SARAJEVO, Bosnia and Herzegovina – As most European countries impose new restrictions to curb the spread of the omicron variant, Bosnia is taking a relatively laissez-faire approach to the surge in COVID-19 infections in the region, for the delight in its winter tourism industry.
Last week, thousands of skiers from across the country, the Balkans and the European Union happily slalomed through the fresh snow on the slopes of the Bosnian mountains after the season officially kicked off on December 4. Most ski resorts in the Balkans have also opened in the past week, but with much stricter pandemic-induced capacity and access limits.
On the Jahorina and Bjelasnica mountains near Sarajevo, hosts of the 1984 Winter Olympics, long, tight lines formed at the ski lifts as local and international guests gathered in cafes inside and outside, some even attending an evening music concert.
Travelers entering Bosnia from the European Union, except Croatia, must have a negative PCR test before departure and proof of recent vaccination or recovery from COVID-19 to enter the country. Citizens of Croatia, Serbia and Montenegro are exempt from this rule.
But once a person is in Bosnia, they are not required to show proof of vaccination, recent recovery, or recent negative test to access ski slopes, restaurants, bars or cultural venues. Although the warrants for indoor masks and social distancing are in place, their application remains uncertain.
âWe feel very safe here. Conditions are generally good, despite the pandemic, âsaid Sejla Ibric, who traveled more than 100 miles to Jahorina with her husband to enjoy the first ski weekend of the season.
Officials at Jahorina and Bjelasnica ski resorts – which form the backbone of Bosnian winter tourist spots – note that certain precautions are aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19, including mandatory mask wear and reduced lift capacity mechanical. Additional measures have been taken to meet specific customer needs related to the pandemic.
âWe have our own PCR test lab and customers who need a negative test to return to their country can have their samples taken in their room,â says Dejan Ljevanic, Managing Director of Jahorina. The resort also guarantees reimbursement to ski pass holders in the event of infection, he added.
Bosnia – which has only fully vaccinated just over 24% of its 3.3 million people – has recorded around 600 new cases and 30 deaths from COVID-19 per day in recent times. It has seen more than 12,900 deaths from COVID-19 during the pandemic.
Most of the countries close to Bosnia – all of which have significantly higher vaccination rates – are experiencing rapid increases in daily infections and tighter restrictions on daily living. The Czech Republic and Slovakia, the two EU members, recently reported record new infections per day, and Slovakia is in 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 diggers in Belgrade had to work an extra day every week to cope with deaths from COVID-19.
“Things are getting worse at home when it comes to the virus, but here it feels like it doesn’t exist,” said Mili Planincic from Croatia, who was about to hit a ski slope in Jahorina.
“People are relaxed, but at the same time, they stay within reason” to prevent the spread of infection, he added.
Others, like Milomir Zele from Serbia, said it was up to visitors to take the necessary precautions.
âYou have to be careful, wear a mask and get vaccinated beforehand. We did all of this, âhe said.
Tine Salomon from Slovenia agrees: âIf people act responsibly, there should be no problem. We are outside and the snow is good, idyllic.
Last winter, 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 anti-virus restrictions. However, the peak ski season in Bosnia was followed last March by a significant wave of the virus and an increase in the number of deaths from COVID-19 in the country.
âThis year, we expect the ski season to last between 4 and 4 1/2 months. It would be spectacular if we had a repeat of last season, âsaid Jasmin Mehic, general manager of Bjelasnica ski resort.
“We expect that the (antivirus) restrictions will not become too severe, although we will also respect more severe restrictions if (health authorities) decide to introduce them,” he added.
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