Steps towards further reopening

Prime Minister Edi Rama’s public communication on the Covid-19 pandemic situation and second phase of easing the coronavirus lockdown measures:

Hello, dear friends!

At the today’s cabinet meeting, we had a useful and constructive discussion on the strategy about what has come to be broadly known as the Second Phase.

First I would like to inform you all that in the framework of the consultations with friends and counterparts, I had a very positive conversation with Greece’s Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis precisely about the Second Stage. We specifically discussed current accomplishments and results in the fight against the invisible enemy in both countries, testing strategies, steps towards easing the restrictive measures, resumption of the education process, opening the tourism season, reviving the economy, but also specifically the mutual interest in helping the interaction about seasonal employment. I took the opportunity to wholeheartedly thank our Greek friend for the previously pledged understanding shown throughout this period about a number of seasonal employees who were stuck on the other side of the border, but were not treated as violators of the duration of the stay in the neighbouring country. On the other hand, we also agreed to jointly look carefully together at the issue of the movement of seasonal workers, from Albania to Greece, in line with the Second Phase deadlines and the mutual need to open the way to their inclusion in the season’s work around the middle of May.

The experience and information exchange with as many countries as possible, even direct exchange at the highest level is the key to the success we have all achieved to date and, for me, it will continue to be an inherent and regular practice until the end of this war with still many unknown aspects. But the exchange the neighbouring countries in this aspect and especially with a country like Greece in this case, precisely for the intense interconnection we have in terms of the rate of movement of people between us, is a must.

To return to the today’s discussion at the cabinet meeting, what I would like to share with you is the following:

First and foremost, the Second Stage of our war strategy against this invisible enemy doesn’t change a lot from other countries’ strategies, yet our approach during this stage will be somehow tactically different from that in many other countries. How and why?

I would start with “the why”.

And I would start by reiterating that the virus wouldn’t leave just since we are isolating ourselves. When we lock ourselves down, the virus is unable to kill us, as it would have done should we were not to stay at home. However, the virus is still out there, just outside our door waiting for each of us to walk out of our small homes, or as soon as we open the door of our large common house, our country, we would expose ourselves to the enemy’s attacks. Therefore, make up your mind that until an effective vaccine is developed, we should be very alert at every moment as individuals, as a family and a whole society in order to avoid its attacks, just like we did in the First Phase.

This means that until an effective vaccine is developed, we should make up our mind that our new normality won’t resemble with the normality we used to live in before this unexpected war was to begin. Albania, the region, Europe and whole world w won’t be the same again without first eliminating this enemy of the health, the economy, freedoms and our rights as humans who are used to shake hands, meet an hug each other, come and stay together to learn, work, entertain and celebrate with each other and, God forbid it, to comfort and console each other when we lose our beloved ones.

Just imagine only this; in order for us to protect ourselves, families and others, we should not visit each other’s homes without first eliminating this enemy. But on the other hand, we can’t stay isolated forever, because it’s like locking every family down being no longer able to generate income for the family, as you run out of your savings and you run also out of relatives and friends that can help you.

This is unimaginable and virtually unachievable, either for a family, or for a state, or for all the states together, whose fates are so much interdependent in the world of today where we live.

What we could do then?

It would exactly be a kind of a cat-and-mouse game, with the mouse being unable to afford staying closed without getting out of its hole, because otherwise it would die of hunger. However, once it gets out, it thinks about not only feeding and providing food, but also it stays alert so that it doesn’t become food for the cat. Of course, no comparison would be appropriate, but today those who think about sleeping only and speaking is their only job, could well say that we wouldn’t have the reckless mouse’s unfortunate end, if we were not to act so quickly and attentively since the very first moment when this enemy emerged on our doors just like a wild cat seeking to feed on our bodies and our beloved ones.

During the Second Phase, we would use a tactic of breaking the enemy’s shock wave, meaning that we will reopen everywhere cautiously, but not at the same way and at the same time everywhere. What does this mean?

If we are to look at Albania’s efforts and results compared to the other countries in the Balkans, in Europe and all over the world, if you will, you are to find out we currently rank among the most successful countries group in terms of two main parameters. All parameters are important, but two are the main ones, deaths per one million population and number of patients in intensive care compared to the number of people who have contracted the virus. This is because the stringent restrictive measures have worked best as of today, thanks to the government that acted swiftly, and, allow me to say this because the government has so far has coped with the situation in an exemplary way, but above all thanks to you, thanks to the Albanian citizens, 99% of whom have been the guardian angels of your families and the people we all belong.

But, if we are to take a look on Albania’s map, we would see a clear picture, showing that the enemy’s attack wave has not been the same everywhere. Which means that if we are to reopen everywhere the same way and at the same time, we risk expanding, not narrowing the scope of the enemy, which would unfairly cost dearly and equally to everyone, a backtrack of everyone, because the number of infected people and as a result (God forbid it!), the deaths and number of patients in need of intensive care, by opening all equally everywhere, would increase exceeding any guarantee rate of the health system.

Therefore we will open everywhere, but the restrictive measures won’t be relaxed equally everywhere. For example, in low-risked areas like Gjirokastra or Dibra, we can afford easing the restrictive measures further, while the lockdown measures will not be eased in an area like Kruja for the time being, and these measures will be moderately eased in  areas like Tirana or Durres that have dense population. Of course, these areas are not given once and for all, but the measures can vary based on the dynamics of the war, based on the number of the infected and the citizens’ conduct vis-à-vis the rules.

This tactical approach will both offer more relief, but also will teach us a lot and everything during the month of May, but, above all, it will allow a safe or low-risk reopening so that we don’t move backward again in the event of a surge in the enemy’s wave attack.

On the other hand, such an approach will also significantly ease the pedestrians and the drivers’ travel within an area, without forcing the low-risked areas to close just like other high-risked and hotbeds, where the infection chain is high.

So, we will be able to significantly ease travel restrictions in the respective territory, offering a relief to residents living in rural areas and villages and allowing them to drive to bigger urban area, or lift the rule limiting shopping to one member per family only. Likewise, the daily time period when people will be allowed to leave their houses, won’t be the same both in low-risked and high-risked areas.

On the other hand, proper conduct of the community can maintain the infection risk low constantly in these areas.

Just like the more stringent measures in a high-risked area and respecting these rules by everyone would sooner rather than later turn it into a low-risked area too. I believe everybody understands what I am saying, but of course this is the tactical principle of fragmenting the enemy’s strike wave, which we will explain and concretely argue starting next week, when, based on the map of the economy and the proposal by the Ministry of Health, we will pilot several low-risked areas by easing the restrictive measures more than any other part of the country.

This was the first and the most important part of the today’s discussion.

Second, at the government meeting we focused on the prerequisite for the businesses to strictly adhere to the safety protocol. We are reopening and will continue to reopen the economic activity, yet we cannot and will not tolerate any deficiency or negligence in strictly adhering to the safety protocol. With the new measures included in the Criminal Code entering into force, on which both the government and the President agreed  – why I am saying this, because you can imagine how essential and important these new measures are given that two sides involved in a conflict just a month ago have reached now full consensus on the need to protect the population’s health, the consequences of avoiding the safety protocols are intolerable, unacceptable, unjustifiable and punishable, both administratively and by law.

I would provide an illustration. If someone dared to open his cafe in a neighbourhood, he face a fine and forced quarantine, while now, whoever dares to do so would face a hefty fine, while his shop will be sequestered and he will be sent behind bars for being a direct serious threat to the population’s health.

So let’s be very clear about this.

Today, nobody would be able to run business as normally, by opening the shop to earn as much as possible, but one should run his business, protecting first the personnel and the consumers’ health. For example, the owner of a garment factory, if they fail to rigorously abide by the safety protocol and is caught violating this protocol, he or she will not easily get away with e fine and revoking of the license, but he or she might end behind bars for intentionally or unintentionally spreading the epidemics and causing people’s death.

That’s why I call on everyone: Do not open the shutters of your shops without obtaining first via “the most hated” e-albania platform the certificate showing that your business is allowed to reopen and the relevant safety protocol for your business category.

The anti-Covid inter-institutional task force, that is being established, will carry out constant inspections starting next week and will tolerate nobody if no certificate and safety protocol is provided.

By the way, since we mentioned e-albania platform, don’t forget to obtain the due authorization to use personal car to drive to work. Meanwhile, we are intensely working to make sure that none of those who have been issued authorizations by the State Police allowing them to travel beyond the allowed daily time period due to the nature of their work face any problem in obtaining such an authorization via the e-albania platform. However, the authorization issued by the State Police is valid in the next few days, whereas the e-mailed authorization granting permit to travel during the allowed daily time period will be no longer valid starting Monday, April 27.

Third and the last, as I already told you a day ago, a significant number of the individuals and businesses whose applications for the so-called wartime salary under the first support package were refused, have received an e-mail from the General Taxation Directorate confirming that they are eligible to benefit a payment of 40, 000 lek, or $400 under the second extended package. So, their applications haven’t been turned down, but they all were entitled to benefit under the extended package. Meanwhile, some 11,000 out of 13,000 applicants will receive the 40,000-lek salary starting tomorrow.

The verification process of the complaints forwarded by applicants will complete this week and thousands of other people will be eligible to benefit the bonus.

The situation is rather positive, but people shouldn’t think we have got away with the danger and that the war is now over, or that it will end tomorrow and everything will be the same again. But, just because we and you have jointly done so much and together we have achieved such significant results, we can now see the next month of May with more optimism, but without relaxing for a single moment our alert and attention to the fact the further reopening or the return right to where we were will now depend on us alone, on the behaviour and the efforts of everyone to protect the results we have achieved to date, by reopening without forgetting to wash our hands frequently, without approaching less than a meter and half to anyone outside our families, without walking more than a person on the streets, tolerating no vendor serving without wearing a mask, without crowding shops, the entrance of banks and so on and so forth.

These are all minor and frustrating things, yet they are vital and if everyone does all these every day then the reopening will be much broader and safer in the coming weeks and months. So, I wish you all great health, patience, trust and confidence with the self-awareness that if everyone does the right things properly, everything else is less important secondary thing.

Thank you!