directorate's Sunday’s press conference. “Responsible behavior is the key to success.”

The assertion runs contrary to the practices of larger and richer countries like Germany and South Korea. They credit their outcomes and low death rates to widely-available tests, social distancing and high-quality healthcare systems. Croatia arguably has only one of those three options, hence Beroš’s pleas for cooperation. 

The novel coronavirus needs to stop encountering novel people.

Being a low-level recluse on a nearly-abandoned island prevents these sorts of collisions. So who would even infect me?

I could only think of a dinner four days before my first symptoms with a group of friends visiting from Zagreb. But none had visible signs of COVID-19.

Yet my fervent Googling of my symptoms pointed to anecdotal evidence that my supposed stomach bug might be something else. Researchers in China documented cases of COVID-19 with gastrointestinal symptoms, without the telltale cough.

The Mrs. and I were supposed to head home to a bucolic little island off the Dalmatian coast with an overwhelmingly geriatric population: a deep pool of diabetics, pulmonary patients, walking cardiac problems, and a slew of alcohol and tobacco-related issues.

If I was carrying some unorthodox version of COVID-19, I’d arrive on that island like a gatling gun of death, single-handedly turning it into a ghost town.

I needed to be sure I didn’t have the virus. I didn’t want to kill my neighbors. After four days of bland food, mud butt, and lethargy, I called my doctor again.

The nurse answered, and I blurted out, “It’s me. Orovic, Joseph. I need to know I don’t have the coronavirus.”

A pause. “Are you still having stomach problems?”

“Yes, and I read that might be a symptom of…” I stammered. “Look, I’m about to go to an island with a bunch of old people who will die if they get coronavirus. How can I get tested?”

***

The on-call epidemiologist picked up the phone after two tries.

“Hi, I need to know I don’t have coronavirus.”

She sniffled. “What are your symptoms?”

I rattled off my condition. She paused.

“And where did you come from? Italy? China?”

“Iž, an island off the coast, but I’m in Zadar now,” I said. “That’s why I’m calling. I don’t want to go back and infect the people there.”

“Did you spend time with anyone who came from those or other countries? Austria maybe?”

“I had dinner with some guys from Zagreb,” I said, feeling stupid as the words slipped past my lips.

The epidemiologist giggled.

“You can’t get infected unless you came from Italy or China or one of those countries,” she said with authority.

“So there’s no community transmission in Croatia?” I asked, with tales of South Korea’s “Patient 31” echoing in my head.

“No, no community transmission,” she replied. “Relax, whatever you have will go away.”

The “no community transmission” edict was central Croatia’s early response to the coronavirus. All confirmed cases were Croats returning from western Europe or were closely related to the confirmed patients.

The notion that the virus was already within the population and spreading was gently dismissed in earlier press conferences. 

My doctor sent me in for blood work and samples to rule out a bacterial infection. All came back negative. I was a sick man without a diagnosis in the middle of a pandemic.

My flustered wife told me ride out the rest of my mystery ailment on the island.

Instead, I called a doctor.

“Can I go to an island if I’m not sure I don’t have the coronavirus?” I asked while the doctor read over my file.

“Did you say ‘island?’ Go! Now!” he said, suggesting 14 days of voluntary isolation and to call if my symptoms worsen. I obliged.

By this point, Croatia had 39 confirmed coronavirus patients.

Mysterious changes on a little island

The island spurred an odd fluctuation in my symptoms. 

The stomach issues waned after the first week. My body temperature still rose and dipped at odd moments. My complete disinterest in food and constant lethargy caused close to six kilos (13 lbs) of weight loss.

I finally noticed our dog’s pillow smells like a burning garbage dump — so my nose was working again.
No cough.

Then on the seventh night, a tingling sensation in my chest woke me. It was as if someone rubbed toothpaste on my lungs. 

I asked the same question almost every Dalmatian islander recites during a medical quagmire: What are the odds I will die before the next ferry to the mainland?

This is our reality. Medical helicopters remain an oft-promised but never-delivered pipe dream. Emergency boats sometimes take over an hour to arrive, with the trip back to the hospital lasting just as long.

The odds of surviving a life-threatening emergency like internal bleeding, heart attack or stroke are demonstrably lower here. What about chest pain during a pandemic? 

I gambled on sleeping it off. Had I been on the mainland, I might have called an ambulance.

The pain subsided by the next morning and I dismissed it as a panic attack. But the temperature and lethargy lingered. Slowly, the lulls between my body temperature spikes and fatigue grew. I felt healthier more often and slept less.

On St. Joseph’s Day, ten days after my first symptoms, I declared myself “better.”

Croatia then had 105 confirmed coronavirus cases, with five patients fully recovered.

An Unwelcome Return To Abnormal

The morning of Zagreb’s earthquake, I tapped out a news brief on my phone, sent it to an editor in London then felt heat sizzle up from my chest to my jaw.

The thermometer read 37.4℃ (99.3℉) and rising. The ensuing, unexpected four-hour nap on the couch confirmed I celebrated too soon.

I was 13 days into a demoralizing stupor, my energy whittled down to slow-churning despondency. A radioactive sensation emanated from my torso. Life in the house changed.

My wife and I often took awkward, broad steps around each other like opposing gunslingers at a saloon. We avoided contact even though, ostensibly, I only had “some virus.” I wiped down faucet handles and hit light switches with my sleeve. She didn’t seem to notice.

Outside my home, life shrunk to a miniature version of itself. The government limited public gatherings to groups of five. Only private enterprises selling food, drugs, diapers, cigarettes, newspapers or gasoline remained open. 

The ceremonial stop at the cafe between bursts of toil — the social lifeblood of this region — became verboten. People were told to remain in their neighborhood no matter how much the ground shook.

In Italy, nearly 1,000 people were dying every day. I watched in quiet distress as my hometown Queens, New York became the pulsating center of the United States’ coronavirus battle. 

All this happened as I laid on a couch, pathetically knocked out by a middling fever and fatigue caused by a mystery virus.

The day of Zagreb’s earthquake ended with 254 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Croatia.

Two weeks after my first fever, I began recognizing my unorthodox symptoms in new reports.

New evidence suggested anosmia — a loss of sense of smell — seemed to be a symptom. Fatigue also made the list. Then finally, sitting down on the toilet more often than usual, without a dry cough, became an anecdotal sign of some alternate manifestation of the virus.

First-hand accounts from confirmed COVID-19 patients offered a picture of life with a “mild” version of the virus. Coughing and fever were the telltale signs of infection for most. But some bypassed that phase altogether and suffered other ailments.

One friend asked me a brutal question: “How many more people like you are out there?”

I couldn’t say.

I checked the newest stats. There were 495 confirmed COVID-19 infections in Croatia, and two deaths.

I’m now 20 days removed from that first shivering on the couch. I’ve had four full days of symptomless life. For all intents and purposes, I’m back to normal. I still don't know if I had COVID-19.

This island appears to be infection-free as well. We’re hoping it stays that way.

Croatia now has 713 confirmed cases of coronavirus of 5,900 tested, with six deaths, 26 patients on respirators and 52 recovered.

Wash your hands and stay at home.

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