President of the Republic of Srpska Željka Cvijanović addressed the Republic of Srpska citizens on the epidemiological situation related to coronavirus.

Dear citizens of the Republic of Srpska,

It has been exactly 18 days since the first coronavirus case was discovered in the Republic of Srpska.

Since then to this day, we have been recording a daily increase of the number of patients, but we should have in mind that this number is certainly larger, given the fact that not all citizens have been tested, as it is not possible to test everyone, but also because some of the infected may have extremely mild symptoms or no symptoms at all, and therefore do not feel the need to go to their healthcare provider.

In the previous days and weeks, we urged citizens to comply with the instructions of the competent authorities.

Learning from, but also concerned with what we saw happen in China and then in Italy, our institutions, even before the outbreak of the virus infection in the Republic of Srpska, took a whole set of preventative measures, knowing it was impossible to avoid this evil that represents a global problem today.

We were the first, or among the first in the region, to adopt rigorous measures – we closed schools, kindergartens, restaurants, established a new regime of work in companies and institutions, restricted the operation of shops and introduced new rules for shopping, started classes for our elementary school students over the RTRS public service, prepared the concept of organising classes for secondary schools and colleges.

In the past few days, we also introduced new measures to forbid movement to all but authorised persons from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m., as well as a general ban on movement for persons over 65 years of age, as they represent the most vulnerable category. We have also introduced more rigorous penalties for those who violate the rules of self-isolation at home.

One of those measures is the publication of the names of such persons and their transfer to organised places of quarantine, which will be guarded by the police. We have opted for this measure in order to reduce the number of irresponsible individuals not staying isolated, counting on the fact that nobody in their right mind would rather go to a public quarantine and be surrounded by strangers, instead of staying at home with their families.

Furthermore, in addition to the ban on the entry of foreigners, special controls of our citizens returning from abroad have been introduced at the border crossings, where tents have been set up to serve as quarantine, and special quarantine sites have been established in all municipalities.

Special preparations were made within the healthcare system of the Republic of Srpska and we owe the greatest gratitude to our healthcare professionals.

Numerous activities have been undertaken to prepare new facilities for the care of infected persons and persons who have contracted the disease, and to separate them from the people attended by regular health services.

We also expect further reorganisation within the healthcare sector that would enable it to respond to the new challenges, depending on the development of the situation, and work together with the Republic’s Crisis Management Staff and local emergency staff to identify facilities that could be used, if needed, to accommodate and care for patients.

The government has also launched a procurement procedure for the purchase of a 500-bed mobile hospital, which will be delivered in 10 days. Procurement of tests is ongoing continuously to enable our healthcare to check for persons positive for coronavirus, as well as procurement of respirators, which are a problem even for far more developed countries.

The purchase of 25,000 additional tests that should be delivered in a few days will enable a more stable control of the health status of the population for this virus, therefore enabling us to undertake adequate and timely measures.

Given the number of infected persons in Banja Luka, apart from our University and Clinical Centre, a huge burden lies also on the Banja Luka Health Centre and the City Crisis Management Staff, and we owe them a great deed of gratitude for managing this crisis.

We also owe special gratitude to Serbia, which has promised support in terms of medical equipment, of receiving and treating the most severe cases, but also of regular supply of goods for our citizens, as well as to China, which also provides assistance.

At the time we were taking the measures of closing schools, kindergartens, restaurants, there were people who thought these measures were excessive or premature, but being aware of what horrors were happening in China, Italy and other countries, we opted for this approach to gain time and avoid the most difficult scenario. And all the measures we are bringing today are taken with the intention of avoiding the most difficult scenario.

Ahead of us are several difficult weeks, possibly months. It depends on the discipline of all of us whether we will come out of this enormous problem with more or less losses and damage.

We must not allow the irresponsible and undisciplined behaviour of individuals to derogate the advantage we gained by the timely adoption of measures and their intensification at a later stage.

The only way to make things easier for our healthcare professionals and to reduce the number of fatalities in our community is to avoid social interaction and contacts or minimise them as much as possible and only keep them when essentially necessary, but even then, under strict adherence to instructions from the competent authorities.

This means that all of us, without exception, as citizens of the Republic of Srpska, are bound to strictly adhere to these instructions, so that the situation does not get out of control in the next few days or weeks, as we saw happen in some far more developed European countries.

When we hear messages from such developed countries that their healthcare systems are about to collapse, it should sound the alarm for all of us. This is exactly why we are trying to further strengthen and build the capacity of our healthcare sector so that our healthcare facilities are able to hospitalise those at risk and in need of assistance, to provide additional facilities and capacities, and to move the infection away from the central hospital block, which we are already doing.

The huge majority of our citizens are disciplined and understand the gravity of the situation. Those who do not will be punished, but because of them, we had to toughen the measures. At this point, each of us can contribute to preventing this difficult situation from becoming a tragedy by staying at home and strictly adhering to the instructions of the competent authorities.

Stay home, because at this point, the priority of all priorities is to preserve public health in the Republic of Srpska to the fullest extent possible, which means the lives of our citizens, most notably our elderly residents and chronic patients, who are most at risk, as well as to protect the healthcare system as a whole. That is our primary objective in the coming weeks.

At the same time, we are deeply aware of the problems that our economy will be facing in this new regime of life and work, as well as of the circumstances at the regional and European level, especially when it comes to our traditional foreign trade partners who are affected by the epidemic, which will also reflect upon their economies.

We are still unable to foresee all the consequences that our employers, workers, businesses and economy as a whole will suffer, but it is important that we have already started preparing certain measures.

This is precisely why I fully back the Government’s efforts to prepare measures to support the economy and protect workers, and I encourage them to continue discussions with our social partners – employers and the trade union, so that, as soon as the fight for health and life is over, we can repair the damage suffered by the economy and bring jointly agreed measures to protect our every worker and his or her job.

It is very important that, in accordance with the agreements already reached, our citizens and our businesses, unable of meeting their obligations, receive a three-month moratorium on loan repayments.

This will mean an enormous relief for many families and businesses, but at the same time and in parallel, we must look for solutions so that no businesses or jobs are lost. This is precisely why it is so significant to announce the establishment of the Business Assistance Fund in which we will concentrate funding from international and domestic sources. The government has also defined certain support measures to agriculture and farmers for spring sowing.

Furthermore, it is important that we create formal and essential prerequisites for the end of the school and academic years, including, of course, the system of testing and knowledge appraisal, but also prepare the necessary conditions for their restart in autumn. We need to praise our educators who have taken upon themselves the challenge of distance teaching in a completely new form, over television, but also give tribute to the RTRS that made it possible.

It is important that, in parallel, ways have been found to continue classes for our secondary school and university students. After this crisis, we will have to amend certain laws in order to formalise different ways of distance learning, but also of working remotely, and invest more in the field of new technologies and information society.

In short, even though our first priority now is to fight the virus and to preserve human lives, activities are taking place on a number of tracks, including supporting the economy, but also implementing the education process in new circumstances and in a completely new way.

But at the moment, what is most important is that we fight the virus. We can do this only if we all apply military discipline. We do not want to witness here in the Republic of Srpska the scenes we are seeing in Italy, where doctors, nurses and paramedics cry desperately in the face of the horror they are going through, unable to stop the massive dying.

We have to help our healthcare professionals by behaving responsibly so that they can help us all.

We must prevent a massive pressure of too many infected persons with severe symptoms on the healthcare system. That is why we said that in the coming weeks or months our life will have to change completely.

I know it is not easy to keep children inside, without them going to school or kindergarten, without them socialising or playing with their friends and peers, without visiting their grandparents, nor is it painless to have to completely stop or minimize contacts with our parents and elderly members of our families, friends, neighbours, but it is the only way we can protect them, and therefore we have to do it in the coming weeks, and even possibly, several months.

I thank the citizens who, together with the institutions, are helping overcome this crisis.

These are indeed difficult times, but I am sure that if we are disciplined, we will, together with our healthcare professionals, declare victory.

Thank you for your attention!

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