From: Exit Expains
Exit Explains: No Change in Restrictions Despite Increase in COVID-19 Cases

Albania is going through the most infectious period of the pandemic outbreak, although restriction measures have not changed since the beginning of 2021.

Daily curfew starts from 20:00 to 06:00, business activity during this time is prohibited, masks are mandatory in all public areas yet infection rates continue to be high.

The aim of the curfew was to slow the current infection rate by preventing people from visiting each other and gathering in groups. While the curfew is in force people are not allowed outside without a valid reason, yet still numbers are increasing.

Several European countries such as Italy, Germany, Ireland, and the Netherlands have all tightened measures in order to reduce the number of people infected by COVID-19. Such a thing has been discussed by the Albanian authorities as well but Prime Minister Edi Rama has said the country will not go into a full lockdown again. This is primarily because the economic fallout would be too high for Albania and the government cannot afford repeated stimulus or economic aid packages.

During an interview with Neritan Sejamini, doctor Agron Ismaili who works and lives in US said that the “effectiveness of isolation to prevent COVID-19 is not as successful as we would like”.

“Isolation is not very effective and successful because it is difficult to implement among people. The best measures to achieve success would be vaccination, maintaining distance, wearing a mask, and personal hygiene”, Ismail added.

The doctor underlined that “masks are the number one measure for the prevention of COVID” and that this has been observed in several scientific studies of US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

‘Masks also prevent other diseases like influenza. This year the US had the lowest number of people affected by the flu,” said Ismaili.

During the first two months of 2021 in Albania are registered almost half of all infections since the beginning of the pandemic.

Active cases of patients have increased by about 50% during January-February, while the ratio between positive cases and tests performed is one of the highest in the world.

The problem in Albania is that the restrictions and measures are often not respected; people including politicians gather in groups, bars and restaurants don’t observe protocols, and urban busses run with no adherence to any of the rules for social distancing. The non-implementation in the practice of measures combined with the recent cold weather is likely to have led to the increase in cases.

Albania has the second-highest increase in the region for the average daily cases and the highest death rate per million when compared to Italy, Britain, and Germany. Another matter which is also concerning is the decrease in the age of those impacted.

Sources told Sejamini that doctors are asking for another lockdown to reduce the rate of infections, even for a short period to reduce the rate of infections.

Ismaili said that the only real hope for the situation is the vaccine. Albania has currently vaccinated 15,000 people with one dose, comprising of medical staff and patients in nursing homes.

“The number of infections in the US started to decline when we started vaccinating medical staff, patients in nursing homes, and elderly patients,” said Ismaili.

Currently, Albania has received only Pfizer vaccines, which have an efficiency of over 90%. But the first doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine are expected to arrive in March-April.

Albania on the other hand has not considered the purchase of vaccines produced by Russian and Chinese companies as these vaccines have not yet received approval from US and EU regulatory agencies. From studies published so far these two vaccines have efficiencies between 60-90%.

Ismaili clarified that the decision to get the Russian or Chinese vaccine belongs to the state after consulting with local regulatory authorities which verify the safety of the vaccine.

“My opinion is that we should not wait for vaccines with the highest efficiency, which gives 90% for example, but the population should be vaccinated as soon as possible with vaccines that provide protection,” he said.

The doctor added that “mass vaccination should start as soon as possible.”