Croatian business owners protest against closed bars, sports centres

ZAGREB, Feb 3 (Reuters) - Several thousand people, mostly owners of small businesses like restaurants, bars or fitness centres, gathered to protest in Zagreb on Wednesday over COVID-19 measures that have prevented them from working for more than two months.

Croatia tightened restrictions in late November as COVID-19 infections surged to more than 4,000 a day. In the last two months, cases have fallen to several hundred daily. On Wednesday, 730 new infections were reported.

Shops and cinemas are currently open and the majority of pupils are allowed to attend classes, but bars and restaurants as well as gyms and other sports centres except swimming pools remain closed.

“We see people in the spas, we see people in the shopping malls ... There is no firm evidence that the bars or fitness centres are responsible for an increase in infections,” Drazen Orescanin, from the small entrepreneurs association Glas Poduzetnika (The Voice of Entrepreneurs), told the gathering.

He said the protest was not against anti-pandemic measures as they want their businesses to be allowed to open while respecting restrictions required for safety.

“We want the end of discrimination against some businesses in these circumstances and fair compensation. People want to work. Otherwise they will suffer psychologically and physically,” Orescanin said.

He said this referred also to sectors that were not formally closed but which cannot operate, such as travel agencies or the events industry.

The government said last week it would reconsider current restrictions around mid-February and may ease some measures if the decline in new infections continues.

Reporting by Igor Ilic; Editing by Giles Elgood