BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — The head of the Serbian Orthodox Church Patriarch Porfirije has tested positive for COVID-19, the church said on Tuesday, amid a surge in infections in the country and elsewhere in the Balkan region.
Porfirije has developed “very mild symptoms of the virus infection” and remains in home isolation, said the statement. It added that Porfirije is carrying out administrative duties entirely without problems.
The 60-year-old patriarch became the head of the Serbian Orthodox Church after the previous patriarch, Irinej, died in November 2020 after contracting the coronavirus.
Porfirije on Sunday attended a mass ceremony in Republika Srpska, the Serb-run part of neighboring Bosnia, where few people wore face masks.
Serbia reported nearly 9,000 new infections on Monday in the country of 7 million people. The number of daily new cases has risen sharply after the New Year celebrations that included open-air concerts and relaxed anti-virus rules.
Experts say the current rise in cases is driven by the fast-spreading omicron variant of the coronavirus and is likely to worsen further. Epidemiologist Predrag Kon on Monday criticized the virus policies by the authorities.
“Everything that was organized should not have happened,” said Kon. “Belgrade exploded after New Year and now it’s spreading to the rest of Serbia.”
Serbia has recorded over 1.3 million cases of infection since the start of the pandemic while nearly 13,000 people have died of COVID-19.
Infections have been on the rise in neighboring Croatia where authorities further limited gatherings from Tuesday, widened the mandatory use of face masks and urged companies to organize home work when possible.
Croatia’s neighbor, Slovenia, has tightened entry rules while virus infections have been on the rise also in Bosnia and in Montenegro.