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Bosnian region declares state of disaster over coronavirus

SARAJEVO (Reuters) - Bosnia’s autonomous Bosniak-Croat Federation declared a state of disaster on Monday, which will enable it to introduce emergency measures to halt the spread of the coronavirus, the region’s Prime Minister Fadil Novalic said.

Bosnia has reported 24 cases of the new virus so far, 20 of them in the country’s other autonomous region, the Serb Republic. The region’s largest town of Banja Luka, which is at the centre of the outbreak, and some other towns closed all bars, restaurants and shops except food stores on Monday for one week.

Bosnia cannot legally declare the state of emergency but by declaring the state of disaster, its regions can act quickly to procure necessary equipment and engage emergency staff.

Novalic said the government has recommended to employers to cut working hours and switch to working in two shifts where possible to avoid large groupings of people at work. All business trips should be cancelled.

It also recommended that one working parent in a family with children should be allowed to take a holiday or days off.

The Serb Republic will also declare the emergency situation at its government session later in the day, its President Zeljka Cvijanovic said at a separate news conference in the town of Banja Luka.

“The government will make a decision on the emergency situation and form the crisis headquarters just as was done during the floods in 2015, and take activities aiming to help economy and people,” Cvijanovic said.

Last week, the two regions closed schools and universities and banned all public gatherings and sports events for two weeks.

They are also debating a set of intervention measures to combat the virus’ economic impact.

The national authorities ordered from Monday a two-week isolation for all travellers entering the country and barred entry to visitors from the countries most affected by the coronavirus epidemics.

Bosnia’s presidency has announced a possibility of setting up quarantine centres at the border crossings.

Reporting by Daria Sito-Sucic and Maja Zuvela; Editing by Alex Richardson and Toby Chopra