May 1, 2020 / 8:07 PM / a month ago

Albania to take a step closer to pre-virus freedom in May

TIRANA (Reuters) - Albania will enlarge its area of green zones and let taxis travel between cities from Monday, and allow shopping centres to open and cars to travel without permits from May 11, according to a plan published by Prime Minister Edi Rama on Friday.

While still enforcing an afternoon-to-dawn curfew, Albania has eased its restrictions this week, letting many retailers open except for bars and restaurants, though they may offer deliveries. Some people wore masks, others did not.

Barbers, hairdressers and dentists will be able to start work on May 11. From May 19, bars and restaurants will open but can serve only in their outdoor spaces, not inside closed doors, respecting distancing until 5:30 p.m. when the nightly curfew starts.

Life in Tirana, the capital, and elsewhere appeared almost normal this week except for the shut-down bars, which usually teem with patrons, as Albania has more bar-cafes per person, at 645, than any country in the world, according to a 2018 tally.

The ban on cultural and artistic events will not be lifted and gatherings of more than five people will not be allowed, the plan said. Gatherings of five people are already happening.

Under the plan, repatriation flights for Albanians trapped abroad and wishing to return home will be more frequent, and the returnees would quarantine at home for two weeks, instead of in hotels at their own expense as under the current practice.

“This plan will change if the dynamic of the epidemic will get worse,” Rama warned in a Facebook message.

Albania has reported 782 cases of the new coronavirus, including nine in last 24 hours. It said 31 people have died and 488 have recovered. There were 263 people actively sick with the COVID-19 disease caused by the new coronavirus, the Health Ministry said.

Only seven out of 33 patients in hospital are in intensive care units, the ministry added.

The easing comes after infections are low and the World Bank said Albania’s economy is headed for a recession, shrinking by 5% or 6.9% depending on the time that most activities resume.

Reporting by Benet Koleka; Editing by Leslie Adler

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