Europe’s Youngest Nation to Boost Testing Amid Covid-19 Hit
Hashim Thaci, president of Kosovo, speaks during an event at The Council of Foreign Relations in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019. (Photographer: Al Drago/Bloomberg)

Europe’s Youngest Nation to Boost Testing Amid Covid-19 Hit

Kosovo is one of the deadliest places in the world right now for coronavirus.

The Balkan state, where more than half of the 1.8 million population is under the age of 25, has recorded 54.2 fatalities per million people resulting from Covid-19 in the past week -- just ahead of second-placed Colombia, according to Bloomberg calculations based on data from Johns Hopkins University.

Johns Hopkins doesn’t update its data for Kosovo as regularly as it does with other countries. Numbers published on the Facebook page of the Kosovo National Institute of Public Health show Kosovo had 37.2 deaths per million people over the 7 days through Aug. 26. That would place it fourth in the world for that period, according to Bloomberg calculations.

While new infections during the same period are better, Kosovo also tops that chart if the range is expanded to a month, according to Johns Hopkins data.

Europe’s Youngest Nation to Boost Testing Amid Covid-19 Hit

There are several reasons behind the trends. Since breaking away from Serbia following a bloody war, Kosovo remains one of Europe’s poorest states, reliant on remittances from citizens who’ve left for more affluent parts of the continent. Corruption, meanwhile, has held back the development of the health system.

Politics, however, appears to have been the major contributing factor -- as it has in many parts of the globe where responses to the virus have proved lacking.

“At the height of the pandemic, Kosovo ousted its government and fired the health minister and key people for the management of that sector,” said Afrim Krasniqi, executive director at the Albanian Institute for Political Studies in Tirana. “Kosovo was the only country in the region that failed to apply swift, extraordinary measures to limit the spread of the pandemic.”

After what now looks like a premature relaxation of virus restrictions in May, new Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti, a U.K.-educated former finance minister, tightened social-distancing measures in July in an effort to control the rising number of Covid-19 cases. Hoti himself tested positive this month, though has now returned to work.

The current 140-160 new cases a day could be a “plateau,” according to Sergei Koryak, the World Health Organization’s liaison officer in Kosovo. But the WHO is working to increase testing capacity from about 500 a day, fearing official data may even be under-counting infections.

“Laboratories are testing only patients with symptoms, with high temperatures,” Koryak said by phone. “So potentially some mild cases may have been missed.”

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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