May 7, 2020 / 7:15 PM / a month ago

Albania sticks to re-opening plan due to few virus cases

FILE PHOTO: An Albanian national flag is pictured on a balcony as Albanian authorities take measures to stop the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Durres, Albania April 7, 2020. 7REUTERS/Florion Goga

TIRANA (Reuters) - Albania will let shopping centres and services start work and drivers travel without permission from Monday due to the low number of infections with the new coronavirus after Thursday marked the ninth day without any deaths, officials said.

To make sure its deficient health system would not be snowed under, Albania has closed its borders and imposed long lockdowns since its first case on March 8. In May, still enforcing dusk-to-dawn curfews, more businesses have resumed working or will.

Albania has registered 31 deaths from COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, and 842 infections, including 10 in the last 24 hours. After 605 recovered, 206 people are still ill with COVID-19 but just 38 of them are in hospital, and of those only seven are in intensive care units.

“Fortunately, we are not facing those indicators that stop the opening,” said Mira Rakacolli, the head of the committee of health experts managing the crisis, said in a statement.

Albania wants to re-start its economy as soon as possible after the World Bank said it is headed for recession, shrinking by 5% or 6.9% depending on the time that most activities resume.

If there had been an average of 15 infections daily, or 90 people needed to go to hospital and 20 in intensive care, the re-opening should have been rolled back, Rakacolli said.

Medical staff in the public health sector have been hailed as heroes after some remained in hospitals, for up to two months, to care for patients.

With 9,806 tests done so far, the government has come under opposition criticism for hiding the extent of the outbreak. Experts said they are now tripling daily tests and strengthening teams on the ground tracing the contacts of infected people.

The statement said the experts denied the new coronavirus might have been in Albania in January and February, as claimed by some, including Bardh Spahia, an opposition official in charge of health issues.

Reporting by Benet Koleka; editing by David Evans

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