Beroš Denies Second Lockdown, Sidesteps Political Future

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Croatia's Health Minister talked coronavirus, waitings lists and his future in politics in an interview with Novi List.
Croatia's Health Minister talked coronavirus, waitings lists and his future in politics in an interview with Novi List.

July 12, 2020 — Croatia’s Health Minister Vili Beroš in a wide-ranging interview with Novi List discussed the country’s pandemic response, and the politics involved. 

How did you like this entry into politics?

Our entire list in the 10th constituency achieved a very good result. We won seven secure mandates, the eighth was close. What is most important to us is that the citizens of that part of our homeland recognized HDZ as the biggest guarantor of a more secure future for the country in the coming period and gave us the confidence to lead state policy and government.

Would the HDZ have had a much harder job without the coronavirus?

The coronavirus epidemic at one point almost paralyzed life in our country, as it did to a third of the world this winter and spring. We have dealt with it successfully so far, but we continue to fight the spread of the infection. Corona has changed the current way of life and behavior in public spaces, but also forced all of us to adapt to the new conditions. HDZ, like all parties, and all citizens, would live and work completely differently without the virus. Now that it’s here, we need to know how to deal with it.

Has HDZ politicized the fight against the corona epidemic to its advantage?

The coronavirus was dealt with by our health professionals, top experts in the field of epidemiology and infectology, not politicians. The Croatian government knew how to manage in these moments of crisis, and the Civil Protection Headquarters operationally managed daily activities. The profession defined the answer, and politics recognized it.

What do you think about the opposition’s claims that the HDZ endangered the lives of citizens by holding elections in the middle of the corona epidemic?

The opposition called for elections a year ago, and could hardly wait for them to take place. When they were announced, well, then it wasn’t good again. Epidemiologists have estimated that this summer period is the most favorable from a health point of view as a time when elections with the least risk could be organized. The opposition also voted in favor of dissolving Parliament and holding elections. We see that the pre-election activities and the elections themselves did not significantly affect the epidemiological situation in the country.

What might the epidemiological situation look like in the fall and is a new lock-down possible?

We can only hope that autumn will be epidemiologically better than this spring. No one can say for sure, but our experience so far shows we know that a lot depends on the behavior of each of us. By adhering to self-protection measures, avoiding direct physical contact with strangers, maintaining distance, hygienic measures of persons and space, wearing protective masks in public transport, all this can reduce the risks of transmitting the infection. There should not and should not be a new lock-down, because no country’s economy can survive for a long time, but if outbreaks appear, we could successfully localize them.

The possibility of banning gatherings indoors for more than 100 people is mentioned. Have you considered introducing a spatial norm per person instead, as some other countries have done? This would, in fact, continue life and business activities.

Our epidemiological experts and the Insitute of Public Health monitor the situation on a daily basis and recommend measures aimed at protecting human health, and yet enable, as much as possible in the new circumstances, to maintain the life and work activities of the population. It is not easy to balance it. But all of this cannot have the right result if each of us and all of us together do not adhere to the rules of conduct by which we protect ourselves and others. I would like to remind you that in the first months of the epidemic, our citizens contributed to great results with their responsible behavior, among the best of all countries. Encouraged by this, however, we all relaxed a little more than the situation allowed, so the virus began to spread again and the number of infected and sick increased. So, let’s go back to the kind of behavior that guarantees us a more or less favorable situation so that we can live and work.

Compared to other countries, cancer is detected relatively late in Croatia, and mortality is high above the EU average. When will you adopt the National Cancer Program?

Adoption of the National Strategic Framework against Cancer 2020-2030 will include comprehensive monitoring, prevention and treatment of malignant diseases and will be improved with the inclusion and integration of tertiary prevention measures and optimization of health care for oncology patients. We expect the adoption of this document as soon as possible. Through the Action Plans, detailed action plans will be developed on a two-year basis, which includes the elaboration of needs for the procurement of diagnostic equipment. The strategic goal of this document is aimed at improving the health of citizens throughout life, reducing the incidence and mortality of cancer and prolonging and increasing the quality of life of cancer patients in the Republic of Croatia to the level of Western European countries.

Your predecessor, Milan Kujundžić, is reproached for not reducing the waiting lists, which have now been increased even more due to COVID-19. How to solve this problem, especially considering the fact that the virus will not disappear in the near future?

The waiting list has been pushed into the background by the epidemic and the situation in the health care system. We are now returning to that problem and are already working intensively on it. It is certain that they can be shortened. We include all available facilities to enable patients to access the necessary diagnostic examinations and medical services as soon as possible. We will also establish a permanent system of informing patients and the public about the results we will achieve.

The total debt in health care is now higher than 8.5 billion kuna. And on the other hand the budget is filling slowly due to the consequences of the epidemic. When and how will you start repaying that debt and how to curb rising costs?

The amount you mention is the total debt, but the overdue is much smaller. But in any case, it is burdensome for the health care system. It piled up for years, but it was up to us to deal with it. First of all, it is important to enable the regular operation of hospitals and health care institutions and the supply of medicines, and then to create systematic preconditions for reducing debts and turning the health care system into a self-sustainable one. I have no illusions that this is easily achievable in a short time, but I am determined to start taking steps to address them. Any positive shift for me will be encouraging.

The HDZ election program states that three billion kuna will be invested in the modernization of the health care system. How realistic is this given the economic consequences of the corona epidemic?

Yes, in our election program it is planned to invest three billion kuna in the next mandate in public health. So far, we have kept our promises. I believe that, despite the corona crisis and its impact on economic developments in us and in the world, we will adapt our economy to the new conditions and raise our business efficiency. The health of the nation is important, we have the consent of all that was best seen during the epidemic, and that is why I believe that we will find ways for new investments to enter health care.

In this regard, is the construction of the National Children’s Hospital in Zagreb and the revitalization of the Institute of Immunology realistic, which is also promised in the program?

The National Children’s Hospital is one of the priorities that we will certainly address in our mandate. The earthquake in Zagreb in March only exacerbated the need to build new hospital facilities in the Croatian capital. We did not sit idly by. We have been intensively looking for solutions, not only for the children’s hospital, and I believe that by the end of this year we will be able to say when the implementation of these projects will begin, including the revitalization of the Institute of Immunology. I am not talking about wishes, but about real and probable financial sources that do not rely on the state budget.

After the situation with the coronavirus is stabilized, the internal party elections in the HDZ will continue. Will you run for a party position?

We recently had internal party elections. It will continue as soon as conditions are created and at lower levels. Honestly, I’m not thinking about it now, because the situation with the coronavirus and all the open issues of public health in Croatia require the full engagement of me and my associates.

The election victory of the HDZ is not a surprise, but such a big difference between the HDZ and the SDP is. Why did it turn out in the end that the HDZ won as many as 25 more seats?

The highly personalized campaign that came to the fore in the confrontation between Andrej Plenković and Davor Bernardić was crucial. In addition, the results of this Government in the previous term, as well as the program we presented, were a clear sign to the citizens to whom to give their faith.

The HDZ majority in parliament is only 76 seats. Is post-election cooperation with the Homeland Movement and Most possible in order to increase that majority?

HDZ can talk to everyone who has the mandate of Croatian voters and a similar political program, out of respect for them and for the voters. Our goal is to reduce divisions and tensions in Croatian society. It would be good if others would expand the margin for conversation and even communication technologies a bit. Tensions should be calmed and constructive talks should be held.

After this experience, are you thinking about continuing to take politics seriously, in the sense that one day you will take over a department that would have nothing to do with health?

I entered active politics as an assistant minister of health, and then at the beginning of the year I took over the duty of the minister of health. The decision on changing the direction or action is made by the party president Andrej Plenković.

In the political corridors, the possibility is mentioned that you could be the HDZ candidate for mayor of Zagreb in the local elections in May 2021. Is there such a possibility?

In politics, as in life, one should go step by step. Last week, we finished the parliamentary elections, the constitution of the Parliament is coming, and then the new government. When the time comes for local elections, then we will talk about it. The decision on the possibilities of candidacy will be made by the party president and party bodies, but I am sure after the election success that the HDZ candidate for mayor of Zagreb will also be the winner.


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