Troops in Serbia set up an emergency 500-bed field hospital Monday, a day after neighboring Kosovo re-imposed a nighttime curfew in four cities, as the Balkans battled to contain a surge in coronavirus infections that underscored the risks of swiftly easing lockdowns.
The makeshift hospital in a sports hall in the Serbian capital, Belgrade, is a “precautionary measure” as hospitals in the capital are reaching their capacity because of the coronavirus outbreak, the city’s deputy mayor, Goran Vesic, said. Serbian infections have returned to levels last seen at the peak of the pandemic in the Balkan country in March and April.
Serbia’s rising infections provide a chilling insight into how the virus, while retreating in much of Europe, can roar back if lockdowns are lifted too swiftly.
The country went from having some of Europe’s toughest lockdown measures to a near-complete reopening at the beginning of May. Soccer and tennis matches were played in front of packed stands, resulting in several players testing positive. Serbian tennis star Novak Djokovic and other players also caught the virus following an event he organized in Serbia and the Croatian Adriatic resort of Zadar.
Serbia’s defense minister, Aleksandar Vulin, himself reported to be infected with the coronavirus but now apparently recovered, visited another 110-bed field hospital the military constructed in the southern town of Novi Pazar town, site of the latest Serbian virus cluster.
Greece moved to contain the burgeoning threat by banning Serbs from crossing its only open land border from Monday morning. The new restrictions caused a seven-kilometer (four-mile) traffic jam at the Promahonas border crossing with Bulgaria. Authorities eventually allowed about 105 cars carrying Serbs into Greece that had been trapped overnight.
Vasilios Barliano, a 42-year-old Romanian heading to Halkidiki on vacation with his wife and child, said he had waited for around one hour to enter, but had heard that some of his compatriots had waited for four hours.
“It’s definitely a different summer this year compared to last year when we came,” he said.
On Sunday, Kosovo Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti reimposed nighttime curfews in the capital, Pristina, and three other cities with sharply rising infection rates. Public transport also was hit, with bus seating cut by half. A day earlier Kosovar authorities reported 8 deaths from the coronavirus, the highest daily number in the Western Balkan country since the start of the outbreak in March. New daily cases were 178, also the highest so far.
Spain also was taking action to rein in regional spikes, two weeks after the hard-hit country ended a state of emergency in force since mid-March. Over 28,000 people are confirmed to have died from the virus in Spain.
Restrictions were in force Monday affecting some 70,000 residents in the northwestern county of A Mariña, on the northern Atlantic coast, and over 200,000 in northeastern Catalonia’s Segrià county around Lleida.
The latter is particularly worrying because it affects migrant laborers harvesting fruit who are considered highly vulnerable to contagion because many endure basic living and working conditions.
The restrictions were coming into force at the start of Europe’s summer holiday season that usually sees millions of people crisscrossing the continent in search of sun, sand and cultural highlights.
Paris was one city rolling out the welcome mat, reopening the world-renowned Louvre Museum, home to Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. The Eiffel Tower reopened June 25. Face masks were a must and visitor numbers were limited, with reservations required.
Among the trickle of returning tourists was Zino Vandenbeaghen, who traveled from Belgium to enjoy the unusual space at both the Louvre and the Palace of Versailles.
“It’s super,” he said. “The ideal moment to visit.”
Thrill-seeking tourists and locals in Spain, however, were out of luck. The San Fermin festival that features the adrenaline-charged running of the bulls in Pamplona was scheduled to open Monday but has been canceled due to fears the packed streets could become a virus spreading event.
About 400 people, wearing white clothes and traditional red scarves, gathered at noon at a central Pamplona square where in normal times more than 12,000 would witness the launch of a rocket known as “Chupinazo” to open the nine-day festival, bathing each other with red wine and champagne.
Joaquín Beloki, a 33-year-old resident, said there could still be room for toasting “for the health of all those who have not contracted the coronavirus.”
Also in Spain, health experts said that only five in every 100 residents have been exposed to the new coronavirus according to the final results of a nationwide survey on the prevalence of antibodies released Monday. Marina Pollán, director of the National Epidemiological Center, said the results confirm that Spain is far from having developed the “herd immunity” that scientists had hoped for as a shield against future spread of the virus.
There was better news for Britons planning a Greek vacation getaway. Greece’s government announced that direct flights from the United Kingdom to all airports in Greece can resume as of July 15. Government spokesman Stelios Petsas said the decision was taken “in cooperation with the British government and after the recommendation of experts.” Greece had previously banned all flights from Britain due to the extent of the coronavirus spread there.
Meanwhile, the British government threw a 1.57 billion-pound ($1.96 billion) lifeline to museums, galleries, theaters, movie theaters, heritage sites and music venues hit by coronavirus lockdowns.
“When we heard last night, we slept for the first time since March,” said Kwame Kwei-Armah, artistic director of London’s Young Vic theater.