In the spirit of solidarity, and despite being also heavily impacted by COVID-19 back at home, Switzerland lent a helping hand to North Macedonia to support the country in its response to the COVID-19 pandemic. As a reliable partner to North Macedonia for over 25 years, with a unique insight into the context and a broad network of partners, Switzerland was well prepared to support rapidly and effectively the country in its immediate response to the crisis while staying true to the longer term objectives of the Swiss development program.
“Switzerland is the largest bilateral cooperation partner of North Macedonia. We base our long-term cooperation with the country on solidarity and responsibility - key Swiss values. Mutual support is needed more than ever during the crisis caused by the pandemic”, says Ambassador Sybille Suter.
Since March, when the first measures to contain COVID-19 were enacted, Switzerland worked closely with the Government of the Republic of North Macedonia, various institutions, the civil society and the private sector to identify priority areas where Switzerland could make a positive difference for the citizens in face of the unique challenges brought by the crisis.
The most visible Swiss response to the crisis was the support to establish the COVID-19 emergency hospital in Skopje. At the very outbreak of the pandemic in the country, Switzerland in cooperation with the Ministry of Local-Self Government identified ways to assist the Ministry of Health to equip the emergency hospital with prefabricated modular units through the Swiss project “Sustainable and inclusive balanced regional development”. The units were installed and transformed into offices for the medical staff, toilets, and rooms for the patients, making the emergency hospital fully functional. Once the COVID-19 crisis will be over, the modular units will be transferred to some of the least developed regions in the country in order to enhance health facilities in rural areas, in line with the initial goal of the project.
However, there have been many other Swiss-supported actions that have made a difference on the ground. Most of the actions focused on reducing the impact of the crisis on some of the most vulnerable in the society, true to the motto of “No One Left Behind”. The Swiss-supported “Community Works” program in partnership with 27 municipalities engaged almost 200 unemployed persons to provide daily assistance to more than 1500 disabled people and elderly who remained self-isolated at home due to the coronavirus. The UN Women implemented project “Promoting Gender-responsive Policies and Budgets”, in cooperation with the Ministry of Labor and Social Policy, distributed food and hygienic supplies to over 360 single-parent families, beneficiaries of guaranteed minimum income, and registered survivors of domestic violence. Civil society organizations were supported with ad-hoc grants through the Swiss “Civica Mobilitas” program. As the education process was halted in early March, the Swiss-supported project “TV Classroom” helped ensure some continuity to the educational process by providing pre-school children and primary school students with regular teaching classes broadcasted on the National Radio-Television MRT. As tourism was among the most severely affected sectors, the Swiss Increasing Market Employability (IME) program supported the Agency for the Promotion and Support of Tourism to develop a campaign to animate domestic tourists to spend their holidays in North Macedonia during the upcoming summer and autumn season. Leveraging the potential of digital solutions, the Swiss Entrepreneurship Programme continued to support the local start-up community by providing many free webinars as well as linking IT start-ups with traditional companies in order to help them accelerate digitalization and overcome the Covid-19-imposed hurdles to their operations.
Everywhere around the world, the full extent of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is yet to come. “Switzerland will closely follow the situation in North Macedonia, and we will continue to support our partners in dealing with the newly emerged challenges, by adapting the Swiss-supported projects where necessary while not losing sight of the long term development needs of the country,” says Ambassador Suter.