Minister Coric and UGP’s Orescanin Clash on COVID-19 Measures on ‘Otvoreno’

Lauren Simmonds

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As tportal writes, will prolonged closures of restaurants, cafes and other such facilities lead businesses and their workers to total ruin? While the general level of extreme dissatisfaction is only growing stronger, the government says Croatia has milder epidemiological measures than other EU member states. How effective are the existing economic measures: fixed cost compensation, money to maintain jobs, the so-called packages of COVID credit/loans? Should things be opened up?

Attempts to open a gym in Zagreb this Monday ended in a way that prevented it entirely. The show “Otvoreno” saw the issue of closed gyms and cafes etc dragged up in full force, as well as the fact that these economic entities are not covered by the latest easing of anti-epidemic measures.

”What happened is a crime and the use of a repressive apparatus against people who are just trying to do their jobs. The claim that the gym owner violated the law isn’t true, he violated the decree passed by the National Civil Protection Headquarters and in no way can it be proven that the work of fitness centres and gyms are the cause of the spread of the virus. He was taken to prison without any background checks done, all just because he wanted to work. Davor Bozinovic and Krunoslav Capak assumed without any evidence that the virus is spreading in gyms, which apparently doesn’t spread elsewhere,” said the executive director of the Voice of Entrepreneurs Association (UGP), Drazen Orescanin at the show’s beginning, adding that a mere 0.5 percent of the total number of cases can be linked with gyms, and a total of two percent with catering and hospitality facilities, which are of course also closed currently.

The Minister of Economy and Sustainable Development, Tomislav Coric, often replied to the above comments, and during his responses, Orescanin laughed at his statements, also laughing at his mask with his initials (tć) on them.

”I don’t believe any information that will be presented by either Bujas or Orescanin. We’re talking about people who have taken advantage of this situation for their political engagement. Neither of them is responsible for what they do, neither of them is a caterer or hospitality worker, but yet they’re calling for the rebellion of all responsible citizens and business owners who have abided by the law. Those who didn’t do so should be sanctioned for not doing so. You can laugh as much as you want, you hide behind other people, you incite them and put everyone in a situation where Croatia as a society is wondering whether it should be responsible or listen to people like you. That won’t work out very well for you,” Coric said to Orescanin.

Mladen Vedris, a professor at the Department of Economic Policy at the Faculty of Law in Zagreb, said that Croatia reacted well in the first phase of the pandemic back at the beginning of 2020, but he was not sure that this was the case now.

”There are fixed costs, loans, company-level liabilities. It’s precious that we work to preserve companies, the potential that represents the wealth of Croatia, we quite simply cannot talk about them as if they’re a burden. How do we find the right measure? It’s something that needs to be answered, and that needs to be discussed by the people on this show,” he said.

The President of the Croatian Chamber of Commerce (HGK), Luka Burilovic, pointed out that it is difficult for caterers and hospitality sector workers, but there are also traffic, creative industries and tourism to think of: ”Let’s remember that a lot of things were opened up back in November, when many other countries had closed facilites down. Then, we had questions going around about what we were waiting for, why were we not closing things, do we think we’re just an island of our own, etc. We introduced one lockdown of sorts, we’re one of the most liberal countries in Europe,”

”For entrepreneurs and business owners, whatever compensatory measures are adopted will not be good enough because the best measure for these companies is the ability to work freely, and everything else is against the very nature of entrepreneurship,” said the director general of the Croatian Employers’ Association Damir Zoric, adding that this key need has now been taken away.

Dragutin Ranogajec spoke on behalf of the Croatian Chamber of Trades and Crafts and said that Croatian producers are very much tied to the catering and hospitality industry and added: ”They don’t say that they will die of hunger, only the caterers and hospitality workers say that they’re going to die of hunger. I know it’s hard, I’d also prefer to earn 15 thousand kuna than to receive 4 thousand kuna from the state. But at the moment it’s the only way to keep jobs and somehow survive all this.”

Minister Tomislav Coric reiterated that any gathering of people without masks is a potential hotbed for the spread of the novel coronavirus, responding to the statement made by Branko Nadjvinski that, for example, on Jarun in Zagreb there are places where people are gathering to buy coffee “to go”. However, Coric said that there is a difference between such a gathering and the classic gathering to drink multiple coffees in cafes.

”In all those places where coffee sales still take place today you have a situation where people stand in line and then they leave that line. The terraces of the cafes are closed or semi-closed, the moment they buy coffee, they should all go somewhere else. How will this be controlled? How are we going to get into a situation where we can have a coffee and chat a bit with some with friends and not have that same terrace turn into a new coronavirus hotbed?”

Orescanin replied in a sarcastic tone: ”People are still sitting on these terraces, they’re in shopping centres for hours, they’re at work for hours, they’re grouped together for hours working in factories, they go to school, they ride buses and trains for hours. But oh no, they can’t have coffee in a cafe,”

There’s been talk circulating of a possible new concession on February the 15th and the possible opening of, for example, the terraces of cafes and the already mentioned gyms.

”Look, I’m an optimist, in all the proposals that the Croatian Chamber of Commerce communicated with the government about the opening or closing of anything, they let us know that the measures will be a refund of funds for as long as the economy is closed down. I believe that “coffee to go” will be available on February the 15th, and I’d call it “Coffee to stay” because no one goes anywhere when they get the coffee, I believe that gyms will open,” Burilovic stated.

Coric added that the worst-case scenario for Croatia would be to relax everything now, and that in a month before Easter, when the first significant groups of tourists arrive, our numbers will explode once again and we will have to go into a new lockdown. That is simply not an option, he pointed out.

At the end of the show, Luka Burilovic confirmed that he has a salary of 23,000 kuna for his work at the Croatian Chamber of Commerce. In addition, he receives remuneration as a member of the supervisory boards of INA and Podravka and funds as a member of the management board of the Fund for Environmental Protection and Energy Efficiency. The total amount of his income is about 55,000 kuna per month, something that is unimaginable to just about everyone in Croatia, let alone those who have now lost their jobs.

The Voice of Entrepreneurs Association (UGP) has called for a protest on Ban Jelacic square in Zagreb tomorrow at 10:00.

You can follow the UGP developments in the dedicated TCN section


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