BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) – Patriarch Porfirije, head of the Serbian Orthodox Church, 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 viral infection” and remains in home isolation, the statement said. He added that Porfirije carries out his administrative duties without any problem.

The 60-year-old patriarch became the head of the Serbian Orthodox Church after the death of the previous patriarch, Irinej, in November 2020 after contracting the coronavirus.

Porfirije attended a mass ceremony on Sunday in Republika Srpska, the Serb-ruled part of neighboring Bosnia, where few people wore face masks.

Serbia on Monday reported nearly 9,000 new infections in the country of 7 million people. The number of new daily cases rose sharply after the New Year celebrations which included outdoor concerts and relaxed anti-virus rules.

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Experts say the current increase in cases is due to the rapidly spreading omicron variant of the coronavirus and is likely to get even worse. Epidemiologist Predrag Kon criticized the authorities’ virus policy on Monday.

“Everything that was organized shouldn’t have happened,” Kon said. “Belgrade exploded after the New Year and now it is spreading to the rest of Serbia. “

Serbia has recorded more than 1.3 million cases of infection since the start of the pandemic while nearly 13,000 people have died from COVID-19.

Infections are on the rise in neighboring Croatia, where authorities have further restricted gatherings from Tuesday, expanded mandatory use of face masks and urged businesses to organize work from home where possible.

Croatia reported nearly 8,000 new cases on Tuesday in the past 24 hours, while authorities said 38 people have died, bringing the country’s COVID-19 death toll to nearly 13,000.

Croatia’s neighbor Slovenia reported 5,164 new cases of the coronavirus on Tuesday, which, according to the state-run STA news agency, is the highest daily tally since the start of the pandemic. Slovenia has tightened entry and other rules in the face of the omicron wave.

In Bosnia, authorities in one part of the country said they saw a 98% increase in infections over the past week, which has led to tougher rules on gatherings and testing. Officials said other limitations are possible.

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