Serbia hosts loud New Years Eve
BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) – Lively New Year’s celebrations kicked off on Friday in the Serbian capital of Belgrade where, unlike elsewhere in Europe, mass gatherings were allowed despite fears of the rapidly spreading omicron variant.
Large crowds gathered in the city for outdoor concerts, fireworks and a light show in a new Dubai-style glass tower that has become a flagship project of the right-wing populist government of Serbia.
With its many nightclubs and bars and relatively low prices, Belgrade has become a major attraction for most young revelers from neighboring Balkan states. Serbian public television RTS reported that around 100,000 visitors have flocked to Belgrade for the holidays, filling the city’s hotels and rented apartments. The restaurants and bars are packed.
Deputy Mayor of Belgrade Goran Vesic said he was proud of the thousands of people taking to the streets on New Year’s Eve, saying the Serbian capital “tonight is the center of Europe”.
Serbian officials have ignored warnings from medical experts, who say the mass festivities should be suppressed as long as omicron travels the continent. Most European countries have imposed restrictions and banned New Year’s celebrations in an attempt to contain the virus that has fueled a record number of new infections.
Serbian epidemiologist Zoran Radovanovic, meanwhile, compared the state-sponsored rallies to “premeditated mass murder”. Radovanovic has predicted that Serbia will experience thousands of new COVID-19 infections after the holidays.
In an effort to allay concerns, Belgrade city authorities provided 50,000 face masks and had rapid virus test sites and disinfection tools at entrances to fenced areas for New Year’s concerts. COVID-19 vaccination passes required for bars and restaurants are not mandatory for outdoor events in Serbia.
“We are planning to walk around and attend the concert,” said Vesna Svilar, who lives in Denmark and has come to her homeland for the holidays. Svilar added that she was not afraid because “we have face masks, we are vaccinated”.
Others had no fear of being infected.
“Why should I be afraid? We have to live our life, ”said a Belgrade resident who gave only her first name, Zeljka. “I’m not even vaccinated, but I’m not thinking about (COVID-19) at all. People die everyday anyway.
Since the start of the pandemic, Serbia, a nation of about 7 million people, has recorded nearly 1.3 million cases and seen 12,714 people die from COVID-19. Currently, COVID-19 passes detailing a person’s immunization status are required in bars and restaurants, but only in the evening.
Follow all of AP’s stories about the pandemic at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic.
Darko Vojinovic, The Associated Press