The two months of the state of emergency for us, the ambassadors, were a period of intensive work, especially in certain moments and cases

The state of emergency in the Republic of Bulgaria, which was introduced on the 13th of March 2020 by a decision of the National Assembly for a month and then extended for another month as a measure to limit the spread of COVID-19 in the country, ended on the 13th of May. We are talking to H. E. Dr. Ahmed Al Madbuh, Dean of the Diplomatic Corps in our country, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the State of Palestine about how it affected the diplomatic life in our country, how the ambassadors worked during that period and how the world will come out from the pandemic.

- Your Excellency, the COVID-19 pandemic has engulfed and blocked the lives of many around the world. How did it affect diplomacy and diplomatic life in our country?

- COVID-19 affected diplomacy, as it affected all spheres of life around the world, including Bulgaria. Of course the restriction of movement and direct contacts affected diplomatic work. But we, in the embassies, continued to work every day - part of the staff online from home, like many international institutions have done. In the WhatsApp system, we have a group that unites almost all ambassadors accredited to the Republic of Bulgaria, in which we exchange information related to COVID -19. We have another group, which includes a representative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in which all issues related to our direct diplomatic work are discussed, as well as, those on the spread of corona virus in the country.

Here I would like to express our deep gratitude to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Bulgaria for joining the group. It allowed rapid operational contacts leading to quick solutions on a number of issues faced by the embassies, such as the departure of the citizens blocked in Bulgaria and the resolution of problems related to the entry and exit of trucks to and from Bulgaria.

- The state of emergency in Bulgaria ends on the 13th of May. How did your fellow ambassadors live and work during the two-month period?

- We followed the instructions of the National Operational Headquarters. We reduced our contacts to phone conversations and virtual communication. There were several online events and conferences we participated in.

In fact, during these two months those ambassadors who had tourists and citizens of their countries in Bulgaria, as well as the ambassadors of Bulgaria's neighbouring countries, who had to solve a lot of issues with the entry and exit of citizens travelling between countries, worked quite intensively. In short, this was not and is not a period of inactivity at all, but of intensive work, especially in certain moments and cases. The ambassadors worked when the majority of the citizens were at home.

As Ambassador of the State of Palestine - like all Palestinian ambassadors around the world - I have been given the task to monitor whether the pandemic affects our compatriots living in the country concerned and to assist families and people in need who have lost their jobs during the state of emergency.

- Are there any cases of COVID-19 among the diplomats in our country?

- There was only one case of an infected diplomat, deputy head of mission that we know of. He was abroad and on his return here it was established that he was ill. And he is now completely healed.

- During these spring months - March, April and May, the diplomatic missions had many events planned. How will their program be rearranged? 

- In fact, the celebrations of the national holidays, which had to take place during these two or three months, can hardly be compensated. There were a number of other events planned that also could not take place. For example, the Day of Palestinian Culture passed for us, the Earth Day, for which we invite celebrities from Palestine, and in a few days – on 15th of May, the 72nd anniversary of the Palestinian catastrophe Al-Nakba is about to come.

If we look more generally at the events of the diplomatic corps, we traditionally hold the so-called Asian Festival at the end of May - beginning of June. For now, it has been postponed to September, although it is difficult to predict whether it can be held even then.

- Were there any actions taken by the embassies to limit the spread of the infection in our country? 

- A number of embassies have supported the process of combating the pandemic by making donations, mostly in support of the diagnostic activity.

What the embassies did to limit the pandemic was that they transferred their work to the so-called Home Office. As local staff travel by public transport, they did so in order not to contribute to the spread of the virus. In addition, the number of staff in embassies on a daily basis was reduced and strict sanitary requirements for entry into the workplace were introduced.

- What is the situation with COVID-19 in the State of Palestine, whose Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to Bulgaria are you?

- The Palestinian president was the second after his Chinese counterpart to declare a state of emergency in his country. This happened on the 5th of March. Therefore, we were able to control the situation and keep the spread of the virus low. Up to date /May 11th/ we have 547 cases of corona virus; 2 patients have passed away and 263 have recovered. The rest are still being treated. And despite the low spread of the virus, the Palestinian president has extended the state of emergency for another month - until the 5th of June, for now.

We had a problem with the Palestinian workers moving between Palestine and Israel. Since we have no control over the borders, there was no way to control these people and to check their current health. So the majority of the cases diagnosed with COVID-19 in our country were Palestinian citizens working in Israel.

- And what is the situation in the other Arab countries?

- In Arab countries, the spread of the disease is much lower than in Europe and elsewhere in the world, even compared to Israel. Given that the Palestinian territories - the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem - are approximately the size of Israel, we have 547 cases of corona virus, and in Israel, they are over 16,000. The difference is more than 30 times and this should provoke interest in the international medical community to research the case. It has been observed by some virologists that the DNA of some races has better resistance to the virus than that of others. This can be a factor. Immunization of the population with BCG and smallpox vaccines may also be a factor. People who are vaccinated with them are more resistant to the virus. So far, this is just guessing. There is still no conclusive scientific evidence. Moreover, in immunology, it is believed that 16 years must have elapsed since the creation of a vaccine, its study and constant monitoring in order to prove and come up with a definite opinion that it is effective and safe for humans. And what scientists around the world are currently trying to do is shorten that period to 16 months.

- People started talking about COVID Style. We need to get used to living with the virus.

 - In its history, humanity has experienced other pandemics too. There have been plague epidemics, Spanish flu and others. And now with this COVID-19 there will certainly be a period in which people will continue to be afraid, will wear masks, will be cautious when socialising. But then they will return to normal life. I am one hundred per cent convinced of that.

 - In your opinion will the world come out smarter, more peaceful and humbler from the corona virus pandemic?

- I hope. Unfortunately, however, looking at the different reactions of individual countries, it seems to me that the heralds of war are more than the heralds of peace. The US administration continues to pursue its course of terrorizing states. There are open threats against China at a time when all efforts should be united to overcome this pandemic. The United States even left and boycotted the World Health Organization. Israel is also not pursuing a course of peace, on the contrary, it is openly seeking expansion and annexation of the Occupied Palestinian Territories from the West Bank, along the Jordan River.

- At the time of the pandemic, we almost stopped talking about the big problems of the world today - the emigrants, the conflicts...

- Yes, your observation is correct. Everyone talks only about COVID-19, even at certain moments there is an exaggeration, hypertrophy in talking about the pandemic. In previous epidemics of influenza and corona viruses, many more people died, but they passed without a state of emergency around the world.

- Is there anything from the old life you miss now, in the state of emergency?

- The old life. During the life before the pandemic, in addition to my work in the office, there was a lot of movement, trips, meetings with people. Now everything is done via the Internet. And this, of course, does not have the same effect as the face-to-face meetings. The feeling of talking to someone in person is very different from talking to someone online.

And now, this month, I miss the iftars that are performed during the Holy Month of Ramadan. Traditionally, the first iftar is hosted by the President of the Republic of Bulgaria, followed by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Mufti, then me and the ambassadors of the Arab and Islamic countries.

- What would you wish to your colleagues and friends?

- I wish everyone this period to pass and life to return to normal. However, we are obliged to follow the instructions of the medical authorities, which take care to limit the possibilities for the spread of COVID-19. I wish them good health and constant strive for a bright future.

The photo was provided by the Embassy of the State of Palestine in the Republic of Bulgaria.