Bosnian capital tightens rules as COVID-19 deaths spike


SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina — Bosnia’s capital is tightening measures against the new coronavirus as authorities struggle to cope with rising infections and a spike in deaths caused by COVID-19.

Sarajevo has mourned dozens of victims this month, as daily new cases in Bosnia rose from just a few hundred to more than 1,700 this week. Twenty-one new deaths were reported in the capital on Friday alone.

“This is a war without weapons,” said an elderly resident who identified himself only by his first name, Hajrudin.

In the streets, lines of death notices are placed on the main mosque and people cried as they prayed in the old part of the city thousands of whose residents were killed during a wartime siege in 1992-95. Another Sarajevan, Ekrem, said the situation was a “catastrophe.”

The Balkan nation of 3.3 million has seen the virus surge after relaxing restrictive measures and keeping its ski resorts open through the winter, unlike most areas in Europe. Many parts of Central and Eastern Europe are seeing surges in new infections that experts blame on more transmissible virus variants like the one first found in Britain.

To counter the trend, the Sarajevo cantonal government decided to impose an overnight curfew starting Friday evening, while the city’s bustling bars and restaurants will be shut down on Saturday, except for food delivery.

Authorities have cited the “dramatically worsened” epidemiological situation in the city as the reason for the lockdown. Those violating the rules will be punished.

“We appeal to citizens to help us implement the measures,” said Arman Sarkric, from the Sarajevo virus crisis team.

In total, Bosnia has reported around 150,000 cases of infections and more than 5,000 deaths — among the highest death rates in the region. Experts say this is partly because Bosnia’s health system remains weak decades after the war.

The mounting numbers of patients in recent days has put pressure on Sarajevo hospitals, with the main one — the University Clinic — warning it is running out of space.

The Sarajevo morgue, too, has been overwhelmed. Coffins containing bodies of COVID-19 victims are lined up on the concrete floor as workers in protective suits spray them with disinfectant. At a cemetery on the outskirts of the city, lines of freshly-dug graves can be seen.

At the Sarajevo General Hospital, doctor Bilal Oglecevac, said his team’s work is like a constant war against the virus.

“Sometimes we win the battles, sometimes, unfortunately we lose,” he said.

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