On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared a Coronavirus pandemic due to an ongoing global outbreak of Coronavirus disease, called COVID-19 (which represent an abbreviation of Coronavirus Disease 2019). In Bosnia and Herzegovina, the first case of COVID 19 was recorded on March 5, 2020. To date, 166 cases have been confirmed in the territory of BiH, and three deaths have been registered, while two people have recovered.
In the Republic of Srpska, on 16 March, the RS Government issued a Decision declaring a state of emergency. A day later, at the proposal of the Ministry of Security, the BIH Council of Ministers issued a Decision declaring the state of natural or other disasters in the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Authorities at the state and republic levels, as well as at the level of the local self-government unit, have undertaken a number of measures and activities to prevent the spreading of disease caused by Coronavirus. All timely and accurate information about the Coronavirus can be obtained on the official website of the Government of the Republic of Srpska “Coronavirus in Srpska”, and a brief review of the measures taken as of March 25, 2020, can be obtained below.
1.Health care measures and restrictions on freedom of movement and gatherings
- At borders, Federal inspectors are issuing to all BiH citizens entering the country a Decision on placing in isolation for 14 days (decision effective from March 16, 06.00 PM).
- From March 23, 2020, a tent quarantine has been set up at several border crossings in BiH, intended for persons entering BiH from abroad who have been issued a DECISION ON mandatory quarantine of 14 days, as well as for persons who violate the previously issued decisions on mandatory isolation.
- From March 16, by order of the RS Minister of Administration and Local Self-Government, the local self-government units were requested to ensure control of persons who have been assigned home isolation and the control is to be performedby the communal police or members of the competent units of the Ministry of Internal Affairs.
- Foreign nationals are forbidden to enter Bosnia and Herzegovina, but it will not apply to diplomatic or consular staff, as well as medical or other personnel that will assist in the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina during the pandemic.
- All public gatherings in BiH are banned and all sporting events are cancelled.
- From March 25, all those positive for the Coronavirus in Banja Luka, but with less severe symptoms of infection, will be transferred to the Student Centre in Pavilion I and II.
- In the Federation of BiH, on March 20, the Headquarters of the Federal Department of Civil Protection issued a Decision banning the movement of all persons under the age of 18 and over 65 in the entire Federation of BiH until March 31, and a day later also issued an Order banning the movement of citizens in the Federation of BiH for the duration of the curfew in the period between 6:00 PM to 5:00 AM, effective from March 22 to March 30, 2020;
- On March 21, the Republican Headquarters for Emergency Situations issued a Conclusion on Restriction and Prohibition of Movement of Persons in the Territory of the Republic of Srpska, ordering the prohibition of movement to all persons older than 65 years and prohibition of movement to all during the curfew between the hours of 8:00 PM and 5:00 AM. The restriction remains in force until March 30, and it does not apply to on-task health workers, persons in urgent need of health care, members of the RS Ministry of Internal Affairs and other members of law enforcement agencies and organizations exercising public powers, persons with a certificate of movement issued by the employer due to the need of smooth performance of the work process, persons with a movement permit issued by the RS Ministry of Internal Affairs and domestic and foreign carriers who transport goods by road but with presentation of adequate proof of transport. Fines ranging from BAM 500 to 1,500 are envisaged for non-compliance with curfew.
- The Government of the Brcko District of BiH has decided that all persons who have a crossed a state border must stay in self-isolation, i.e. the daily border crossing is also forbidden for citizens of Croatia working in BH and vice versa BIH citizens working in Croatia who will also be issued isolation decisions;
- On March 22, the Commander of the Crisis HQ of the Brcko District of BiH, issued an Order banning the movement of persons in the Brcko District of BiH from 9:00 PM to 5:00 AM. The order entered into force on the day of its enactment and the same contains categories of persons exempted from the ban.
- Employers will issue certificates to their employees confirming the need for movement with the purpose of enabling the smooth performance of the work process on the basis of which they will be allowed to move during the curfew hours. The certificate has to contain the signature and stamp of the responsible person and personal data of the worker. The RS Ministry of Internal Affairs will issue certificates for movement to all persons who do not have employers. The certificates are valid until March 30, 2020, and the certificate form is published on the website of the RS Government.
- The Republican Headquarters for Emergency Situations has concluded that the units of local self-governments are obliged to provide adequate space for accommodation for all persons found to have acted contrary to measures of home isolation or quarantine.
- The Consulate General of BiH in Germany has invited all BiH citizens currently residing in Germany to stay in Germany as their visa will be extended. All BiH citizens whose visa expires soon can contact the Office for Foreigners to obtain a visa extension.
- On March 23, the Republican Headquarters for Emergency Situations issued a decision ordering the Public Health Centre of the UKC RS and all hospitals to carry out only emergency medical procedures and to postpone all other health care services until further notice. Patients must be triaged before emergency medical procedures are performed. Health Centre Banja Luka has opened three new hotlines for citizens which will enable them to acquire all the necessary information regarding the new Coronavirus. Association of Psychologists of the Republic of Srpska provides psychological support to people in hospital or home isolation via so-called blue telephone number 0800 50 305. From 19 March, the City of Banja Luka provided food delivery to the elderly, sick or persons with disabilities.
- From March 24, 2020, wearing masks in public places in RS is mandatory.
- On 21 March, the Government of the Republic of Srpska decided to carry out an urgent procedure for the procurement of a mobile hospital with 500 hospital beds and all related equipment.
- The Republican Headquarters for Emergency Situations decided that funds to remedy the effects of the Coronavirus could be paid into the special purpose accounts of the Solidarity Fund
2. Traffic and transport
- All border crossings with the Republic of Serbia are closed for passenger traffic – air, road, rail and water, while border crossings Karakaj, Vardiste and Raca are opened for traffic of goods.
- The border crossings with Montenegro are closed to all, except for their nationals, foreigners who have a registered residence and truck drivers. The Klobuk border crossing was opened for traffic of goods with Montenegro.
- The border crossings with the Republic of Croatia are closed for all, except for their nationals, foreigners who have a registered residence and truck drivers. At its session held on March 24, the Council of Ministers of BiH defined border crossings for the transport of goods by road in transit through BiH, and according to the Republic of Croatia the following crossings were determined towards the Republic of Croatia: Bijaca, Stara Gradiska and Slavonski Samac, with the exception of Neum through which regular traffic to Croatia is with no disturbance. Cargo vehicles leaving BiH for goods in the Republic of Croatia (import/export) can cross the state border through other border crossings, provided that they inform the company from the Republic of Croatia about it, and the same is expected to provide them with the necessary permit to cross the border. All freight vehicles will be accompanied by police officers during transit through the Republic of Croatia. The Police Directorate will determine the directions of movement, rest stops and refuelling, and truck drivers are required to comply with the instructions of police officers.
- Additional requirements for entry into BiH, as prescribed by the BiH Council of Ministers Decision related to the entry of foreigners from certain countries into BiH, will not apply to truck drivers and co-drivers when performing international transport of goods in road transport.
- Employers based in the RS and FBIH have been ordered by the Republican Headquarters for Emergency Situations to issue a certificate of engagement of drivers in the international carriage of goods during an emergency for the purpose of monitoring the work of drivers in the international carriage of goods in a declared emergency situation.
- Upon arrival to Bosnia and Herzegovina, drivers of vehicles in international transport shall be issued a Decision by the Republic or Federal Inspector on the isolation for the duration of the stay in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which implies a period from entry to Bosnia and Herzegovina until departure to the next destination, i.e. until expiration of the deadline specified in the decision for mandatory isolation.
- In the case of international transit of goods by road, the stay of a cargo vehicle crew in BiH is limited to a maximum of 12 hours.
- The Council of Ministers of BiH adopted the decision to temporarily close of Sarajevo Airport, Mostar Airport, Tuzla Airport and Banja Luka Airport (with the exception of EUFOR, NATO, etc.) starting from March 30 at 06:00 AM. The airline company “Ryanair” has cancelled all flights from Banja Luka until May 1, due to the epidemiological situation caused by the Coronavirus, while “Air Serbia” cancelled all scheduled flights including flights on the relation Belgrade-Banja Luka. Most airlines have temporarily cancelled flights to and from Sarajevo. So far only “Croatia Airlines” has operated flights from Sarajevo to Zagreb once a day (until Sarajevo Airport closes), and “Turkish Airlines” has announced that the last flight to Sarajevo should be March 27, 2020.
- The airline company “Wizz Air” suspended all flights from and to Tuzla from March 17 to April 3, 2020.
- The Ministry of Communications and Transport of BiH issued a statement on March 12, stating that any suspension of passenger transport on international bus routes will not be treated as a misdemeanour until March 31, 2020, and that any suspension of transportation by that deadline should not be notified in advance;
- Starting from March 22, the Railways of the Republic of Srpska cancelled local passenger traffic for all directions.
- In the Republic of Srpska, the number of city bus departures was reduced in certain periods during the day, while intercity public transport was suspended. Public transport is being cancelled in Banja Luka from March 26, 2020, and free corridor services are being introduced on lines 17, 17A and 1 for certain persons, primarily health care workers, administration and police. In the Federation of BiH and the Brcko District, public transport is suspended.
3. Catering, trade and crafts
- In the Republic of Srpska, until March 30, all catering establishments of all categories, wedding salons, fitness centres, swimming pools, wellness and spa centres (separately and within hotel accommodation), children’s playrooms, markets, private dental clinics, games chance organizers, sports organizations and sports schools (including organizing training and competitions for athletes of all categories) are forbidden to work.
- Restricted work: In the shopping malls may operate only food/consumer goods stores, pharmacies and agricultural pharmacies located but in the period from 7:00 AM to 6:00 PM; grocery/consumer goods stores, animal feed and wholesale from 7:00 AM to 6:00 PM; drugstores and business entities engaged in the production of bread, pastry, fresh pasta and cakes (solely with respect to the sale of their products) from 7:00 AM to 6:00 PM; provided that all the said entities have to arrange the work in accordance with Government measures (related to the maximum number of customers in the facility, fast flow and distance between customers);
- The work is permitted to business entities engaged in the following activities: technical inspection and insurance, warehouses of building materials, delivery of equipment to public companies (stationery), vulcanizers and car mechanics, mobile operators, kiosks, butchers, funeral equipment.
- Hotels and hostels may only provide catering services for registered guests of these establishments. Pharmacies and agricultural pharmacies can operate from 08:00 AM to 06.00 PM and on weekends from 07:00 AM to 13.00 PM. Gas and fuel stations have no restrictions when it comes to the sale of fuel, other petroleum products and gas, but the part of the station that houses the retail outlet can operate from 07:00 AM to 6:00 PM.
- Public kitchens are operated over the counter without serving food inside the facilities.
- According to the decision of the Republican Headquarters for Emergency Situations of March 22 the quantity of certain products (flour, sugar, salt, oil, etc.) that an individual can buy at retail outlets is limited.
- All markets, including the City Market, have been closed in Banja Luka since 22 March, in accordance with the City Order
4. The work of state and republic bodies, companies and other business entities
- State bodies, republic administrative bodies, bodies of local self-government units and other entities exercising public authority are obliged to establish their work in the following manner: with a minimum number of on-site executors required, other persons will be sent to work from home, limited number of persons who can enter and stay at the premises at the same time, prevention of the longer stay in the premises and long rows, maintenance of the necessary distance between the citizens indoors, taking measures of disinfection and enhanced hygiene;
- In judicial institutions, the hearings scheduled for March were cancelled, the number of employees was reduced, and the receipt and dispatch of the letters operates via regular mail and not by direct receipt.
- The Police Administration Banja Luka announced that the counters for issuing personal documents and vehicle registration will be open from 07:00 AM to 15:00 PM.
- RS Post Offices, as of March 20, 2020, apply modified working hours and restrictions on the export and import of international shipments are also introduced. Regional postal operators, Post of Serbia and Post of Montenegro, are not currently able to ship parcels to RS Post Offices.
- RS Health Insurance Fund has decided to extend the financing of health services in public health institutions for all citizens (insured and uninsured) until April 30, 2020, so that all citizens are health insured by that date and do not have to go to verify their health booklets.
- The Republican Headquarters for Emergency Situations has set up an Expert Operational Team with the aim of providing the necessary information to all citizens and businesses through the following telephone numbers 051/360-010, 051/360-011, 051-360-012, 051/360-013, 051/360-014 or email [email protected]
- On March 17, 2020, the BiH Public Procurement Agency issued a statement regarding the current developments regarding the Coronavirus in BiH and procurement necessary to prevent its spread and mitigate its effects, and emphasized that in a situation of extreme urgency, when regular public procurement procedure is not possible, but there is still sufficient time, may use the negotiated procedure without the publication of procurement notices under the conditions prescribed by law, and emphasized that tenderers and contracting authorities should act in accordance with market circumstances with no attempt to abuse the said situation. The Agency also emphasizes that the contracting authorities have the opportunity to amend the tender documents in such a way as to extend the deadlines for the submission of tenders for a certain period, with a justification based on the situation in BiH caused by the Coronavirus pandemic. With respect to the rights of the bidders and other interested parties to attend the opening of tenders, as well as site visits, the Agency notes the need to follow the recommendations regarding the conditions and the number of persons who may be in one place. With regard to the implementation of the negotiated procedure or other procedures involving negotiation between the contracting authority and the candidate/tenderer, the Agency recommends that the contracting authorities conduct the same by telephone. The contracting authorities are obliged to maintain records of the conduct of negotiations and submit the same to the other party for signature, to take into account the general principles of public procurement, to negotiate separately with each candidate/tenderer, and to submit to all tenderers the identical requests and information. Finally, if the amendments to the tender documentation are no longer possible, the public opening of tenders cannot be held in accordance with the recommendations of the competent authorities or the deadlines prescribed by law cannot be met, the contracting authorities have the right to cancel the procurement procedure. In its opinion of March 24, the Agency points out that the contracting authorities still have to comply with the provisions regarding the authentication of documents, but that they can amend the tender documents and reduce the requirements related to certified documents, except for those strictly required by the Law, which are prescribed in Articles 45. and 52 of the BIH Law on Public Procurement of BiH.
- Employers are advised not to terminate employment contracts, otherwise they will not be able to exercise the right to assistance from the RS Government, which will be defined in the coming period. In addition, it is recommended that the work process will be organized with a minimum number of on-site executors, and that enhanced workplace disinfection measures must be introduced. In the Federation of BiH, one of the employed parents of children up to ten years old can be absent from work and stay home with the child.
5. Economy, Finance and Banking
- On 16 March, the Government of the Republic of Srpska adopted the Decree on the Return of Prices to the previous level, which were in force on 05 March 2020, for 33 categories of products – essentials of life, hygiene and disinfection products, as well as medical equipment.
- The Market Inspectorate was ordered to control prices, in accordance with the Republic decision to limit price mark-up.
- The Federation of BiH Government, at its extended session on March 16, also decided that the prices in force on March 5, 2020, shall remain unchanged.
- On March 13, 2020, the RS Government’s Crisis HQ adopted a Proposal of measures for mitigating the adverse effects of Coronavirus on businesses in the Republic of Srpska, including delayed payment of corporate income tax and all other obligations for 2019 accounts until June 30, 2020, as well as the ability to pay in instalments, prompt payment of tax refunds and contributions for increase of salaries in 2019, reduction of parafiscal levies in the final phase, which according to the proposal will be realized in April 2020, while the most vulnerable business entities working with countries most severely affected by the Coronavirus are subjected to a single status analysis.
- The Federation of BiH Government has adopted information on the Government’s Program of Activities for stabilizing the economy and remedying the effects of the Coronavirus pandemic, namely: setting up an appropriate fund for stabilization of the economy, establishing a guarantee fund, introducing a moratorium on repayment of loans, and introducing credit lines for the economy, especially small and medium-sized enterprises.
- The Republican Headquarters for Emergency Situations issued a Conclusion on March 23 on exercising the right to incentives for diesel fuel, milk premiums and mercantile wheat production in 2020, and to farms that did not report their contribution obligation for 2019 to the RS Tax Administration and did not settle their obligations for hailstorm protection for 2019.
- Investment and Development Bank of the Republic of Srpska a.d. Banja Luka has granted beneficiaries of loans and direct placements approved from the funds managed by RBI RS, a three-month moratorium on their repayment, starting on April 1, 2020.
- On 20 March, the Union of Employers’ Associations of the Republic of Srpska submitted to the RS Government proposals for measures to be taken to stabilize the economic system in the Republic of Srpska, grouped into general measures, sources of funds, measures in the field of labour and labour relations, as well as measures in the banking sector.
- The Federation of BiH Tax Administration has extended the deadline for filing tax returns until April 15, 2020.
- The RS Tax Administration in a statement dated March 20, informed taxpayers that, based on the RS Government Conclusion, the deadline for submission of annual tax returns was extended to April 30, 2020, in order to facilitate taxpayers’ compliance with their tax obligations, given the global situation caused by the Coronavirus pandemic. The statement once again urges taxpayers to use the RS Tax Administration’s electronic services to the fullest extent possible. In addition, the RS Tax Administration started paying returns of taxes and contributions for salary increases in 2019 in accordance with the proposal of the Crisis HQ for monitoring the adverse effects of the Coronavirus on the situation in the RS economy.
- The Standing Committee for Financial Stability of Bosnia and Herzegovina (SOFS) of the Central Bank of BiH convened an extraordinary meeting on 18 March to discuss information on the functioning of the financial sector in BiH. The statement after the session confirmed the security, liquidity and capitalization of the banking sector in Bosnia and Herzegovina. It further stated that commercial banks can fulfil all their depositors’ requirements, including cash withdrawal requirements, and while maintaining the circumstances in which the business is currently operating, maintain business continuity in accordance with the needs of citizens and the economy. The meeting also discussed measures that institutions, members of the SOFS, can take to maintain financial stability in the country.
- The BiH Council of Ministers has decided to exempt indirect taxes on donated equipment from domestic and foreign manufacturers, all in connection with the pandemic.
- The Indirect Taxation Authority of Bosnia and Herzegovina has announced that all business processes within this institution are proceeding completely normally and without any interruption, that all customs offices in Bosnia and Herzegovina are operating full time, and import and export customs procedures are completed in shorter possible period with due regard for legal regulations.
- On March 19, the BiH Chamber of Commerce informed interested parties about the possibility of applying for the issuance of a “force majeure certificate” (Lat. Vis Maior), which serves that for objective reasons (weather, energy reductions, earthquakes, etc.) temporarily or permanently, repeal the obligations arising from the contractual relationship, and to enable the company to prove to its business partners the inability to respect the contractual obligations for reasons that could not have been foreseen, eliminated or avoided. In order to obtain such a “force majeure certificate” from the BiH Chamber of Commerce, a written request must be submitted on a memorandum of the company which must state specific information about the service/product that could not be realized due to force majeure, the number of the contract to which it refers, the type/name of the goods that were to be delivered, the delivery deadline and the area/location where the force majeure occurred. The BiH Chamber of Commerce has been instructed by the Federal Ministry of Health regarding the supervision of passengers in international traffic and the transport of goods. On its web site, the BiH Chamber of Commerce has published information on the impact of the Coronavirus on the economy of Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as on the difficulties in doing business in certain economic sectors.
- On 24 March, the Republic of Srpska Chamber of Commerce invited all local businessmen facing difficulties in business caused by the spread of Coronavirus, to fill out a survey (which can be found on the Chamber of Commerce’s website) and report business problems, on the basis of which business support measures would be created. Prior to that the Republic of Srpska Chamber of Commerce submitted to the Prime Minister of the Republic of Srpska a letter outlining important issues that need to be addressed urgently and proposing six measures to mitigate the harmful effects of the Coronavirus on the Republic of Srpska economy: 1) Establishment of a fund for economic support and recovery from the negative effects of the Coronavirus, 2) Urgent resolution of the status of employees in companies whose work has been forbidden as well as companies operating at a minimum business process, 3) Securing tax and contributions exemption, 4) Securing loan rescheduling in commercial banks, 5) Introducing the obligation to publish on the website of the RS Government and in the Official Gazette of the RS all decisions/conclusions/orders of the RS Government and other competent authorities related to emergency management and/or adopted on the basis of the Crisis HQ proposal 6) Creating Conditions for production of protective equipment (masks, suits, gloves) and disinfectants.
- On 20 March, the Republic of Srpska Banking Agency issued a Decision on temporary measures by banks to mitigate the negative economic consequences caused by the COVID-19. Temporary measures relate to granting relief to bank clients directly or indirectly affected by adverse effects, specific rules for managing credit risk that banks apply in the event of granting a special measure to a client, and preventive measures aimed at preserving banks’ capital. The decision stipulates that banks may grant customers special measures, such as: a moratorium, i.e. deferral of repayment of principal and interest of the loan, which may last at least until the announcement of the termination of the emergency situation, introduction of a grace period for repayment of the principal of credit obligations for a period of maximum 6 months, granting an additional amount of exposure to overcome its current liquidity difficulties, and other measures aimed at facilitating the settlement of the client’s credit obligations and maintaining the client’s business. The bank will determine the required documentation and the way of submitting the request in accordance with its internal rules, considering the need for reduced social interactions as much as possible and the limited movement of individual clients (illness, isolation, etc.).
- The Federation of BiH Banking Agency has issued recommendations to all banks in the Federation of BiH, under which banks should initiate the adoption of the General Measures Program, which will facilitate the servicing of credit and other obligations to all clients (individuals and legal entities) exposed to the negative economic effects caused by the COVID-19 and inform the Agency accordingly. On March 20, the Agency adopted decisions on provisional measures for the treatment of credit obligations of individuals and legal entities in banks and non-depository financial institutions, on the basis of which special measures may be granted to clients, such as: moratorium or delay in repayment of loans, introduction of the grace period for repayment of the principal, approval of an additional amount for use, as well as other measures aimed at facilitating the settlement of credit obligations and maintaining the business of clients.
6.Education and culture
- In the Republic of Srpska, the school year for elementary and secondary school students will be completed by distance learning classes and after that students will have final examination tests.
- All public and private faculties in RS will be closed by at least March 30; in the Federation of BiH, schools and faculties are closed for a period of 15 days starting from March 12.
- All kindergartens have been closed, with the exception of one kindergarten within the RS Centre for Pre-school Education for the accommodation of children for whom there is no alternative to home care. The stay of children in the kindergarten within the Centre will not be paid for the month of April, while the costs for March will be reduced by 50.
- The Ministry of Education and Culture of the Republic of Srpska and the Republic Pedagogical Institute, in cooperation with the Radio Television of the Republic of Srpska, organize, from March 17, 2020, distance education via TV transmission for students from the first to the ninth grade of elementary schools in the Republic of Srpska, and starting from March 23, 2020, online physical, music and art classes will be introduced. BHT1 daily broadcasts “Homework”, with educative material for elementary school students, while online teaching has also been introduced in some cantons in the Federation of BiH.
- Staring from March 23, the secondary schools in the Republic of Srpska have introduced online education.
- The RS Ministry of Science, Technology Development, Higher Education and Information Society issued an instruction authorizing the use of online platforms at all higher education institutions in the Republic of Srpska in accordance with their capabilities.
- The Republican Headquarters for Emergency Situations has requested the Ministry of Science, Technology Development, Higher Education and Information Society to pay BAM 1,000.00 of one-time financial assistance for each of 44 RS students currently abroad based on international student exchange programs;
- All performances in theatres, as well as other cultural events in BiH, were cancelled by the end of March 2020.
Note: The above information is designed to provide an overview of measures and activities taken by the competent authorities. The information does not constitute detailed legal advice on a case-by-case basis.