Serbia imposes night curfew, orders elderly indoors

BELGRADE (Reuters) - Serbia will ban people older than 70 from leaving their homes at any time and impose a night curfew on almost everyone else in a bid to halt the spread of coronavirus, President Aleksandar Vucic said, adding the measures take effect on Wednesday.

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Health authorities in the Balkan country have so far reported 72 cases of infection and tested 374 people. There have been no fatalities.

In a live TV address to the nation, a somber looking Vucic said on Tuesday that the “poor discipline” of pensioners, many of whom scrambled to collect pensions and run errands after a state of emergency was declared on Sunday, prompted authorities to impose tough restrictions.

“From 10 AM tomorrow (Wednesday) in all urban areas it is absolutely forbidden to go out on the street to all persons over 65 and over 70 in rural areas ... due to sowing season,” he said. “An all-out curfew is in place for everyone, except those working night shifts from 8 PM until 5 AM.”

Vucic said local authorities and younger people will bring food and supplies to pensioners and that the government will allocate special shops where elderly will be allowed to purchase in the early morning hours.

Serbia has already imposed an array of restrictions, including the closure of kindergartens, schools and universities until the end of the semester, and a ban on entry to foreigners. It also plans to shut down all bus and train passenger traffic in two to three days, Vucic said.

Under the new set of restrictions, the Serbian military will take over all border crossings and maintain guard at over a dozen state-operated camps for illegal migrants from Asia and the Middle East.

Vucic, who earlier in the day met Chen Bo, the Chinese ambassador to Belgrade, also said Serbia had sought aid from China, which is already a major investor in the Balkan country. During his address he repeatedly called Chinese leader Xi Jinping his “brother.”

“To avoid the worst case scenario ... we need you (China) to send us whatever you can ... we need your expertise as well,” Vucic told Chen Bo, Chinese ambassador to Serbia.

Speaking in fluent Serbian, Chen Bo said that “by the end of the week our experts will arrive.”

China views Serbia and other Balkan countries as part of its ambitious One Belt, One Road initiative to open trade links to Europe. It has already sent a batch of test kits for coronavirus and other equipment to Belgrade.

Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by William Maclean