How did Serbia overcome Corona in a world without masks?

On the 21st (local time), Knez Mihailova st in the center of Belgrade, the capital of Serbia. [세르비아=이충만 기자]
On the 21st (local time), Knez Mihailova st in the center of Belgrade, the capital of Serbia. [세르비아=이충만 기자]

[헬스코리아뉴스 / 세르비아=이충만] “No one wears a mask and is not afraid of contracting COVID-19.”

Marko Slocer, 27, who works as a teacher in Novi Sad, Serbia’s second city, said that on the 22nd (local time), before having dinner with his family after work, I found a cafe near my workplace and had coffee. He met a reporter here and said, “Even if you are infected with COVID-19, people are treating it like the flu and living a normal life.”

The first confirmed case in Serbia was officially confirmed on March 6, 2020 (local time). On March 15, about ten days after the first confirmed case, the Serbian government declared a state of emergency and implemented a lockdown policy, including suspending all operations except hospitals and necessities stores.

Then, in May 2020, the Serbian government lifted the state of emergency and gradually lifted restrictions. In the case of daily confirmed cases, the number of confirmed cases recorded an all-time high of 36,000 in January of this year due to the prevalence of omicron mutations, but is currently maintained at around 1,000.

“There are no regulations related to COVID-19 in Serbia,” Marco said.

According to Korea’s Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasures Headquarters on the 24th, the quarantine authorities downgraded the level of infectious disease of Corona 19 to Level 2 from the 25th. The goal is to lower the highest level, Level 1, to Level 2, such as measles and chickenpox, and to start the ‘recovery of daily life’ of the quarantine and medical system.

The government will also start discussing the lifting of the mandatory outdoor mask this week. Currently, if you cannot keep a 2m distance from others indoors or outdoors, you must wear a mask when there is a large gathering, such as a rally, performance, or event.

Judging that the COVID-19 pandemic is coming to an end, the government has started to shift to a post-omicron or endemic response system. Social distancing, which has been in place for over two years, has been lifted and we are now entering the stage of daily recovery before COVID-19.

“Initial response impressive, but ‘unsustainable’”

City Square in Belgrade, Serbia's capital city, on the 21st (local time) [세르비아=이충만 기자]
City Square in Belgrade, Serbia’s capital city, on the 21st (local time) [세르비아=이충만 기자]

Marco studied business administration in Korea for about three years from August 2019 to August 2021. In the meantime, due to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, all daily life has been stopped, and meetings with school or friends are only possible online.

However, Marco said, “The behavior of the Korean government in the early stages of the COVID-19 outbreak was really impressive.

On the other hand, the measures taken by the Serbian government made Mr. Marko even more uneasy. The opaque policy-making process and excessive lockdowns have raised concerns for Marco, who lives in Serbia, for her family and friends.

After comparing the situation in Korea and Serbia over time, Marco’s conclusion was a ‘balanced’ policy. He criticized the Serbian government at the beginning of the fashion, but looking back now, the Korean government’s policy was ‘unsustainable’,” he said.

In this regard, concerns have been pointed out about the ‘burnout’ of medical staff due to COVID-19, which has lasted for nearly two years. According to the Journal of the Korean Medical Association, more than 40% of doctors reported experiencing burnout symptoms due to COVID-19, and in particular, 20% to more than 60% of doctors reported various burnout symptoms.

Marko Slocer, 27, interviewed a reporter.
Marko Slocer (27), who interviewed a reporter, is taking a commemorative photo with his cell phone.

However, Marco criticized the absence of the Serbian government’s initial response. As of the 25th (local time), the total cumulative number of deaths from COVID-19 in Serbia, with a population of 69 million, was 15,960, which is lower than the 22,325 death toll in South Korea. However, the cumulative fatality rate in Serbia as a percentage of the population was 0.21%, about twice that of Korea (0.13%). Marco, who had studied abroad in Korea, was also infected with Corona 19 in Serbia two months after leaving Korea.

He expressed his opinion, “I do not fully support the decision of the Serbian government, but I think that a middle point between the Korean government and the Serbian government is necessary.”

Meanwhile, Marco made an interesting comment about wearing a mask. “Apart from the lifting of government regulations, wearing a mask will be related to the culture of each country,” he said.

“Western cultured countries, including Serbia, have a distinct individualistic culture, so they will have an antipathy towards wearing masks, unlike Asian countries like Korea,” said Marco. Perhaps it is the background explanation that the Serbian government had no choice but to implement with a quarantine policy with collective immunity in mind from the beginning.

The Saint Sava Temple in Belgrade, Serbia's capital city, on the 21st (local time)
The Saint Sava Temple in Belgrade, the capital of Serbia, on the 21st (local time). [세르비아=이충만 기자]

South Korea’s social distancing measures that restrict private gatherings and business hours to prevent the spread of COVID-19 were lifted on the 18th. As of the 26th, the cumulative number of COVID-19 cases exceeded 17 million. Nevertheless, the number of confirmed cases continues to decrease.

According to the Central Quarantine Countermeasures Headquarters (Bangdaebon), as of 00:00 on the 26th, the number of new confirmed cases was 83,361. In addition, the Central Quarantine Countermeasures Headquarters predicted at a briefing on the same day that “as a result of synthesizing future outbreak predictions, the daily number of confirmed cases will decrease to less than 40,000 in May.”

Likewise, Korea, like Serbia, is gradually recovering its daily life as the COVID-19 transitions into an endemic system. However, the emergence of new mutations may also act as a variable for daily recovery. In Korea, recently, cases of infection with XL, XE, and XM mutations, which are omicron recombination mutations, have been confirmed.

In the midst of this, attention is being paid to whether this year will finally be able to fully regain the appearance it was before Corona 19.

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