With most European nations imposing new restrictions to curb the spread of the omicron variant, Bosnia is taking a relatively laissez-faire approach to the growing COVID-19 infections in the region, much to the delight of its tourism industry from winter.
Last week, thousands of skiers from across the country, the Balkans and the European Union slalomed their way through fresh snow on Bosnian mountain slopes following the official start of the season on December 4. Most of the Balkan ski resorts also opened in the past week, but with much stricter pandemic-induced access and capacity limits.
In the Jahorina and Bjelasnica mountains near Sarajevo, site of the 1984 Winter Olympics, long, tight lines formed at the ski lifts as local and international guests gathered in cafes both indoors and outdoors, and some they even attended a music concert every night.
Travelers arriving in Bosnia from the European Union, in addition to Croatia, must have a negative pre-departure PCR test and a recent COVID-19 vaccination or recovery test to enter the country. Citizens of Croatia, Serbia and Montenegro are exempt from this rule.
But once a person is in Bosnia, they do not need to present proof of vaccination, a recent recovery, or a recent negative test to access the ski slopes, restaurants, bars, or cultural venues. While there are mandates on the use of masks indoors and social distancing, their application remains haphazard.
“We feel very safe here. In general, conditions are good, despite the pandemic, ”said Sejla Ibric, who drove more than 100 miles to Jahorina with her husband to enjoy the first ski weekend of the season.
Managers of the Jahorina and Bjelasnica ski resorts, which form the backbone of Bosnia’s winter tourism sites, note that some precautions seek to slow the spread of COVID-19, including mandatory use of masks and reduced capacity. on the ski lifts. Additional steps have been taken to meet the specific needs of guests related to the pandemic.
“We have our own PCR testing laboratory and guests who need a negative test to return to their country can take their samples in their rooms,” says Dejan Ljevanic, General Manager of Jahorina. The resort also guarantees refunds to ski pass holders in case they become infected, he added.
Bosnia, which has fully vaccinated just over 24% of its 3.3 million people, has recorded some 600 new cases and 30 deaths from COVID-19 a day. It has seen more than 12,900 deaths from COVID-19 in the pandemic.
Most of the countries near Bosnia, all of which have markedly higher vaccination rates, are experiencing rapid increases in daily infections and tighter restrictions on daily life. In the Czech Republic and Slovakia, the two EU members have recently reported record new infections per day and Slovakia is in a national lockdown. In Croatia and Slovenia, also members of the EU, mandatory COVID-19 passes were introduced last month to access most public spaces. In Serbia this fall, cemetery excavators in Belgrade had to work an additional day each week to keep up with deaths from COVID-19.
“Things are going downhill at home regarding the virus, but here it feels like it doesn’t exist,” said Mili Planincic of Croatia, who was preparing to slide down a ski slope in Jahorina.
“People are relaxed, but at the same time staying within reasonable limits” to prevent the spread of infection, he added.
Others, like Milomir Zele from Serbia, said that visitors should take the necessary precautions.
“You have to be careful, put on a mask and get vaccinated beforehand. We did all of that, ”he said.
Tine Salomon from Slovenia agreed: “If people act responsibly, there should be no problem. We are outdoors and the snow is good, idyllic ”.
Last winter, the Bjelasnica and Jahorina ski resorts saw record numbers of visitors, due to Bosnia’s relatively low virus transmission rates compared to the rest of the region and its relaxed approach to virus restrictions. However, the peak ski season in Bosnia was followed last March by a large wave of viruses and an increase in deaths from COVID-19 in the country.
“This year, we expect the ski season to last between 4 and 4 and a half months. It would be spectacular if we repeated last season, ”said Jasmin Mehic, general manager of the Bjelasnica ski resort.
“We hope that the (antivirus) restrictions will not be too severe, although we will also respect more severe restrictions if (the health authorities) decide to introduce them,” he added.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism