STA, 13 October 2020 - The parliamentary Labour Committee prepared the fifth stimulus package bill for passage late on Monday. A few changes were made compared to the original proposal but the main tenets of the bill remain unchanged.
The bill extends the furlough scheme and the state will continue to cover the sick pay for quarantined workers, even when they are on sick leave because their children are in quarantine.
Sole proprietors and micro companies will once again be eligible for monthly income support, just like during the epidemic.
New bonuses will be introduced for workers in healthcare and social security. Those working directly with patients in grey and red zones, respectively for those with confirmed or suspected infections, will get 30% bonuses, and those assigned to new posts will get 20% higher pay. The opposition tried to increase these bonuses but was unsuccessful.
Several measures are planned to help prepare healthcare and social security institutions for a second wave of infections. One of them is the creation of a task force that will advise the institutes in case of infections.
The state will finance the purchase of protective and other equipment needed to curb the spread of Covid-19 in these institutions and also cover the loss of revenue if they are not able to implement all of their regular programmes.
The coalition fully adhered to the opposition calls for scrapping the transitional period for restrictions for doctors working both in public health and for private practitioners. Thus, doctors working in public institutions will be allowed to work for no more than eight hours a week in private practices as of 1 January 2021.
The committee also scrapped the provisions regarding obtaining and processing of personal data from the different databases of the Health Ministry and the National Institute for Public Health.
The opposition, however, failed with its calls to scrap provision allowing the government to restrict the gatherings of people not just in public but also in private spaces.
The coalition argued that the spread of the virus was not confined to public spaces. Several inspectorates will monitor the implementation of the measure, while police and security guards will get more powers.
To reduce the workload of GPs, the bill initially envisaged the option of sick leave of up to three days without a visit to the doctor, but the legal counsellor of the National Assembly opposed this. She argued that employees themselves could not set diagnoses, only doctors could.
The bill also introduces free flu vaccine for all citizens with health insurance.
To cut waiting times, the bill introduces a national call for applications enabling both public and private health providers to provide services financed from public funds.
The opposition sees this as a concealed attempt at privatising healthcare, but the coalition argued the main goal was to provide patients with fast access to medical services. The parliament's legal department finds the call controversial, and a step away from the public health service, which would be unconstitutional.
The opposition also objected to the proposal that only two labs in the country would be allowed to conduct microbiological coronavirus tests, saying this was creating a monopoly.
The government also heard criticism that the bill contained quite a few provisions that have nothing to do with coronavirus. One of them is the annulment of the single price for books act. According to a Culture Ministry official, this is to help publishers.
The opposition's proposal to scrap the provision failed, but opposition MPs did manage to water down the measure: it will be temporary and apply only until the end of April 2022.
Other measures from the bill are aimed at helping education, agriculture, infrastructure and prisons.
The state will finance the purchase of protective equipment for companies, educational and science institutions, while the self-employed who are unable to do their work during quarantine will be partly reimbursed for the loss of income.
The coalition also proposed a six-month extension of the guarantee scheme for liquidity loans to companies, i.e. until the end of June 2021.
Bus operators which were unable to work during the epidemic will be compensated by the state, while those offering public transport services will receive subsidies for the purchase of protective equipment.
The fifth stimulus bill also creates the legal framework for a new contact tracing app for mobile devices, which will also give recommendations to users on how to prevent the spread of the virus.