BiH: New measures trigger protests in Banja Luka

BiH: New measures trigger protests in Banja Luka

After the latest measures to curb the pandemic in Republika Srpska came into force, a large group of hospitality workers and workers of other shut-down enterprises gathered on Monday morning to protest in downtown Banja Luka, the RS capital and second-largest city in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The measures, ratified at the session of the Crisis Management HQ on Sunday, envisage the closing of bars and restaurants, haircut salons, shopping malls and several other categories of facilities where big gatherings were often. Primary, secondary schools and universities in Republika Srpska have moved to online classes.

The measures are introduced as the whole region is facing a dramatic spike in new coronavirus cases and medical staff is warning about possible consequences.

The new measures in this part of Bosnia and Herzegovina also provide the closing of swimming pools, spa and wellness centres, bet shops and other businesses for a week, where direct contact is unavoidable.

The new measures caused distress mostly among hospitality workers who, as they say, will suffer a great loss and will not be able to recover. A few dozens of them gathered in Banja Luka, breaking the epidemic measures on the ban of public gatherings.

“We want to work,” they chanted as the police were preventing them from reaching the Republika Srpska Palace, the seat of the entity President.

Vladan Šurlan, a member of the Management Board of the Association of Employers in Hospitality and Tourism “Horeca RS”, told reporters that caterers have nothing against the decision of the RS Crisis Management Staff, but they are fighting to put food on their families’ table.

“Every country in which a lockdown has been introduced subsidizes its economy. In our country, only the real sector suffers,” Šurlan pointed out.

“At the beginning of the pandemic, there were 14,000 employees in the hospitality industry, and now there are just over 10,000. It is imperative that we sit down with the representatives of the line ministries as soon as possible and find a solution,” Šurlan emphasized.

Meanwhile, the situation with the coronavirus pandemic in BiH is far from good. The country is struggling to access vaccines and real, mass vaccination is not even on the horizon. The health sector is near breaking point in both entities, Republika Srpska and Federation BiH. The number of new infections and deaths is rising on a daily basis. That is why the health workers are disappointed with the protest and called those who want to open restaurants and other places to join them at hospitals.

“We were often tempted to join the demonstrations in front of your businesses where (anti-epidemic) measures were being violated; parties in bars, guests with no masks, no physical distance and so forth, but we had no time because we were working, we had to save lives,” states a letter signed by the employees of the University Clinical Centre, Banja Luka’s main hospital.

They also add that capacity has almost maxed out, as more than half of the currently 421 hospitalised patients are on oxygen support.

“The health workers are on the brink of collapse and hospitals are facing an almost 100% capacity. The medical staff is trying once again to warn about the seriousness of this situation and about the fact that, if the new cases continue to surge, we could reach that point where medical treatment cannot be provided in an adequate way both for Covid and non-Covid patients,” they stress.

Similar protests, but in smaller scale, were peacefully held in East Sarajevo. /ibna