Friday, 29 May 2020
Mark Thomas

Mark Thomas

Mark Thomas - The editor and big chief of The Dubrovnik Times. Born in the UK he has been living and working in Dubrovnik since 1998, yes he is one of the rare “old hands.” A unique insight into both British and Croatian life and culture, Mark is often known as just “Englez” or Englishman. He is a traveller, a current affairs freak and a huge AFC Wimbledon fan.

Email: mark.thomas@dubrovnik-times.com

Prince Charles, who last visited Croatia in 2016, has sent a letter to Croatian President, Zoran Milanovic, this week, reports N1. His Royal Highness expressed "deep distress and sadness" over the casualties and devastation caused by the March 22 earthquake in Zagreb.

"Because my wife and I have such fond and special memories of visiting Croatia four years ago, I was immensely shocked to hear that so many valuable historic buildings in Zagreb had suffered so much damage."

In recognition of the good relations between Great Britain and Croatia, the Prince of Wales donated to the Croatian Government Fund for the Reconstruction of Zagreb.

Since the earthquake hit Zagreb in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, "I can only imagine the challenging situation that the earthquake has caused for your country," wrote the Prince of Wales.

"Croatia and its people are in our thoughts and prayers in these painful and difficult moments."

 

On Monday the 27th of April the first phases of the relaxation of COVID-19 measures comes into place in Croatia, past of a three-phase plan. This first phase will see the reopening of many shops and stores, but not shopping centres. It will also see the opening of museums, bookstores, galleries and libraries as well as public transport.

Clearly the easing of some restrictive measures will involve a great deal of safety regulations, and shortly after the government announced their three-phase plan the Civil Protection Directorate released the detailed instructions and recommendations that accompany the first reopening phase. The Prime Minister, Andrej Plenkovic, also made it clear that the following second and third phases wouldn’t be introduced if the new cases of COVID-19 rose again.

So how will shopping for clothes, books and DIY products look like from Monday

Firstly, stores must limit the number of customers who are simultaneously shopping, a maximum of 15 customers per 100 metres squared. Also provide protective masks and physical distance for personnel coming into face-to-face contact with customers. Then to ensure minimum contact between employees working on different shifts. Also to provide disinfectant for customer’s hands and continually disinfect frequently touched surfaces. Then to ensure health monitoring of staff with a daily body temperature measurement.

The same recommendations apply to prevent infection in museums, galleries and other exhibition spaces, and in libraries and bookstores.

There was also a recommendation not to try clothes on in shops but rather to take them home and try them on at home, this recommendation provoked some reaction from both the public and shop owners. So the director of the Croatian Health Institution, Krunoslav Capak clarified the situation.

"The epidemiology profession considered two facts when considering how to allow textiles to be sold in stores. First, that no coronavirus transmission by textiles has been reported so far, and secondly that there is scientific work on the survival of coronavirus, which states that the virus can survive for long outside a living cell," said Capak.

He added that “"This is why the epidemiology profession has decided to put in place specific recommendations and restrictions on the sale of textiles so that, wherever possible, goods are not tried on in the store, but instead purchased and then tried on at home. It was recommended that this be especially true for those types of textiles that are worn over the head because the risk of droplets with coronavirus is the greatest."

He also clarified what to do when returning goods that don’t fit and must be returned “Since the virus cannot survive for long periods outside the living cell, it has been instructed that those goods that have been tried or returned should be placed in a specially designated area for five days, where it is expected that the virus will, if there are any traces, within that period die. I must remind you that in our country, in our population, we have a small number of patients, compared to some countries that have already reopened their shops.”

 

As the light at the end of the tunnel slowly gets bigger and bigger, so the calls for a tourism season come louder and louder. I am not really a gambling man, a risk taker, but I am going to say on record that yes, we will have a tourist season this year and it will slowly start on the 15th of June.

There I have made my prediction. This isn’t a date just plucked out of the air. Without planes Dubrovnik has no tourism season. We are, will and always have been, hostages to the airlines. They decide when and how much we earn, not us. Dubrovnik’s two biggest markets are the UK and the US, two countries struggling with COVID-19. I have contacted all the UK airlines that fly to Dubrovnik to ask them when they plan on reopening flights to the southernmost airport in Croatia, all of them answered, and they all gave me the same date, the magical date of the 17th of June. Why had they all chosen a Wednesday in the middle of June?

And now calls from closer markets, Austria, Germany, the Czech Republic, are becoming louder. Interestingly we as an incoming destination often forget that there is a whole other business on the other side, the outgoing travel industry. And these foreign travel agencies are getting more and more restless. Tourism of some kind, and who knows what that will look like, will happen in Dubrovnik this year, of that I have no doubt.

Croatia’s fight against COVID-19 has been monumental, an example for the rest of the world, and it isn’t very often I get to say that. It has shown much more than just a battle to stop the spread of a virus, it has shown what could be, what kind of country we could be living in.

Another question is could Croatia actually survive financially without the tourist dollar? I guess we will find out if it can survive with a heavily reduced tourism income by the end of this year. And most of the business people I have been speaking to are more worried about this winter than this summer. In a seasonal business almost all businesses, from café bars to travel agencies, make their money in the summer, and then use this to finance themselves over the barren winter months. This will all change.

Whilst of course the health of the nation is paramount, the health of the economy is second. The knock on from this year will be felt for years to come, the domino effect. Estimates suggest that by the end of the year we could have 300,000 people registered as unemployed. Of course we are not in this alone, many other countries are busily printing money.

There are a few absolute key factors in the success of the combat of COVID-19. Firstly, first-class leadership. Secondly, a disciplined and determined population. These two elements combined are unstoppable. These last two months have been proof of that. And if you want proof of what happens when you have neither of these then just look at the situation in the States. (By the way please don’t inject disinfectant!) 

The frustrating point for me is why we can’t have this winning combination during “peace time.” Why do we have to wait for a disaster of some description before getting our act together. How to change that mind-set? I just know, unfortunately, that everything will go back to normal, post COVID-19, and that is a little depressing. Although maybe not, maybe this shock has shown some future generations that there is another way.

We can save the planet, save ourselves and create a brighten tomorrow. As the inventor Charles Kettering once said “You can't have a better tomorrow if you are thinking about yesterday all the time.”

But first we must figure out the short-term and how to handle the tourists that are knocking on the door. Mark my words, we will have a tourist season this summer, so let’s not f*** it up! 

     

The national airline of Croatia, Croatia Airlines, will restart internal flights on the 11th of May. The Croatian government recently announced their three phase reopening of businesses, institutions and other activities which were introduced to combat the spread of COVID-19.

Apart from Zagreb Airport all other airports in the country have been effectively closed since the outbreak, with Dubrovnik Airport, planning to reopen on the 2nd of May. Croatia Airlines have yet to release their flight schedule for internal flights. However, according to report on the website EX-YU aviation, it is stated that flights between Zagreb to Split and Dubrovnik would be the first to reopen.

Dubrovnik and Zagreb normally have up to three daily flights, although it is still unclear as to whether this full service will be resumed. And these flights between Dubrovnik and the capital are much needed for business and health reasons, as well as generating some domestic tourism.

 

For the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic struck Croatia there are more patients that have made a full recovery than new cases of the virus. Over the past 24 hours 28 new cases of COVID-19 were detected in Croatia, whilst 99 people have made a full recovery in the same time scale.

In total 2,009 people have been infected with COVID-19 in Croatia since the pandemic began, and now with 99 new full recoveries the total of people who have made a recovery is 982.

“Today, we have more people healed than sick,” said the director of the Infectious Diseases Clinic, Alemka Markotic, she added that Croatia can be satisfied with the number of people who have made a full recovery. And concluded “This trend will continue if we all follow the rules."

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Over the past week the number of new cases of COVID-19 in Croatia has started to fall and the government announced a number of easing of restrictions yesterday, including the opening of some school classes, café bars and hairdressers.

And today the Minister of the Interior, Davor Bozinovic, answered when the borders would be opened, “The EU has made decisions to keep European and external borders closed until mid-May." He added that "There are always exceptions when it comes to crossing the border when it comes to humanitarian issues, such as funerals."

"We have entered a new phase and we would not have entered that phase if citizens had not respected what we were saying. And this second phase depends on how much we will adhere to all the basic epidemiological instructions, including wearing masks. These are not medical masks, but coverings of the mouth and nose. The recommendations we will make today will benefit citizens and employers to organize themselves as best as possible and to go through the second phase with few patients and be one step ahead of the virus," Bozinovic concluded.

 

According to the data available so far in the Dubrovnik-Neretva County, there are no new cases of COVID-19 for the sixth day in a row. And on another positive note 11 patients made a full recovery, bringing the number of people to make a recovery to 27.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, 1,488 samples have been sent to Zagreb for analysis. All samples sent for analysis on Wednesday were negative, as are ten samples sent for analysis on Thursday.

So far, since the COVID-19 pandemic began, 110 people have become infected with the virus in the Dubrovnik – Neretva County.

21 positive patients are currently hospitalized, with 11 in the Infectious Disease Department of the Dubrovnik General Hospital and 8 in the secondary facility, the Dubrovnik Student dormitory, and 2 in the Intensive Care Unit.

A total of 510 citizens are in self-isolation, and in the last 24 hours one violation of the measure of self-isolation has been identified. Since the beginning of the pandemic, a total of 22 cases of violations of self-isolation have been identified.

 

Dubrovnik Airport predicts that in 2020 it will see a massive 70 percent drop in passenger number in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Speaking to the website EX-YU Aviation the director of the airport, Frano Luetic, stated that “We are witnessing something unlike we’ve ever seen in peacetime. We have been left without any traffic.”

March and April were almost completely write-off months for the airport as the airport has been closed to all traffic since the 19th of March. On the 2nd of may the southernmost airport in Croatia will once again open its doors and after the government decision yesterday to ease the COVID-19 regulations the airport could see some passengers in May as domestic flights will be allowed to operate from the 11th of May in the third phase of relaxation measures.

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Empty terminal at Dubrovnik Airport - Photo Mark Thomas 

 

However, the Dubrovnik Airport relies heavily on international traffic, and is the gateway for the millions of tourists that visit Dubrovnik in the summer. American Airlines and Qatar Airways have already completely cancelled their flight operations for 2020 to Dubrovnik, with American Airlines planning a daily service from Philadelphia. And the majority of other airline have pushed their flight schedule back to mid-June.

Financial loss in the first six months of almost 10 million Euros 

Luetic added that the airport anticipates handling only around 30 percent of the traffic, when compared to last year. Over the past few years Dubrovnik Airport has experienced a steady rise in passenger numbers, in 2018 around 2.5 million passengers passed through the airport and last year that number increased to almost 2.9 million. If the predictions are correct then passenger numbers this year could be around 840,000.

And on a financial front the airport 2020 will certainly be a year to forget as the airport states that in the first six months of this year it could make a 9.5 million Euro loss. And it is unlikely that the second half of the year will see record breaking revenues, meaning there is every chance that the airport will finish this financial year with a minus. Even though the financial constraints are apparent the airport has stated that none of the 387 staff will be made redundant.

And on a national level, Tonči Peović, the General Manager of Brač Airport and one of the executive board members of the Croatian Employer’s Association, has commented that Croatia could well lose up to 198 million Euros in lost revenue due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

The Finance Minister, Zdravko Maric, has stated that Croatia needs 70 billion Kuna to survive the three months of the crisis and without borrowing money the state will face serious problems.

Speaking to N1, Maric said that “We need HRK 15 billion just for the functioning of the state. So far, we have managed to raise 8.5 billion in the domestic market. In the next two weeks we will go with some additional operations."

The financial situation in Croatia, and indeed in most of the rest of the world, is alarming and businesses are struggling to pay workers and even keep their companies open. One prediction shows that by the end of the year Croatia could have 300,000 people registered as unemployed. And the longer the COVID-19 pandemic continues the harder the economy will be hit.

When asked about the fall in GDP this year in Croatia, Maric stated that “It should be said that the impact of COVID-19 on this year is expected to see a decline in GDP greater than that of the global recession of 2009. I just sincerely hope that this time we will not have a decrease for six years in a row."

Financial experts have predicted a 9 to 10 percent drop in GDP in Croatia this year.

But when asked if the credit rating for Croatia would decrease he answered “If we're smart enough and responsible in decisions, we have enough arguments to keep it going. The new measures are timely, targeted and quite generous. At the moment, among all EU countries, we have the best indicators."

 

The Voice of Dubrovnik

THE VOICE OF DUBROVNIK


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