Serbians queue to get COVID-19 vaccine and with it a shopping voucher

·2 min read

BELGRADE (Reuters) - Dozens of people gathered at a major mall in Belgrade on Thursday hoping to be among the first to get a COVID-19 vaccine and with it a shopping voucher, in the latest initiative by authorities to encourage more Serbians to get inoculated.

Since last December, Serbia has vaccinated 29.81% of its population of around 7 million with at least one dose.

The government now wants to accelerate the programme, including drop-in vaccination centres and facilities in shopping malls.

"People should be responsible ... and seize the opportunity (to have a vaccine) ... as we reach out to them," said doctor Zoran Vekic, who coordinated Thursday's event.

In the Usce shopping mall, people crowded to get their shot and be among the first 100 to receive a voucher worth 3,000 dinars ($30.74) from the mall's management and retailers.

"This is actually ingenious, as it motivates people so well," said Nikolina, a woman in her 30s.

To speed up vaccinations, President Aleksandar Vucic on Wednesday also said he had asked the government to make a separate one-time payment to everyone older than 16 who receives one or both shots by May 31.

COVID-19 infections have gradually declined in recent weeks to a daily total of around 1,200, and the government is keen to bring them down further to allow it to open up the economy further.

Restaurants, cafes, bars and clubs are restricted to serving outdoors only, but markets and shops are open and there are no restrictions for travelling inside the country.

Serbia last month increased its 2021 budget deficit to 6.9% of economic output, up from 3%, to mitigate the effects of COVID-19, including payments and subsidies to citizens, pensioners, and businesses.

Belgrade has also secured a steady supply of vaccines since December, allowing people to pick between four manufacturers; Pfizer/BioNtech, China's Sinopharm, AstraZeneca/Oxford and Russia's Sputnik V.

COVID-19 has killed 6,478 people in Serbia and 695,875 were infected.

($1 = 97.5800 Serbian dinars)

(Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by Mike Collett-White)