The today’s conference takes place in a slightly strange format, yet this is the usual format nowadays, but, anyhow, most importantly we are able to see each other physically. Because of the need to comply with the example we all seek to convey to everyone and the need to strictly observe the rules, but also because we were set to visit the newest facility designed to support the country’s health system so that it continues to successfully fight its battle in this unfinished war, we thought that we can hold this press conference, the first one not being held not via the Zoom application, in this space where of course we will say a few things about this aspect and what we will keep doing in this aspect. I will also be pleased to provide also answers to other kind of questions, because it took this time to realize we cannot do without each other.
First of all, I would like to reiterate that though annoying, it is crucially important for the people to never forget that the virus is still with us, because if it was gone, those more capable, more developed and much wealthier of us would have already declared it by now, but these countries continue to enforce lockdown measures and experience really difficult traumatic and post-traumatic situations, from the United States to France and Great Britain, where the mandatory 14-day quarantine rule was imposed most recently on anyone entering the territory of the Great Britain.
The virus is still with us and with the movement and all other freedoms already restored and normalized in our country, it is obvious that whole responsibility to protect the population’s health falls not only on us as the government, or the institutions tasked with handling the situation, but it also falls on every individual and every household. Because it is naturally understandable that one cannot control whole people in their daily lives by employing police, troops and inspectors, when it takes just a single individual to make a mistake and we all should make sure to prevent him or her from making that mistake.
That’s why we should all together help to stem the spread of the infection without neglecting, making fun of it and without thinking “I won’t contract the virus,” because nobody knows it for sure. This is what we were discussing with doctors. They say a second wave of the infection is most likely in the fall along with the flu strains in the winter. It may happen, but it also may not. We don’t know yet its impact of the influx of tourists in terms of the spread of the virus so that’s why we should be prepared. We continue making preparations. This facility is a complete example of our comprehensive preparation efforts. I am very grateful to all of those who rehabilitated the building in a record time. The works to rehabilitate it completed within a month and all equipment were provided in the meantime. There are few equipment still to be installed and the new hospital facility will be practically ready to be part of the front in the fight against the virus outbreak in the event of a surge in fresh numbers that would exceed our hospital capacities we have made available to the fight against Covid-19.
I am very glad that in this very difficult situation for all, there are still individuals, entrepreneurs who generously committed to a social responsibility, providing this important contribution to Albanian health system amid this situation.
I have already stated and written it and I have told doctors personally I am very pleased that, among other things, doctors and nurses somehow took “revenge” for being over the past 30 years the target of insults, abuse words and even victims of physical attacks, branded as a category of people “immersed in dirt and corruption,” and people who would let everyone die if they do not pay. They exacted “revenge and retribution” and I really hope that the overwhelming majority of the Albanian people will never forget what doctors and nurses have done under these conditions, proving to be true heroes and highly professional.
We have registered no deaths among doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers and I hope we will not. Even the most developed countries have lost hundreds of doctors and nurses in this fight. We have not recorded cases of doctors and healthcare workers abandoning their duty, as it has happened almost in all other countries, where doctors and nurses have stated they cannot go on working under such conditions and we can no longer keep fighting. It is of course normal and a human thing, but anyhow it is dereliction of duty. We have a super, day and night committed team. You have witnessed it by yourselves and this is a fact, which means “even a blind pig can find an acorn once in a while,” but “the pigs and hogs” are not always the exception proving the rule. The politicians are not all the same, the doctors too are not the same, and not all among you are also the same.
Since we are talking about doctors and healthcare personnel – and of course “where there’s smoke there’s fire” as a saying has it when it comes to the bribe-paying and ethical violation in medicine – I have always stated and I will reiterate it today nobody in this country is denied treatment and health care, let alone be left to die in hospital for not paying bribes. This is not true and I believe that the outcome of this situation should make us all proud. I am very proud about the way we have together coped with this extreme and global challenge, which kneeled down and succumbed much more powerful, more knowledgeable and more developed nations than us.
We have handled the virus outbreak with the modesty of the awareness about our limited resources and that’s why we need to act faster than the others, impose sometimes even more extreme measures than the others, because otherwise we would have been facing situations where we would be now lamenting and not complaining why we did this, as many are asking now, “why we had to impose lockdown for this?” We imposed lockdown and that’s why we succeeded. But the outcome is positive in all respects in terms of the population’s health.
Of course, we still have to cope with the major challenge of addressing the effects of this war on the household and national economy. But this time too, I can convincingly state that we are ready and we will address all these effects gradually step by step in spite of what is being said and in spite of the simple truth that nothing is perfect and nothing is flawless. We will manage to resist until the end of this second four-month period, while in the third four-month period we will start seeing the economy returning to its growth potential and we will gain momentum to take a great leap forward, so to say, to overcome all these effects in 2021, when we expect all parameters to be restored and not only that.
However, these all remain to be discussed, seen and verified in the future.
I am giving the floor to the Health Minister, who will take a stock of the situation and outline the ongoing preparation efforts.
Health Minister Manastirliu: Thank you Mr. Prime Minister!
Allow me to provide a summary of our action plan, its key points vis-à-vis the response to the Covid-19 outbreak in our country, by highlighting the fact we still face this epidemic, the novel coronavirus is still with us and it poses two level risks being gauged as net risk, which is practically the risk level determined after an assessment of the situation every two week by the relevant experts and the potential risk, which is assessed dynamically assessed through mathematical and epidemiological forecasts based on our reopening strategy.
You already know that all businesses have reopened starting June 1 and only few restrictions remain in place, banning only high-risk activities. Safety guidelines have been adopted for every allowed business activity.
On the other hand, health system is fully operational since May 18 delivering all health care services, ranging from health emergencies that have been provided continuously to the planned surgical procedures which were limited to the university and regional hospitals only. The same goes for the planned hospitalizations that were temporarily suspended.
Of course, this is a moment when we face even greater challenges, as we should simultaneously respond to the virus outbreak, as well as deliver and meet all needs of the population for health care.
What are we planning?
Acting in line with the action plan and the reopening strategy, we are working to enhance our capacities, primary the testing, diagnosing, tracing and isolating capacities, which are crucial at this stage, because reopening make tracing more challenging when it comes to tracking down asymptomatic cases, which are very hard to identify if no information on the epidemiological situation on the ground is available and tracking down cases showing milder symptoms, so that we can quickly identify their close and primary contacts and isolate them. It was certainly not easy at all, yet it was somehow easier to identify any suspected case when the entire country was quarantined. Now we face even a greater challenge, to which we are responding by enhancing testing capacities in the certified laboratory of the Public Health Institute, as we have already clearly stated from the very beginning, and in other laboratories that have already started performing tests for the virus, including the microbiological laboratory at the University Hospital Centre, where the serological tests are being conducted on samples of the medical personnel. Protecting the medical personnel in the fight against Covid-19 is a top priority and we have made every effort to make sure that doctors and health care workers are supplied due protective medical materials and keep increasing stock of protective materials as part of our plan to cope with the situation.
Strengthening hospital structures is an important element about which we have been working from day one and we are currently working to prepare the COVID3 structure at the former surgical hospital at the University Hospital Centre, which is now a new quarantine facility to meet every need in the event of a surge in the fresh cases and in the number of people needing hospitalization.
When will this quarantine hospital be used and how is it planned?
This is a hospital with a capacity of 100 beds, and it also includes intensive treatment units, imaging and testing services and we will soon provide a magnetic resonance imaging machine, a mini-laboratory to meet the needs of the intensive care units, as well as other imaging equipment. This hospital will specifically provide treatment to the patients who complete specialized treatment in the infectious diseases hospital and need further adequate care in order to fully recover and patients who need to complete the 14-day quarantine period so that we can contain the spread of the virus in their families and communities. The hospital is built to respond the needs and handle the potential cases during the tourism season, including international visitors, who might need to be hospitalized or quarantined. It adds to our capacities taking it to 500 beds, including the Covid 1 hospital, University Hospital Shefqet Ndroqi, COVID3 hospital at the University Hospital Centre and this new hospital named as COVID4 hospital, that are all made available to fight the epidemic.
It is worth emphasising that we will go on with our plan to increase stock of personal protection equipment. We will continue to strengthen capacities of the National Health Emergency Service by increasing its fleet so that it adequately meets the system’s needs, not only during the pandemic, but also the health system needs in all remote areas of the country. The family doctors will track down all asymptomatic cases, thus strengthening a very important element, which is the information system, e-health and digitization that is on the focus of our effort to build a system capable of tracing all suspected cases, tracking down at the same time in an integrated way all these elements vital to the efforts to cope with the situation of the epidemic.
Our plan is a detailed one and it contains key specific objectives and a financial cost attached to it. Albanian government has allocated at the first moment, and is was not long ago but just 90 days, it allocated 2.5 billion Lek to strengthen the health system in order to cope with the epidemic, with a part of the funding having been already disbursed and a significant part of these funds has been allocated to support doctors and nurses under government decision to award a monthly bonus to all doctors and nurses in the front line, as well as to epidemiologists, doctors, or support staff involved in the fight against COVID-19.
This is the brief outline I wanted to present here and of course we are available for your questions.
Prime Minister Rama: I know everyone wants to make questions, but who is going to be the first one breaking this “summer ice”?
Mr. Prime Minister, there is no Albanian citizen who would not be happy at seeing a new hospital structure, outside the existing ones. Yet, as a journalist I can’t help but ask why it took so long to start work, given that the Covid-19 outbreak in Italy was reported in early February and the infection was spreading at an extremely fast rate. You could have at least spared hundreds of chronically ill patients with pulmonary diseases in Albania, who being denied treatment at the sanatorium hospital and ended up in the regional Elbasan hospital, where, as it has been reported, there is only one breathing machine available.
Secondly, would you ask the Technical Committee of Experts as part of this process provide a summary on the number of undelivered services to the chronically ill people, be them either at the University Hospital Centre or at the Sanatorium Hospital, during the period between May 9 and the date when these hospitals were reopened, including the referral system, planed surgeries and hospitalizations at the tertiary hospital, given that the National Health Emergency Service has been the only operating service over this period. Moreover, will there be an assessment on the number of the chronically ill people and how the disease has advanced in the past two months, when these patients were unable to travel to Tirana to detect diseases on time and they underwent no surgical intervention during the pandemic? I am telling all these based on facts, because there are patients whose diseases are now in advanced stages, and I am talking about diseases like cancer, and it is no longer possible that these individuals undergo a surgery intervention and instead they end up at the terminal Illness services. Thank you!
PM Rama: First of all I want to congratulate you about your conviction that the cancer disease is in an advanced stage. It is a conclusion that requires an admirable in-depth research in medicine and, moreover, it also takes impressive courage, as we all know that diagnosis are not determined in social distance circumstances, but based on a series and careful tests. Congratulations about this too.
I listened to you carefully without interrupting you. And this is not because I was amazed and admiring what you termed as facts, but because I respect you. I am not to engage in debate with you. I am here to give my answer that, with your permission, I want to provide without being disturbed in distance. Thank you!
Secondly, in its essence your question actually contains a profound truth. It is a question which certainly requires and answer and the Health Minister will definitely answer, yet it contains a profound truth of the whole planet and not Albania alone. As of today, and I mean not in 2020, but exactly today, a heated debate is going on in the United States of America precisely about the suspension and the delay of a range of other routine activities and services delivered by the Health System, so that the health system is given enough space in order to focus on the fight against the virus. We didn’t wait for that and the hospital structure you see right behind our back has nothing to do with what you are actually saying, because no matter whether this structure was built or not it wouldn’t change in terms of the concern you are voicing regarding rescheduling of the routine activities and services of the health system. So, let’s not confuse things.
Last, a friendly suggestion since I respect your work. A journalist has the right to access and request information about everything, yet a journalist is now allowed to forcefully break into a hospital where Covid-19 patients are being treated. This is not part of the rights and duties of a journalist. I am happy that they prevented you from entering the hospital, thus protecting your life and the lives of other people.
Thank you very much for the question, for the real aspect of your concern and I would beg again that you respect ethic of your profession, because you are not here to debate, but make the questions you want to make, including the comments you want to make, and it is again you the one to decide whether to report or not this conference if you deem that my answer is valid or invalid and add whatever comment or information you wish to add. This is your exclusive right and you won’t be denied of it, but the incident you were involved at regional hospital in Elbasan exceeded any ethical limit and rules everyone should observe. I was really worried about you, hoping that you wouldn’t get infected just because of a request you made and that war rightly turned down.
Health Minister Manastirliu: As to your questions, which are very good ones indeed, because the health systems of all countries around the world have been facing the same problem and challenge to cope with the Covid-19 patients and giving at the same time priority to other serious illnesses which cannot wait, the malignant diseases in particular. For that reason, strictly abiding by the instructions, but also the strategy we developed with the Technical Committee of Experts we decided that surgical interventions to treat malignant pathologies should not be suspended. I am saying this, because the public should not be misinformed about these very important pathologies. Not for a moment has our health system suspended surgical treatment of malignant diseases. Regarding other health care services provided at the primary health care system, we have shown particular attention to treatment of chronically ill people, providing them the opportunity for online doctor consultations or consultations via the phone. If we were to refer to the data on the referral system you mentioned, the drug reimbursement statistics indicate an equal number of prescriptions issued both in March and April, which means that service has been provided to every citizen and they have benefited required treatment. This is the first link in the chain of the primary health care system. With regard to more specialized healthcare services, not for a moment did the specialized health centres shut their doors, either polyclinics or the regional hospitals. It is true that we have suspended them and demanded that no crowds of people flood them, and only health emergencies are treated instead and apply some algorithms, allowing only individuals with pathologies that indicate cardiovascular diseases and tumours be admitted to the system, but we have done outmost efforts that the health care system properly tackles the citizens’ needs.
Were there any problems and would it be better for the system to remain open?
I believe we have actually found the right solution. The centralization we resorted to in order to provide treatment of the COVID-19 patients at the COVID1, 2 and 3 hospitals and the new COVID4 hospital was actually the right strategy to help that the virus doesn’t spread all over the country and, trust me, we would have been providing figures other than the ones we have today, because many countries around the world, lacking this favouring opportunity we inherit actually due to the system’s history – and I am referring Italy, where, as you all know the debate among the Italian regions about the hospital structures as maternity hospitals were adapted to treat Covid-19 patients infecting many people – we actually built a strategy that turned out to yield significant results.
Are there any issues that need to be addressed and will this cost to the country’s health situation?
We are definitely evaluating the system and we have done it dynamically on daily basis and this has allowed us, as you already know, to reopen entire health care system since May 18 so that all planned surgeries are performed. Yet with the entire system being reopened, we face other challenges, especially in terms of individual behaviour of each person, whether patient or citizen and health personnel. It is now our duty to make sure that entire health personnel are best protected and equipped with personal protection and medical materials and make also sure that patients being treated for other pathologies are not infected by the coronavirus. This is the reason why restrictions of the health care system have been applied not only here in Albania, but in all countries all over the world. Such restrictions were not imposed because we wished to do so, but because of the situation of the pandemic, which of course will translate into a certain cost we are currently calculating and will then be translated into budget funds for the health system, so that we can recuperate what we have lost in terms of services. But I would like to reiterate that based on the official data and statistics, we have been able to deliver services and address the overwhelming majority of the needs of the citizens regarding the chronically ill people, health emergencies, the malignant pathologies, therapies for the malignant diseases that have been provided around the clock by the oncology service, the chemotherapy units at the regional hospitals, where surgical interventions have been also performed despite the reduced health personnel due to the situation and the efforts to protect the population’s health. This all has been done to protect citizens only and this is not about statistics and numbers, but the quality in delivering services, an indicator that should guide us in our work, especially amid a pandemic, which we should respond adequately and with a high sense of responsibility, because if we were not to show utmost caution we wouldn’t have such outcomes we are presenting today.
PM Rama: I believe the answer was exhausting and not only that, it was also factual, which means that suffice it to make an effort and use your imagination to realize what could have happened in the country should this menace was to hit Albania and the whole world just five or six years ago, should the hospitals, which served on the front line of this war, were to be in the state they were just five years ago, if the intensive care units and the whole entire system were to be in the state they were just five or six years ago. Today we talk about e-prescriptions and e-health cards, which are all delivered online. Just imagine the reimbursed medicines and prescriptions and health cards in pieces of papers provided to people just five or six years ago with people having to wait for hours in long queues. Just imagine this for a moment so that I wouldn’t need to provide details the deficiencies the hospitals that coped with the pandemic faced back then to draw the conclusion that despite everything, like it or not, this is a success story and by you I also mean your colleague who made the question, I mean all those who would always invent something about almost everything. Of course, nothing is perfect, but not matter whether you like it or not, this is a tremendous success achieved by the Albania state, the Albanian health system and the Albanian people.
Albania has managed to emerge proudly from an initial phase and hopefully no second wave will hit the country again. There are certainly 1001 of things to improve and be reviewed, because we are reconstructing the health care centres all over the country and it is unimaginable that buildings constructed back in the ‘70s or ‘80s were never even painted, but they are being reconstructed from scratch today. Tens of thousands Albanian citizens receive now treatment and care at decent primary health care centres and no longer in barrack-like structures, where a representative of the health system wearing a white coat waits in vain and buildings that were mostly closed during whole week. Are there still such barrack-like health centres? Yes, there are many. Not all health care centres have been constructed, because it is impossible to construct all the centres that haven’t been rehabilitated over the past 30 years. However, when saying something, one should not forget its other side, because this is the only way we can be fair towards each other. I don’t mind when someone points out to the shortcomings and deficiencies. It is not a problem at all even in the case when not one, but many patients, as you are saying, pose a problem and it should absolutely be addressed, but this is not a reason to jump to overall wrong conclusions and claim that the health system has been grounded to a halt and that we have been dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic only, because this is simply not true. Don’t forget that a half truth is a great lie.
Is there a date when the sea and air borders will reopen following the opening of the country’s land borders and have you considered the idea for every person entering the country to undergo testing for the virus? Given that experts are warning about a second wave of infections, will the serological tests include whole population to find out the rate of the herd immunity among the Albanian population?
PM Rama: As to the air borders you should know that this doesn’t depend on us entirely, but on other countries too. On our part, we have already opened the land borders. We allow everyone to enter Albania through its land borders, but not all countries bordering us have opened their borders and if the decide to do so; they won’t open totally to everyone. This is a fact. It is quite easy to raise the alarm via the social networks and call on the government to open the country’s borders, claiming that every other country around the world has already done. But, here we are today. We opened the land borders and the only completely fluid border crossing point is that with Montenegro and the border with Kosovo today following a weird situation a day ago. It is something different when it comes to the air borders. We can decide to open them, but will other countries do the same? Moreover, do not forget the fact that everything takes place according to agreements, because if we are to open the air borders with country that has not been opened to other countries, then you risk having your borders closed with these very countries. For example, this debate today is taking place within the EU with Italy and Spain. And it is a great debate indeed. This means that – let’s speculate for a second, – if Germany or France decide to open flights with Italy, or if one decides to open air borders with Italy, then that country will have flights with Germany and France closed, because it is considered a channel of the virus transmission. I hope all these will complete and be resolved soon. June 15 has been set as deadline for the Schengen area, but we will have to wait and see how they will proceed.
There is no problem on our part. We have opened our borders. We force nobody entering the country to undergo testing or self-isolate. It would be useless. And we will trust our people. We have also been constantly following the decisions being made by Greece and we have seen its methodology, the way Greece announced the initial phase of eased measures, because it is impossible to reopen the country driven by the need to attract tourists, but it is then impossible to isolate people at airport and ask them to undergo testing?! I have repeatedly stated that one can undergo testing today and still test negative for the virus, although he or she has contracted the virus which could be in the incubation phase. Carrying out tests on everyone is something not recommended by anyone and nobody does it. The whole process is based on tracing the contacts of the confirmed cases. There are countries that have decided mass testing, but we haven’t. I am sorry for repeating it, but as long as the outcome of this effort speaks for itself in our favour, then you shouldn’t question our ideas. If the outcome of our effort were to show other situation, then our words would have been useless. But since results speak clearly, loudly and strongly in our favour, then believe us, because we know what we are saying, because these are neither invention, nor, as the minister said, bio products of the policymaking. It is a policy developed after having carefully listened to the experts and considering any information about the infection.
Health Minister Manastirliu: I want to add something about the recommendations that every country and we have made for the whole population. There is actually a unique recommendation issued by every country” avoid unnecessary travelling amid the virus outbreak. So, the epidemic is not over and the virus is still with us. Everyone should avoid travelling when not necessary. However, borders will reopen despite this recommendation. We have decided not to impose the testing rule for people entering our country. On the other hand, we have launched serological tests. As we have already pledged, we have carried out tests on samples of 1400 medical personnel to date and the test results show that nine percent of the medical personnel have developed antibodies. It is indeed a low percentage, as doctors report about the fight against the infection. So, test results show that our medical personnel has not been highly exposed to the COVID-19, which means that we should continue working to protect our medical personnel. On the other hand, we are considering plans to conduct serological testing on a sample from the population. A scheme for this sample is being prepared, targeting a certain age group in several cities of Albania. We are waiting for the scheme that our experts will propose and the target which the serological testing will include. However, we will need certain time that is necessary for the sample we will test show its results and help us to improve strategy and the Ministry of Health policies.
The first question is for the Health Minister; the Premier said that a group of benevolent, kind-hearted entrepreneurs who helped for this building to become a hospital. Do they have names? This is also in the framework of the transparency about which the opposition has been accusing you recently. The nect question is for the Prime Minister; the opposition has sought more guarantees for an undisputed electoral process. Will you accommodate the opposition demands in order to reach a consensus on the electoral reform, or will we move towards an unilaterally approved electoral reform that the President has warned it could become the most serious blow and the country would then stand zero chances of opening the EU membership negotiations.
PM Rama: First of all, as to the entrepreneurs who have helped us rehabilitate the building. Of course they do have names. Everything is documented, but we won’t publicly announce their names today, because we would first need their approval to do so, which means that there are cases when those who donate things, they do so not to sponsor and promote their name and this is why we need their approval first. However, everything is documented. So, I am not going to mention names just for ethical reasons, although I would really like to reveal their names, but I decided to do so to respect their will. We are not authorized to reveal their names. Once we are granted such an authorization, we will certainly reveal their names and the lack of transparency is just one more accusation and there are of course no limits in the mechanisms to provide as more transparency as possible. Whole world, including the most transparent countries, still seeking to improve transparency, but I would like to tell everyone that in terms of the processes carried out during this phase, given the very dynamic situation, given the incredible pressure so that we make sure in providing every necessary thing, just like the rest of the world, we too have done utmost efforts. We never tend to hide things, because everything is written and documented and nobody can hide them. The thing is that we have to wait for unbiased readers of these documents in order to facilitate communication with the public, because someone says something, someone else claims completely the opposite, but a third one who would refer to the facts impartially is needed.
As to the electoral reform, I can state that I have already said everything I had to say. It is very simple. There is a suggestion that was then included as a request from the Bundestag in the Council’s document, calling for an electoral reform in compliance with the OSCE/ODIHR recommendations, which will be then approved by Parliament. This is the framework and everything will be made in compliance with the OSCE/ODIHR recommendations, which have been written and rewritten so often on the ODIHR reports, with the most frequently repeated recommendation after every electoral process in the country being the one to depoliticize the electoral administration. We are open till the end and we have been always open for everything. However, given that Albania’s partners and friends have been involved to help us in this process, I would like to decline to comment before the witnesses do. I don’t want to! Of course, I am fully aware and my viewpoint on the progress of the process and the events, but I believe what we now need is as less debates as possible and instead make efforts to finalize best electoral reform. For our part, we believe that the product is there, it meets all the requirements based on the OSCE/ODIHR recommendations. But, of course, in an electoral reform process all parties demand everything and there are parties that think they would win the elections through the reform law. This is not true. The elections are won though the popular vote. Those thinking this or that system would work magic for them, they are wrong! It is all a matter of respecting standards and safeguarding standards. This is what we are interested in and this is what we are working about and that’s why we have given our contribution and I believe we have accomplished our duty.
I feel really sorry that in 2020 Albania should still have ambassadors who go in and out of the political party headquarters to reach an agreement, make a negotiation or a discussion in our common interest, like the ongoing discussion on the rules of the game and I think we should have done this ourselves long time ago, but since other parties still need this element and want more guarantees and whatever else, I do not know what, there is no problem. I am grateful to our friends and partners, who have tried to assist and do their best, facilitating the communication process, but I have no comment, I do not want to comment today on this, as I think there are still others who need to talk first.
Mr. Prime Minister, Kosovo is denying Albanian citizens entry to the country, asking them to show results of the Covid-19 test conducted in past four days in order to cross the border. Is that possible that an individual can do testing voluntarily? Where such test can be carried out and if so will he or she be issued a certificate showing they have tested negative for the virus, as the Kosovo authorities are insisting? Second, taking the current pandemic situation into consideration, has the government considered a scenario to postpone the state of natural disaster? And the last question, no accord was found on the electoral reform despite the international pressure and a self-imposed deadline, May 31, has already expired. Are you ready to meet Democratic Party chairman Lulzim Basha? Thank you!
PM Rama: From the test kit to Basha it’s actually a long way. However, let’s start with the testing. No tests are being conducted privately here in Albania. We don’t think and by “we”, I mean us, the ones who have made such decision, but it is the experts the ones who have suggested it and the testing is like the blood testing thing. Testing for the virus is conducted based on the tracing strategy and I repeat its results are very relative ones, because one may undergo the test today yet he could test negative for the virus and he shows no symptoms, since the virus could be still in its incubation phase. So, you could test negative, cross the border and just a day later you may show the infection symptoms. This is the reason why we don’t provide this service and I didn’t know the detail you just mentioned, but I think that the Kosovo citizens have all the opportunities to ease this process for the Albanian citizens who travel to Kosovo, just like Kosovo citizens can freely enter Albania.
Regarding the question about the state of the natural disaster, there is certainly no reason to postpone it, but we are examining the idea about establishing a restricted area on the coastline only and this for a good reason.
The reason is to be able use the epidemic emergency powers in order to help containing the spread of the infection. So, if not a general extension of the state of emergency is decided, we will use the emergency powers only along the coastline, without including urban areas in Durres, Vlora, Shkodra, or Velipoje, but the beaches in these cities only. We are exploring this opportunity as we think it would help both people and the state. In the meantime, the construction of the online platform for the applications for the administration of the private beaches completed today. It will be a centralized process headed by a temporary authority to make sure that public beaches are not occupied by private entities. We will certainly work to ensure a rational administration, because we won’t rule out the beach administration by private entities and this will happen under certain determined conditions. So the authorization will be issued very quickly, yet it would include a certain area only as well as a certain number of sun loungers and tents, about which the applicant or the private entity will be held accountable before the law if he decides to double their number just to increase profits. This is to protect people as much as possible, but we see no other reasons to extend the state of the natural disaster over the whole territory of the country or in the urban residential areas of the country, except the beach areas. However, we are just exploring this opportunity and a decision has yet to be made.
With respect to what you said, we have accomplished our work and we believe our product is there. Of course, please don’t push me for comments today, because I don’t want to make any comment as I think it is yet not my turn to make comments, as long as other people are also involved in this process. Regarding the meeting, I think that, as I said a little earlier, it wouldn’t be relevant and appropriate for to us in today’s Albania to have ambassadors going in and out of our doors when it comes to internal issues concerning the rules of the game, like it is the case with the electoral reform where the two sides, involving two or more teams playing a game or a final, should sit and agree on the size of the pitch, the goal, what is to be considered a fault and what a goal.
However, we should be grateful, because as long as there are parties unable to take the step and set the game rules themselves, then assistance is needed. I used to be once in the opposition and you are quite aware of the fact, and if not you may refer to the documents, that I have repeatedly called on the then Prime Minister to sit when it comes to issues we need to discuss together, but they have changed their positions now. So, when in opposition, I was the one calling and inviting for dialogue and now I am in the position of the Prime Minister and it is me again calling for us to sit and dialogue. However, you all know this story so I am not going to comment further on that. It is regrettable, because in this way we are wasting energy, we are annoying people, while leaving room for all sorts of lies, contrivances and fantasies hitting the media headlines through intentionally disseminated information to misinform and amplify different events. Actually, it is much easier than that and it would be quite normal for us to sit and talk. It doesn’t matter whether we agree or not, but all these things need to be done together, but we have yet to move there.
Taking notice of the fact that as many as 44 doctors, nurses and their patients tested positive for the COVID—19 in less than two weeks, I would like what went wrong with the reopening of the health system or gradual reopening of Albania? Will the lockdown measures will be reinstated if such an infection rate continues?
PM Rama: First of all, to put the records straight, I won’t buy into this. I won’t buy into starting providing arguments about anything regarding the lockdown measures, because everyone would then read the headline: “PM Rama” Lockdown to be reinstated again.” No, I will not buy into this. I will just tell that we have predicted the increase in the fresh infections and this is quite a normal thing. There is no doubt that exposure to the virus increases with the reopening. We are aware of the fact that the number of new infections may increase. Fortunately, we are currently in a favourable position, thanks to the rigid restrictive measures and thanks to the fact that Albanian citizens respected the rules. The country did not record a very high number of infections as it was the case in many other countries. Albania has one of the lowest death rates on the planet per 100,000 or 1000,000 people, if you wish. With one of the lowest number of the hospitalized patients and the lowest number of patients under intensive care treatment, where the lockdown measures played a major role, with the reopening phase the number of new infections will certainly increase and it can’t happen otherwise, because the virus is still with us. So the number of infections will not drop to zero, but infections will increase. But, what we really worry about is that the infections number doesn’t surge beyond our projections. It may happen that these numbers grow to exceed our optimum, average and the negative projections and if this really happen, then the situation could become serious. However, I don’t want to talk about a lockdown reinstatement, because we have just reopened. I want to talk about the opportunities for each and every one to do his part of the job, with everyone showing utmost care.
Since we can’t learn the names of the entrepreneurs who have provided their contribution to transform this former university building into a hospital facility, would you please reveal the investment cost for this building? In your remarks, you Mr. Prime Minister said that an assessment of the economic situation will be carried out in the last four months of the year…
PM Rama: No, I didn’t say that. Sorry to interrupt you, but I didn’t say that.
When an assessment of the economic situation will take place then?
PM Rama: I didn’t say that an assessment of the economy will be carried out in the last four-month period of this year. I said we will continue to resist.
In the last four-month period of the year – you said – we will have an assessment of the economic situation.
PM Rama: I didn’t say this. I said we will resist until the end of this four-month period and in the last four months the economy will return to its normal parameters. In the meantime, we are working on a national recovery plan, which we will unveil very soon. Intense work is underway on this national recovery plan and we have been working on it since the total lockdown was imposed. All cabinet members and working groups from all ministries are involved, with a coordinating team headed by the Minister for the Reconstruction and it is a plan of reform efforts affected every sector of the economy and its main objective is to revive economy and employment. The plan will be announced soon and we believe the plan will become a very good roadmap to make sure that in 2021, as I already said, we not only overcome crisis, but we also surpass the pre-Covid growth projections. I know it is very ambitious, but this is why we are here, to do ambitious things and often do so ambitious things as to trigger a broad debate and controversy. Once again, I don’t really understand why is so difficult to realize it. We are not authorized to reveal names today. It is merely a matter of ethics. Of course they have names and of course there are documents, which are accessible. But if we should by no means reveal their names, then we should first receive the approval by those who have sponsored this project, because, fortunately there are still people in Albania who sponsor things and they say they do so to demonstrate generosity and solidarity and not for propaganda or advertising purposes. So, once we receive authorization, we will of course reveal their names to the public, so that you do not speculate, suggesting that PM Rama is hiding the source of money used to build the hospital, because I believe nobody would suspect about money laundering in building public hospitals or theatre buildings, although many suspect more than this.
The pandemic revealed a potential economic clash between the United States, the European Union and China. Is Albania ready to take advantage of this situation, if the international investors withdraw from China? Has Albania the required infrastructure and the qualified skilled labour force to attract a part of this investment, if the latter are withdrawn from China or Asia?
PM Rama: I am the tallest Prime Minister of the tiniest country in whole this story and therefore I wouldn’t like to confuse my height with the size of our country and I think this is a global and major issue compared to our country’s modest size. We are not global players. We are just a country that should do its best to provide and deliver what our people need and we can afford. I think the best we can do is being good students in learning new things and the best experiences and practices in the world, but without ever thinking we are the center of the world.
Few days ago, the State Police chief Ardi Veliu was trying to justify and defend the police officers who used violence against a teenager by publishing a footage showing the teenager’s mother and using her personal data and eventually lying by alleging that the teenager’s mother possesses firearms and that this was the reason why her son was penalized, but it turned out that footage was indeed a movie scene. Is this a reason to fire the Director of the State Police for publicly lying and intruding in the personal data of an individual?
PM Rama: First of all allow me to clarify that the Director General of the State Police, who I think is a person of the highest considerations for his integrity, professionalism, performance and the results he has achieved, in this case he has undoubtedly made a mistake. I can openly state he was wrong in this case, but I am more inclined to believe his public apology and the explanation he provided rather than all the moralists in this country. It is quite clear that it was not an attempt to justify the violence because the police officer in question was immediately suspended and he is now subject to a criminal investigation, but it was a misinterpreted attempt to say tell everyone: “Yes, I agree on everything, yet the family too has its own responsibility and role in educating and upbringing the younger generation.” Of course, the way he sought to say this was wrong, yet I would prefer – as I stated- his public apology and his explanations and knowing him and praising his moral integrity that has never been questioned by anyone to date when everyone’s integrity and professionalism has been disputed, for me this case is closed. I have had the chance to know those preaching on moral lessons and those who preach on moral laws in this country, just like I have had the chance to know the State Police Director and I would certainly choose the Police Director and not them. If you are to report this, please don’t quote it out of the context, because this is increasingly becoming a serious problem. Things should be said in full, otherwise they could be taken out of their context.
First of all, referring to what you said about the interventions in the economy, it is expected that the economy will regain its normal growth rate. However, one should not forget that next year is an electoral year. My question has to do with the fact whether there is any personality in the Socialist Party who you would trust to head the economic reforms, at least for 100 days, as you will be seeking a third term in office. The second question has to do with the pandemic. We are currently in the state of the natural disaster, yet we have already seen mass gatherings of the public, like the one taking place at the Tirana Park a day ago, or the recent protests in front of the theatre building. Given that, how a bar owner is supposed to answer to the inspectors when being asked that only two customers should sit around a table in his bar?
PM Rama: If someone violates the law and if someone behaves inappropriately, this is not a reason for those who respect the law to follow the example of the law violators. This reminds me of the moment when we announced the tax amnesty for all of those who had violated the quarantine rules and many flooded my social network page by throwing insults, curses and various opinions, saying: “Were we who abided by law the fools?” No, I don’t personally think that someone who respects the law is a fool. The decision to involve in prostitution is someone’s choice, but this shouldn’t make everyone not involved in prostituting feel bad if that person earns money from prostituting. Or if someone decides to rob a bank or earn money illegally and build a certain living standard thanks to illicit activities, this is choice that should not make anyone jealous or feel as a fool. Of course, I do understand your question and your question certainly contains a key point, but the situations are not equal. America is currently observing a total lockdown, but look what is happening there. France has imposed lockdown, but did you see what happened?
There is always a balance that should be identified among various things, but what basically matters is this: Whoever behaves the way his or her parents have taught them and in compliance with the common rules and the law he or she is not a fool compared to those who do not respect these rules and chooses to behave inappropriately. I wouldn’t draw a comparison between the event at the Youth Tirana Park yesterday and a political rally. They are two different things. We have opened the country and we have told citizens they can go to parks and everywhere else they want to and this is the reason I keep saying we want deploy police officers and army troops to tell people they should not go to park, because there are many people there. This is all a matter of self-regulating and self-organizing by people themselves. But when you call on people to gather and force a large crowd of them to listen to the same old tune, this is scandalous. However, I am sure you know better than me these things.
I didn’t understand the first question. I don’t know what it means whether “there is a personality for 100 days.” We have personalities for more than 100 days and each of them have their role and tasks to accomplish and I just help by coordinating them, since I am not a personality.
Thank you very much!
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