"It's an impressive number, two and a half million people managed to visit Croatia this summer. Tourists - when they were able to go. It was down 50 percent from last year, but as Croatia points out, it's much better than many of its neighbours and fellow European countries," CNN's Richard Quest announced in a segment on his business show Quest Means Business on Monday evening, titled Croatia's Tough Choice, in which Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic appeared via Skype from Zagreb to explain the country's approach to coronavirus.
The reason for the successful season, Quest added, is that the Croatian government kept the country open, kept the tourism industry going, and it opened its borders early in summer.
However, as Covid cases surged over the summer, and now the UK and others have added Croatia to their quarantine list. The new case number per day is now in the 200-300 range, - somewhat less than other larger countries, but still higher than before.
Prime Minister Plenkovic, the decision to open up the country early this summer - you are now paying the price, many say, with an increased number of cases.
Well first of all, Croatia was at the helm of the European Union when Covid-19 broke out and I have to admit we did a lot of work in coordinating the EU efforts during the first half of 2020. We had a lockdown. Once there was the outbreak of the epidemic, and I think we did extremely well, we protected the health of our citizens, then gradually, we opened our borders, it was the end of April, and beginning of May, so we were able to welcome tourists to Croatia as of mid-June.
In overall numbers tourism actually did much better than we expected, it went pretty well, we had around 7 million tourists coming to Croatia. The overnights are around 50 percent of last year, which was the record breaking year for Croatian tourism. Naturally, it was a bit of a calculated risk if you like, the numbers of people who are infected have risen over the last couple of weeks, but what is very good is that we still have a very very low mortality rate, only 5-to-100,000 ratio, which is much much much lower than any other country in Europe, especially in western Europe.
So we've managed to combine both the health of our citizens, and the income coming from one of the most important branches of our economy, and that is tourism.
But is there a ticking time bomb now waiting to go off? The number of cases has risen and we are going into the autumn. Admittedly, the good weather lasts in Croatia a bit longer than it does here in London, but the risk is growing. And I'm wondering what your next strategy is?
Well, just as many of our neighbours, we are now focused on the opening of the school season. School started today in Croatia and we undertook epidemiological measures in order to provide for our pupils, so they feel secure, and to conduct the first day of classes in the most secure manner possible.
We are also observing the sort of hotspots of the contagion and then we are adopting tailor-made measures in different parts of Croatia. What we advocated to our neighbouring countries was to look at Croatia at the sub-national level, meaning that if there is a county or a particular city where we do have a certain outbreak, then the measures should be targeted towards people who were in that region. And this is what I was saying to our Slovenian colleagues, Hungarian, Austrian, or German.
We expect that at the level of the European Union we should undertake similar measures, especially at the sub-national level. So, so far today for instance, we just had over 100 people infected, but no difficult epidemiological or clinical situation in our hospitals, we only have 20 people on respirators, which is very, very, low.
Prime Minister, if we look at countries and the measures taken for example by Hungary. Do you criticise the Hungarian government for closing the borders, and then being selective about those countries citizens, if it will allow them in. Isn't it time for the EU to do something about that?
Well, what I said last week when we had a strategic forum at bled in Slovenia, I said we should strike the right balance between what we do jointly at the European level, and what we do at the national level. I think that the Covid-19 pandemic has really proved the most important role of the state. No other actor but the state could have assisted citizens to be protected from this pandemic.
And I think now the discussions which are being held under the German presidency are actually aimed towards taking common measures, so as to have similar protocols once we see the outbreak of the epidemic. But in terms of bilateral relations I think most of the countries who undertook measures to close (borders), or to introduce quarantine, or to ask for tests, did so exactly in light of the start of the school year, or the academic year.