19 March, 2020
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Restrictions in the time of COVID-19 – are we free to move? – obsolete*

A state of emergency calls for extreme measures. The COVID-19 virus continued to spread in Serbia despite measures previously taken by the Government, which forced the state’s hand to take even more radical steps to reduce the risk of even greater outbreak. This time around, the state went for severe restriction of freedom of movement in order to save lives.

 

What do the new restrictions impose?

On March 18, 2020 the Ministry of Internal Affairs announced the latest and (so far) most rigorous measures limiting citizen’s freedom of movement in the state of emergency. The measures, popularly dubbed “martial law” (even though the Serbian law does not recognize such concept) forbade citizens aged 65 and above who live in cities and urban areas from leaving their homes during any time of the day. The same ban on movement also applies to citizens living in small towns and villages who are aged 70 and above.

In addition to completely restricting senior citizens’ freedom of movement, the new measures also impose a curfew on all citizens, regardless of their age, between 8 p.m. and 5 a.m. Therefore, during nighttime, all movement in public spaces, such as streets or squares, is forbidden.

However, does the curfew apply to all citizens?

The Ministry’s decree provides some exceptions, so that certain categories of persons can move in public after curfew. These include licensed healthcare workers, officers of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Ministry of Defense, as well as members of security services and the Serbian Army while on assignment. Individuals seeking urgent medical care, accompanied by two others, are also exempt from the curfew, and so are individuals holding special permissions issued by the Ministry of Internal Affairs.

Persons who disobey the restrictions imposed by the Ministry’s decree will be prosecuted in line with the Penal Code, but the decree does not specify for which crime exactly and what the punishment would be.

 

Are night shift workers affected?

As noted above, the nation-wide curfew starts at 8 p.m. every day. This means that employers who have not allowed their employees to work remotely during the state of emergency, must now organize their employee’s activities so that the employees can leave work and arrive home before 8 p.m.

However, when the nature of their work is such that working in night shifts is the only option, employers must obtain special permissions from the Ministry for all nightshift workers .

According to a notice published on the website of the Serbian Chamber of Commerce, employers should submit the request for issuance of these permits to the Ministry of Commerce via email. The request is submitted in form of an Excel table, specifying employees and work positions for which permissions are needed.

No further information is available at this point.

In the likely course of events, the Ministry of Commerce will transfer the requests to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, which will then issue permits if it finds employers’ requests to be justified. The procedure of issuing permits is itself  generally regulated by the Administrative Procedure Act but it is unlikely that the regular administrative procedure will apply in this specific and highly extraordinary situation caused by the state of emergency. Therefore, specific rules and guidelines on issuance of permissions allowing citizens such as nightshift workers to stay out after curfew is expected and will likely follow shortly.

 

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