Serbian officials scrapped plans to implement a curfew in Belgrade and instead banned gatherings of more than 10 people on Thursday after two nights of violent protests in the city capital.
The government recorded some 300 new coronavirus infections a day in recent weeks, spiking the total number of positive cases of COVID-19 to 17,342 and climbing. In addition, 352 people have died of the virus.
President Aleksandar Vucic announced plans earlier this week for further lockdown measures and a potential weekend curfew to quell the spread of the virus, particularly in Belgrade, where 80 percent of the news cases originated.
Officials backpedaled on the decision, however, after days of violent clashes between protesters and police, where demonstrators threw rocks at special forces officers, who used tear gas, armored vehicles and horses to disperse them.
Dozens of protesters and at least 118 police officers were injured. At least 153 protesters were detained, Serbian Police Chief Vladimir Rebic said, condemning the violence.
“The health system in Belgrade is close to breaking up,” Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic said. “That is why I can’t understand what we saw last night and the night before.”
Protesters have accused the president of underreporting deaths during the pandemic and lifting lockdown measures prematurely in May ahead of the June elections, which his party won by a landslide.
Still, the new measures toward combatting coronavirus will likely do little to prevent another bout of protests, where demonstrators lacked face masks and were not abiding by social distancing rules.
The government has also mandated that businesses such as cafes, shopping malls and stores close earlier than usual.