The COVID-19 Outbreak in Serbia, as It Happened
Published on Apr 7, 2020. Updated on Sep 15, 2020.
To truly understand the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important to take a look from different perspectives around the world. In today's COVID-19 Stories from Around the World blog, Filip Vasiljević and Stefan Stoisavljević, Osmosis Scriptwriters from Serbia, share their experience and point of view on the COVID-19 pandemic.
On March 16, Serbia declared a state of emergency and closed its borders to anyone except its own citizens. All daycares, schools, and universities were closed until further notice. Student housing closed, and students moved back to their hometowns. The government reduced public transportation, ordered people over the age of 65 to stay home, and prohibited all citizens from leaving their home between 8 PM and 5 AM. The number of infected still continued to rise.
What are the lessons that can be learned from Serbia’s response to COVID-19? Read on for a behind-the-scenes look.
Learn from other people’s mistakes - it’s cheaper
How did we get here? Like many other countries, the government of Serbia didn’t take the COVID19 outbreak seriously enough. In Italy, the number of cases started to increase each day, but our officials made fun of the virus. At TV conferences, they even invited people to go shopping in Italy due to low prices. Ten days later, the first individual coronavirus was diagnosed in Serbia. The reaction to this first case was insufficient, to say the least. People still denied the seriousness of the situation, and the media stated that there was no need to worry.
Is it too late?
The number of COVID cases started going up very fast. The day after our first case, there were five infected, then 12, then 31. As of April 6, there are 2,200 confirmed cases, and 58 deaths.
As the numbers climbed, the government and media changed their perspective and started treating the situation more seriously. Once Serbia declared the state of emergency, the citizens applauded the decision. People were pleased.
However, the same people that called for that state of emergency and cheered when it arrived did not follow its rules! The very next day, people crowded in the streets. Even elderly people went to stores to buy an unnecessary amount of food and waited in front of pharmacies to buy antibacterial wipes and disinfectants. Coffee shops, parks, and malls were full of people, going about their day like nothing was happening.
The rules were not being followed, so the government decided to make them more strict. Individuals over the age of 65 are ordered to stay at home at all times, except Saturdays, when they're allowed to go out and buy groceries between 3–8 AM (this will be enforced by the police). Everyone else is free to go out and do their business until 8 PM. After that, no one is to be outside, except for people working the night shift. Public parks and recreation areas are closed, as well as all non-essential businesses.
It was hard for many people to understand and accept that things had changed. The virus seemed like someone else’s problem. Now, such measures are necessary to keep everyone safe.
How did people in Serbia react to the COVID-19 outbreak?
As soon as the first person was hospitalized, Serbians started speculating and panicking. A lot of people rushed to the stores to buy food and make stockpiles of it. Flour, sugar, and salt disappeared first. Then toilet paper, antibacterial wipes, and disinfectants ran out. Even though people are constantly reminded that there is enough food for everyone, the light-hearted approach of jokes and parody, there is such mistrust of the government and the media that many people refused to listen to the calming advice.
Stores replenish their shelves every morning and by the end of the day, people have cleared them. Many are so afraid of starvation that they would buy anything. I saw one man buying fifteen loaves of bread the other day! It seems that since the emergency state was declared, people have eased up on the shopping, but it could just be that everyone’s pantries are so full at this point that there is no need to buy any more food.
Take responsibility—help the community
We’ve come to realize that this experience is something for people around the world to learn from. First, everyone must understand that responsibility lies with all of us, from the government down to each person in the community. We must follow the rules, show solidarity, and stay indoors. Leave your homes only if you have to and if you are young, please help the elderly in your area.
The spread of COVID-19 will only be conquered if we all work together. The sooner that everyone observes the safety regulations of quarantine and social distancing, the sooner we can end the pandemic.
About Stefan & Filip
Stefan Stoisavljević is a sixth-year medical student at the University of Belgrade in Serbia, and a scriptwriter on the Osmosis team. Stefan is very dedicated to his future career and plans to specialize in neurosurgery. When he’s not at school or studying, Stefan likes to solve puzzles or read a good book.
Filip Vasiljević is also a sixth-year medical student at the University of Belgrade and an Osmosis scriptwriter. He enjoys spending quality time with his friends. Whether he’s traveling, watching movies or just grabbing a quick lunch, Filip is happiest when he's among great company and good conversation.
We will be sharing more COVID-19 Stories from Around the World in the coming days. For more updates and an opportunity to pledge to #RaiseTheLine and earn 3 weeks of Osmosis Prime, check out our COVID-19 resource page.
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