SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina — Authorities in Bosnia's semi-autonomous Serb-run territory have conceded that a failure to enforce strict social distancing over Orthodox Easter has led to a sharp spike in newly registered coronavirus cases.
"I am afraid that we are now paying the price for what has happened during Orthodox Easter. despite repeatedly pleading with citizens to respect (social distancing) rules," Radovan Viskovic, prime minister of Republika Srpska, told local media Thursday.
Although Republika Srpska had restrictions on public activity in place when Orthodox Easter was observed on April 19, Bosnian Serb authorities tolerated gatherings in several churches. At one, priests were recorded using a shared spoon for the Communion ritual.
Epidemiologists in Republika Srpska reported Thursday that 53 confirmed virus cases were recorded in the region over the past 24 hours. A day earlier, the region registered 59 new cases, more than on any other single day since Bosnia's coronavirus outbreak started in early March.
The Bosnian Serb health minister, Alen Seranic, urged people to continue practicing social distancing and to keep wearing face masks in public despite the gradual easing of coronavirus restrictions that began in Republika Srpska this week.
Bosnian Serb authorities have started allowing people over the age of 65 and younger than 18 to leave their homes for a few hours each day after weeks of requesting them to remain in their private residencies at all times. Some small businesses were also allowed to open.
Republika Srpska and a Bosniak-Croat federation make up ethnically divided Bosnia, which has a population of 3.5 million.
So far, over 35,000 people in the country have been tested for the novel coronavirus. Officials reported that total confirmed cases during the pandemic reached 1,757 as of Thursday, including 69 deaths.
Most people sickened by the virus suffer mild or moderate symptoms, but for some it can prove more severe, or fatal.