Croatia sees record virus cases as tourism takes toll

Zagreb (AFP) –


Croatia recorded its highest number of daily coronavirus infections Wednesday as a tricky summer tourism season brings a resurgence of COVID-19 to the Adriatic country.

The nation of 4.2 million braved the first few months of the pandemic without strict lockdown measures, recording less than 100 cases daily for several months and then almost no new infections by mid-May.

But new cases have spiked since Croatia opened its borders to tourists for the summer season, hitting more than 200 daily in late August and a record 358 on Wednesday.

In recent days, countries like United Kingdom and Germany have imposed quarantines and other measures for travellers returning from parts of Croatia, while Italy blamed a new cluster of the virus on tourists coming back from the Balkan country.

The government said Wednesday it still hopes to tackle the crisis without curfews.

"The only option not to impose complete lockdown is to obey the rules and act responsibly," said Davor Bozinovic, head of the national COVID-19 response team.

Around a third of the new cases were detected along Croatia's southern coast, where the crystal clear waters of the Adriatic and idyllic islands are a huge tourist draw.

The government admits it has taken risks in an effort to save tourism, which accounts for a fifth of the economy.

"It was, let's be completely frank, a clear political goal of the Croatian government for the tourism season to be as good at it can be in these circumstances," Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic said last week.

In July, tourist arrivals were slightly under half of last year's figure, a rate officials hailed as "excellent" under the circumstances.

In total authorities have reported some 8,800 infections and 174 deaths from the respiratory disease since February.