26 March, 2020
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COVID-19 outbreak: The activity of retail and catering facilities during the state of emergency

According to the official website which tracks the COVID-19 outbreak in the Republic of Serbia (“RS”), as of 3 pm on 24 March, a total of 303 COVID-19 infection cases were registered. Due to this, the Government of the RS adopted new measures to prevent the spread of the virus, including the Order on the prohibition of gathering in the RS in public places indoors. It prohibits public gatherings on the entire territory of the RS in indoor public places when more than 5 (five) persons are gathered at the same time. However, according to the instruction of the Serbian Government, shops, supermarkets, pharmacies, etc., are not considered as indoor public places within the meaning of this prohibition, so they are exempt from it.

Later on, the Order on restriction and prohibition of movement on the territory of the RS was amended,  and a curfew for all citizens below the age of 65 (or 70, in the rural areas), lasting from 5 pm to 5 am,  as well a full ban on accessing public spaces for everybody else, was introduced from 22 March. Sunday is an exception, when citizens over the age of 65 (or 70 in rural areas) can leave their homes between 3 am to 8 am for the purpose of grocery shopping. The list of stores that will operate on Sundays during this period was made publicly available on the Government of the RS website as well as on the website of the Ministry of Trade, Tourism and Telecommunications. This new situation created two categories of traders: on one hand, there are traders i.e. service providers (both terms are equal) who closed their retail facilities and thus suspended their activity for a certain period of time, and on the other hand, there are those who want to continue with their activity even during the state of emergency, and thus the Government adopted two decisions (“Official Gazette of RS”, No. 39/2020).

 

An obligation for traders/caterers who want to close their retail/catering facilities

Pursuant to Article 33 of the Law on trade, which regulates the obligations of a trader/service provider under special conditions, if they decide to temporarily close a retail facility, traders are obliged to display, in a clear, unequivocal and easily noticeable manner, their working hours on their retail facility (or on the other point of sale) and to respect the indicated working hours. In case of extraordinary changes, full cessation or other forms of temporary cessation of trade at a certain point of sale, traders should mark those changes before they stop with their work and close their store. A similar duty is stipulated for caterers in Article 7 of the Law on catering. This duty requires that caterers display the prescribed working hours at the entrance to the catering facility and to adhere to it in their business activity.

Therefore, in a situation when a trader or caterer decides to temporarily suspend activity, they are obliged to introduce those changes to the public by displaying them on their store, in a clear, unequivocal and easily visible manner and to display them at the point of sale – in a notice form, before suspending their activities.

 

Restriction – prohibition of work for facilities that are entered from a larger indoor space

The Government also announced the Decision on the restriction of the conduct of services in the field of retail trade, which includes the sale of goods and the provision of services in shopping malls and outlets in which are entered from an indoor space (“Restriction Decision“). The Restriction Decision prohibits direct sale of goods and direct provision of services in shopping centers and similar facilities where retail trade activities are carried out, which includes sale of goods and provision of services in all outlets that are entered from a larger indoor space.

 

Exceptions to the prohibition

This prohibition measure does not apply to other manners of providing services by legal persons and entrepreneurs who perform their activities in facilities such as described above (sales via social networks, etc.) – but they are still obliged to take all protective measures. Legal persons and entrepreneurs engaged in retail trade of groceries (i.e. basic foodstuffs), medicines, and medical goods are exempt from this prohibition. However, they are obliged to implement all protective measures aimed at ensuring health and safety of employees and service users, and especially those measures related to prevention of the spread of COVID-19 disease. They are also required to adopt an appropriate plan for implementing these measures. The implementation plan is an integral part of the risk assessment act adopted in accordance with the law and regulations in the field of occupational health and safety. This means that all facilities and outlets within shopping malls except for self-service shops, food shops, and pharmacies are to be shut.

 

Special Measures – food and beverage sales

The Government also announced the Decision on special measures for the provision of services in the field of retail trade, which include the sale of food and beverages in catering facilities and the sale of food for take-away (“Decision on special measures”), which applies to legal persons and entrepreneurs engaged in retail trade, including sale of food and beverages, who chose to continue to provide their services. They are obliged to implement special measures of protections of employees and users of their services, which relate to serving food and beverages. One of them is that it is prohibited to serve food and beverages directly indoors and outdoors in organized space of gardens, regardless of whether:

  • guests are served at the table or they serve themselves from a counter with exposed meals and drinks;
  • guests are served a meal prepared at the facility (i.e. as in restaurants, cafeterias, fast food and beverage restaurants, restaurants and bars) or if meals were prepared at a separate unit from where they are consumed (i.e. as in canteens, food courts and gardens);
  • guests are served catering – or if the service is provided directly to the customer;
  • guests just consume drinks (i.e. as in bars, restaurants, coffee shops, pubs, taverns, wineries, discos, clubs, rafts, bookmakers, cocktail lounges or any other facility and garden where such service is provided).

These legal persons and entrepreneurs may continue to provide food and drink service through delivery services or through a counter service without the entry of the consumers to the facilities. As employers, those who provide services in activities and in the manner mentioned here, are obliged to implement all preventive health and safety measures to protect their employees and users of services, and in particular those related to the prevention of the spread of COVID-19 disease. Related to this, they are obliged to adopt a specific implementation plan of these measures as an integral part of their risk assessment act, which is adopted in accordance with the law and regulations in the field of occupational safety and health.

 

The main purpose of the special measures

The adoption of the Decision on special measures does not imply closure of catering facilities but prevention of consumption of food and beverages in the facility or in the garden of the catering facility. It means that guests can buy food and drink for take-away, but they cannot consume it at a table or bar in the facility or outside of it in a garden. So, if traders want to perform its activity during the state of emergency, it is necessary to establish a delivery service that would deliver food and beverages or to organize a counter through which it would be possible to sell food and drink without entering into the catering facility. Furthermore, employees at the catering facility must be supplied with appropriate hygienic and technical equipment to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus. It is essential to prohibit the entrance into the catering facilities and gardens, in order to protect people from infection. The decisions entered into force on 21 March 2020 and will last for the duration of the state of emergency i.e. while the risk of the spread of COVID-19 disease is present.

 

For more information, please contact us via covid19@geciclaw.com