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Medical staff evacuate a maternity hospital in Zagreb after the earthquake Medical staff evacuate a maternity hospital in Zagreb after the earthquake  (AFP or licensors)

Pope close to Croatians battling quake amid coronavirus outbreak

Pope Francis has expressed closeness to the people of Croatia, affected by an earthquake. Speaking during the Angelus onn Sunday he said "May the Lord give them the strength and solidarity to face this calamity.” The quake caused much damage and injured at least 27 people adding to hardship due to a partial coronavirus lockdown of the country.

By Stefan J. Bos

The clean up has begun in Zagreb's iconic cathedral. It's among several historic buildings that were damaged by a 5.5 magnitude earthquake on Sunday. But the partial damage to the basilica comes as a shock for this heavily Catholic nation. Also, Croatia's government says 250 houses have been damaged, and some 60 people had to be housed in temporary shelters following the initial Sunday quake.

Residents have told Vatican News how they felt the Croatian capital shaking during the earthquake. They called it the worst quake in some 140 years after seeing the destruction of the center of Zagreb.

Interior Minister Davor Bozinovic said that so far, dozens of people, including children, were injured, many of them seriously. And there was more bad news. Seismologists said Monday at least 38 weaker tremors were felt in Zagreb since the quake struck the capital early Sunday, triggering panic and the evacuation of hospitals.

The strongest aftershock measuring 3.7 sent some people rushing out of their homes into public parks. They did so despite warnings from authorities against large gatherings in public areas to avoid the spread of the new coronavirus known as COVID-19.

Restrictive measures

The interior minister also announced new restrictive measures intended to combat the spread of the virus. They include a ban on people leaving their homes except to buy food and medicine, seeking medical attention, or going to work.

And at the international airport in Zagreb, Vatican News witnessed how people were ordered by security to stay at a distance of two meters from each other. Taxi drivers are checked by police to ensure they carry passengers only on back seats.    

The coronavirus measures have also impacted local entrepreneurs in Croatia, which is still facing economic difficulties following its war for independence in the 1990s. Barbershops, for instance, were closed. There were just over 300 confirmed new coronavirus cases in the Balkan nation by Monday morning.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever or coughing. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.

In the words of the Interior Minister, Croatia is fighting "two crises," at the same time. "One is against the coronavirus. And the other is against the consequences of the earthquake."

 

23 March 2020, 17:40