Inside Of Kosovo hospitals, beds are filling with sick and dying as Covid-19 passes through one of the poorest corners of Europe.
But out on the streets, a third of the population believe the pandemic is pure hoax, according to a recent poll that shocked a government that is now trying to tackle the scourge of disbelief.
Kosovo, a former Serbian province with 1.8 million inhabitants, recently experienced some of the highest death rates from Covid-1
In Pristina, relatives, many from rural areas, told AFP that they waited shifts outside the infectious disease clinic to be close to their sick loved ones and to buy medicine as the hospital’s reserves were nearly empty.
In an attempt to convince the public of the real dangers at hand, the government has decided to let the media enter the previously sealed hospital wards to film the suffering.
“Tell those outside who don’t believe what you saw here,” an exhausted elderly man admitted to an infectious disease clinic after a two-week battle with respiratory diseases told a local television channel.
“Don’t mess with that. How can you believe a lie that the virus doesn’t exist?” He pleaded.
Others who once were among the unbelievers now know the dangers firsthand.
“To tell you the truth, I thought it didn’t exist. Now, after the hell I’ve been through, I am convinced and I tell the whole nation, ”said an elderly woman, who had been treated with oxygen therapy for weeks.
Coronavirus skeptics have gained a following around the world, from France to Australia and the United States, including Serbia, Brazil and South Africa.
Conspiracy theory videos have amassed millions of views and continue to spread online despite efforts by social networks to block disinformation.
In Kosovo, the poll by the polling firm Pyper found that a third of the population did not believe the virus was real, while 61% said Covid-19 was “less risky than described” by authorities and the media. said the CEO of the company Ilir Krasniqi.
Skepticism is a huge problem for the government trying to enforce measures in Kosovo, which had its deadliest month in August with nearly 300 deaths, a toll higher than all three previous months combined.
Citing the poll’s “intolerable” results, Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti’s government tightened curfews in hot cities, ordered early closure of restaurants and bars, and banned public gatherings and religious ceremonies.
In mid-August, parliament also adopted a separate anti-Covid law with severe penalties for those who violate security measures, including a 35 euro ($ 41) fine for not wearing an outdoor mask and a fine. 500 euros for violating solitary confinement orders.
Defender of the law, parliamentary spokesperson Vjosa Osmani, said it also targets virus deniers.
“The damage they do to society is great and their misinformation shouldn’t go unpunished,” he said.
Yet, the 25-year-old Mendim Hoxha, a designer from oriental Gjilan, is not convinced.
At the entrance to his office there is a sign saying “no masks needed here”.
“I don’t see the threat of the pandemic,” he told AFP. “The deaths are not caused by the virus but by other health problems.”
Leonard Presheva, 28, a resident of Pristina, insists that the virus is nothing more than a normal flu.
“In the beginning they said to keep your distance, wear masks and gloves. Now nobody cares about distance and gloves, but they want us to wear masks so they can block our breathing during the 40 degree weather. “
Some say it is no surprise to see such skepticism in a society where corruption and an unstable political scene have eroded public confidence in government for years.
“A considerable part of the population is full of conspiracy theories that this is only in the interest of governments, of great powers, of certain political forces,” said sociologist Shemsi Krasniqi, a professor at the University of Pristina.
In the first week after the sanctions came into force, the police issued 5,000 fines for not wearing the mask or respecting the distancing rules.