November 28, 2020 - How did Montenegro get from the only corona-free country in Europe to the second place in the world for the number of patients per million inhabitants? Speaking to Deutsche Welle (DW), the future Prime Minister Zdravko Krivokapić announced a new strategy to restore citizens' trust in institutions and establish control over the COVID epidemic in Montenegro.
In five months, from the only European corona-free country, Montenegro has gone to the top of the statistics map in terms of the number of COVID-19 patients per million inhabitants. In mid-June, Montenegro did not have a single case of the virus for a full 40 days, and at the end of November, it recorded more than 500 new ones every day. In a country of 620,000, nearly 500 people have died from COVID-19.
The opening of the borders brought the virus into the country again. Then the epidemic was ignited by almost everyone with irresponsible behavior - citizens, believers, the Serbian Orthodox Church, the government, and the opposition, which in the meantime became the new government. No smaller country had more mass rallies at a worse time for an epidemiological time bomb, writes DW.
"Non-compliance with measures and unique examples of a large number of mass public gatherings - are key reasons. All of these were severe risks that were not correctly understood," Boban Mugoša, director of the Montenegrin Institute of Public Health, told DW.
However, he adds that Montenegro is a country with a small population, so one newly infected significantly raises the incidence rate per million in comparison with other countries. Montenegro does not have the highest mortality, nor are all its covid beds filled. "It leads to a more accurate picture, which is by no means the second-worst in the world," claims Mugoša.
Opposition supporters began a series of rallies in the days leading up to the August 30th parliamentary elections. The elections themselves brought huge crowds, followed by the celebration of opposition supporters after the triumph. The government responded with a series of patriotic rallies, one of which gathered tens of thousands of people in Podgorica, all in the presence of representatives of official bodies, who had previously banned such behavior themselves. The final epidemiological time bomb followed the farewell and burial of Metropolitan Amfilohije of Montenegro and the Littoral in early November.
The media war between the Montenegrin Prosecutor's office and the police, two bodies that should cooperate in the protection of the people and the state, best shows how much the system washed its hands of everything. And while in the first wave they arrested teenagers if three people were sitting on a bench (because only two could), now practically no one is responsible for such drastic violation of measures.
Mugoša says that they appealed in vain every day for citizens to not gather.
"There is also a cultural context, our tradition, emotions, expression of political attitude, desire to see friends- all of that included in the whole story. Then, it is easy to forget the recommendations. The psychological defense mechanisms start according to the principle "it won't affect me." Unfortunately, it will. It is often difficult and painful to get rid of these delusions, and it usually happens when a person becomes infected on their own," explains Mugoša.
In the first wave, Montenegro achieved a good result by severely punishing citizens for violating measures. Now there are not so many penalties, and a large number of people do not listen to epidemiologists, so as not to wear masks or crowd in cafes.
However, while at the beginning of the COVID epidemic, they enjoyed entire public trust, Mugoša also admits that it is changing.
"We went through all the stages, me, and my team - from when everyone loves you and when you are "heroes," to when you are certainly not anyone's favorite. It teaches you that praise should not distract you, and criticism and attacks should not discourage you. I think that the Institute enjoys trust because people see that we will not give up, but we also need respect for our recommendations," says Mugoša.
He points out that he never claimed that everything they did was perfect. He adds that mistakes and omissions happen because they had to act immediately, but he is sure that the significant majority of moves were correct.
Source: Deutche Welle (DW)