Albania's 29 new coronavirus cases mark highest daily surge

By Benet Koleka
Medical staff member, wearing protective suit, gestures at Tirana International Airport

By Benet Koleka

TIRANA (Reuters) - Albania reported 29 new cases of the coronavirus on Saturday, the highest daily number in a single day, as 2.8 million Albanians started a third 40-hour lockdown to break the contagion's chain.

The country now has a total of 333 cases and 18 deaths related to COVID-19.

As the map of infections widened, pictures of people milling around in an outdoor market ahead of the 1 p.m. lockdown prompted the government to impose stricter rules.

Albania has limited shopping to one person per family for one hour after getting permission online and until the end of the the outbreak will shut down any activity, its borders and transport except for goods in the eight-hour daily window.

The coronavirus epidemic follows an earthquake last November that killed 51 people and left 17,000 homeless and Prime Minister Edi Rama's government is applying strict distancing measures to prevent overburdening its health system.

"Unfortunately, many of you might think we have won this war by comparing Albania's figures with those of other countries, but we have not, the contrary is true," Health Minister Ogerta Manastirliu said in a televised address.

From Monday, police and the army will enforce a cordon in the outdoor food markets, disinfect people and force them to stay two metres (yards) apart, she added.

Prime Minister Edi Rama said they were considering extending the eight-hour daily window of limited movement and travel on business days but would make life "hell" for those who flaunted rules.

"Our capital and three main cities could become our Waterloo if we do not tighten the chain of defence," Rama said.


(Reporting by Benet Koleka; Editing by Angus MacSwan)