Sun, 05 Jul 2020

Dashboard: Coronavirus in Eurasia - May 25-31

Eurasianet
01 Jun 2020, 21:49 GMT+10

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Our latest

Kyrgyzstan: President pleads for sovereign debt restructuring

Debt has risen to $4.6 billion this year.

Tajikistan: Coronavirus panic puts sufferers of other illnesses in grave danger

With supply chains disrupted, patients with chronic needs are unable to find key medicines.

Parents struggle to reach newborn surrogates in Georgia

Dozens of babies are marooned in hospitals, their international parents unable to travel during the coronavirus crisis.

Georgia and Armenia bicker over pandemic response

Preoccupied as they are fighting the coronavirus, Armenia and Georgia have still found time to pick one of their classic fights about who is better at something.

Tajikistan strains credibility with apparent COVID-19 turnaround

Tajikistan is claiming major strides in containing its coronavirus outbreak. The figures may prompt some to cock an eyebrow, however.

Kyrgyzstan: Distance-learning exposes weaknesses of education system

Interest is waning in the state's distance-education offerings, which have struggled to reach poor, rural students.

Tajikistan sees unusual protests, authorities react with force

Chinese workers rallied with a demand to be allowed to travel home.

Georgia hopes to sell its pandemic response to tourists

The nation is working on a coronavirus-conscious tourism plan

ARMENIA

Restrictions

Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said late on May 28 that the country's rapidly increasing infection rate is serious and that he was closely monitoring the country's intensive care capacity, "where the situation is becoming more strained by the day," EVN quoted him as saying. Pashinyan did not rule out returning to mandatory lockdown, but suggested the government might first require masks outdoors. Infections have jumped since lockdown was lifted on May 4. Mindful of the caseload, a group of Armenian civil society organizations has called on the government to implement a strict, two-week lockdown. "Protecting the economy at the cost of spiking numbers of deaths is not acceptable as in this scenario neither people's lives, nor the economy will be saved," said their statement, epress.am reported on May 27. Three busloads of Armenian citizens were due to cross Georgian territory from Russia on May 28, Armenian public radio reported. Government inspectors have closed 87 restaurants for violating new health and hygiene regulations in the past week, OC Media reported on May 27. The inspectors report that kindergarten attendance is only around 8.3 percent. The chairman of the National Assembly, Ararat Mirzoyan, told parliament on May 26 that he will require any deputies not wearing masks to leave the room, reported Radio Azatuyun. Nationwide state of emergency through June 13. Schools closed. Shops and restaurants reopened on May 18. The prime minister enacted a host of new safety measures on May 24, ordering everyone to wear masks in all indoor and outdoor places, to wear masks in vehicles with more than two people including the driver, and to temporarily shut businesses that do not follow government guidelines, reported OC Media.

Health

Health Minister Arsen Torosyan said on May 25 that there are only 32 open ICU beds left in Armenia. Pashinyan came under withering criticism for appearing mask-less at a crowded banquet in Nagorno-Karabakh on May 21, shortly after instructing Armenians to take personal responsibility for stopping the spread of COVID-19. Torosyan expressed doubt about the veracity of Georgia's coronavirus statistics, Echo Kavkaza reported on May 22, adding that Armenia's testing regime is superior to Georgia's. The ministry apologized the next day. Armenia will begin producing its own COVID-19 tests next week, Radio Armenia reported on May 20. Currently, the country receives most of its tests from Russia and Japan. Torosyan said on May 18 that as infections rise, conspiracy theories are spreading. Rumors he cited include: "We will be fitted with microchips," "There is no such disease," "It is an international conspiracy," EVN reported. Torosyan warned people not to become complacent to the risks of COVID-19 and said his ministry would be obliged to report to law enforcement any media spreading such rumors.

Economy

The health minister estimates that the fight with COVID-19 will directly cost Armenia at least $300 million by the end of the year, Radio Armenia reported on May 21.

AZERBAIJAN

Restrictions

On May 29, the government extended border closures through June 15. Schools and most stores closed. Traffic between regions banned; parks closed. Borders closed. The government ended some lockdown measures on May 18, including the requirement that anyone wishing to go outside must first notify police. People over age 65 have been allowed outside their homes for the first time since March 24. Borders remain closed. Inter-city transportation and most large gatherings will remain banned. Restaurants will be allowed to reopen with a limited number of patrons. In anticipation of sun-seeking crowds, the head of the executive branch of Baku, Eldar Azizov, has suggested an electronic registration system for beachgoers. While beach administrator Amil Mammadov responded positively to the idea, Bakuvians reacted "mainly with irony," reported Jam News. While many quarantine measures within cities and on businesses have been lifted, travel to and from the cities of Baku, Sumgait, Ganja, Lankaran and the Absheron Peninsula remains prohibited through May 31.

Health

681 medical workers have been infected, the government said on May 22, or 18 percent of total cases.

Economy

Azerbaijan's economy has taken a "double hit" under the epidemic, as tourism and service revenues tank alongside oil prices, reported OC Media in a May 26 feature on the country's economic malaise.

Customs revenues fell 5.6 percent in April compared to April 2019, Turan reported on May 12.

GEORGIA

Restrictions

Public transportation resumed on May 29, OC Media reported, with passengers required to wear face masks. Windows must remain open. Intercity transport is scheduled to resume on June 8. The state of emergency ended on May 22. The government published a revised list of lockdown measures that will remain in place until July 15. Restrictions remain on international flights, public transport, public gatherings, schools, shopping centers and bars and restaurants. Georgian troops are no longer confined to their barracks, the Defense Ministry said on May 25. The measure was put in place on March 21.

Parliament passed a bill on May 21 giving the government the power to introduce new restrictions intended to fight COVID-19 without parliamentary approval. The opposition abstained, arguing that the bill gives the government unconstitutional privileges. The ruling party countered by pointing out that the bill only provides for temporary measures during the pandemic, reported Agenda.ge.

Health

Turkey is allowing Georgians with non-COVID-19 related health issues to seek treatment at Turkish hospitals, reported InterpressNews on May 21.

In Georgia, as elsewhere, national restrictions on travel put in place to fight the coronavirus have had the positive side-effect of easing air pollution, Agenda.ge reported on May 20. Georgia's National Environmental Agency reported lower levels of nitrogen dioxide in both Tbilisi and nation-wide.

Economy

Georgia's economy contracted 16.6 percent year-on-year in April, the national statistics committee said on May 29.

Commenting on plans to restart the tourism industry, Amiran Gamkrelidze, head of the National Center for Disease Control and Public Health, said on May 28 that Georgia could not initially host tourists from countries hardest hit by COVID-19.

The prime minister presented his fourth anti-crisis policy on May 28, a 434 million lari ($136 million) package to support the construction sector, Agenda.ge reported. The industry accounted for 9 percent of GDP before the crisis, Giorgi Gakharia said.

The Health Ministry is offering one-time payments of 300 GEL (about $95) to self-employed people, Agenda.ge reported on May 25. So far, 57,443 people have registered for the assistance.

Georgia's Revenue Service announced on May 20 that, according to data provided by employers, some 78,000 workers have been furloughed or let go since the start of the pandemic -- a number that the Revenue Service estimates to be much lower than reality. The Georgian government has promised to pay furloughed workers 200 lari (63 euros) per month, but the financial aid depends upon employers submitting the correct documentation for affected workers.

BREAKAWAY TERRITORIES

Abkhazia lifted many restrictions on movement on May 15, allowing cafes, restaurants and gyms to reopen and inter-city minibus services to resume, OC Media reported. Most cases in the region were brought by students returning home from Russian military academies. The de facto government declared a state of emergency on March 27 and stopped public transportation. It banned tourists, the mainstay of the economy, and closed most businesses. Children will begin returning to school in Abkhazia on June 2, reported Apsny Online. An infectious disease hospital in Sukhumi has only one remaining doctor at work after all others came into contact with a COVID-19-positive patient while not wearing protective gear, reported Jam News on May 21. Hotel bookings are open for reservation in Abkhazia starting June 1, despite continued closed borders, reported JamNews on May 25. Abkhazia opened the Enguri Bridge border crossing with Georgia on May 26 to allow individuals who were being treated for COVID-19 or other health issues on Georgian territory to return home, reported Agenda.ge. South Ossetia, Georgia's other breakaway region, closed its border with Russia on April 5, including for freight, sealing the contested territory off from the world. It has extended the closure through May. The region's first case was confirmed on May 6. The patient arrived from Russia, state media reported. It is unclear how he passed the border, which has been closed. Two medical personnel have been infected in the region, reported Ekho Kavkaza on May 18. A group of cadets who had been quarantined for two weeks after returning from a Russian military school fled the hospital, reported Sputnik on May 21. The police returned the cadets to the hospital and the de facto president of South Ossetia denounced the cadets, ordering police to tighten control over quarantine. More than 270 cadets from South Ossetia study at Russian military universities; they were sent home when school ended early due to the pandemic. The de facto president of Nagorno-Karabakh declared a state of emergency on April 12. As of May 15, the region's de facto Health Ministry said it had recorded 20 cases and that eight people had recovered. Overall, the ministry added, it has carried out 554 tests in total.

KAZAKHSTAN

Local media are beginning to question official COVID-19 mortality statistics. Vlast.kz reported on May 26 that authorities are often not counting deaths when the deceased have other health conditions. A cemetery outside of Almaty created solely for COVID-19 victims has more graves than reported deaths from the epidemic in the city, RFE/RL reported on May 25.

Restrictions

In a nod to reports that people released from lockdown are not taking social-distancing regulations seriously, Health Minister Yelzhan Birtanov on May 27 warned that the government may be forced to send people back into their homes. The mayor of Almaty also said that a return to strict quarantine may be necessary as COVID-19 infections rise. The Deputy Mayor of Almaty has threatened to fine those who neglect to wear masks in public, TengriNews reported on May 25. Kindergartens will reopen on June 1, Zakon.kz reported on May 22.

Kazakh authorities have promised Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan that they will ensure special transport for hundreds of Kyrgyz and Uzbek migrants encamped on the Russian border, reported Ozodlik on May 20. A special, zero-contact corridor will be constructed to facilitate the migrants' return to their respective countries.

The state of emergency ended on May 11. Restrictions will be lifted in stages. Schools remain closed. On May 18, hotels, small restaurants and restaurants with outdoor seating were allowed to reopen. Mosques and churches can also reopen, but they are not to exceed 30 percent capacity. Rail service will resume in phases starting on June 1.

Health

A train full of military conscripts that rolled into Karaganda on May 20 was met by a crowd of friends and relatives, reported Tengrinews. A video shows that the bulk of the supporters was not wearing masks or observing social distancing. Despite widespread and increasing infections in the Karaganda region, the population remains reluctant to wear PPE and observe social distancing, locals say.

Economy

The Health Ministry and Foreign Ministry are discussing how to restart international air service. The first flights are likely to service China, South Korea and Azerbaijan, though no dates have been set, Kazinform reported on May 29.

Chevron sent home two-thirds of its workers, some 20,000 people, at its Tengiz oil field, the company's CEO said on May 27. Hundreds of Tengiz workers have tested positive for COVID-19 in recent weeks. The Financial Times reported on May 21 that Kazakhstan's Chief Sanitary Doctor Aizhan Yesmagambetova had threatened to stop production at the field, which pumps around 500,000 barrels of crude per day.

Half of the 1,000-odd oilfield service companies in Kazakhstan are close to bankruptcy, said Rashid Zhaksylykov, the head of the Union of Oilfield Services Companies of Kazakhstan, on May 26.

A quarantine was imposed on the Karachaganak oil and gas field, Kazakhstan's second-largest, through June 5, Fergana News reported on May 24.

A mine in Karaganda region was closed for quarantine until June 1 following an outbreak there, Fergana News reported on May 22.

KYRGYZSTAN

Restrictions

Holiday homes and guesthouses will open on June 1 at Lake Issyk-Kul, Kyrgyzstan's star summer tourist attraction. Temperatures will be taken of all visitors entering the province, officials said on May 29. Preschools are scheduled to reopen on June 5 and domestic flights on June 8. The Foreign Ministry reported that an airplane with 450 people arrived from Moscow on May 26. According to the Kyrgyz Embassy in Moscow, ​​among them are 319 pregnant women and more than 50 women with children under 2 years of age. The embassy refused to bring home 33 women at very late gestation, two of whom gave birth on the eve of departure. About 3,900 businesses have been checked for sanitary standards compliance so far in May, the government said on May 25. Some 680 were fined for failures to wear masks, gloves or establish safe distance between visitors.

Health

Nineteen medics at Bishkek's infectious diseases hospital have tested positive for COVID-19, said the hospital's chief physician, Gulzhigit Aaliev, on May 29. "This is a great tragedy for us," he said in comments carried by Kaktus Media. "The psychological situation was good before, but after this, of course, it isn't anymore." The May 25 funeral for ex-speaker of parliament Mukar Cholponbaev, who died of COVID-19, was crowded with senior government officials, AKIpress reported. They were violating state of emergency regulations which state that only family and religious figures may attend funerals. In Naryn, 18 women fled a maternity hospital after hearing that eight women there had contracted COVID-19. Provincial police said they broke a lock on the door and left with relatives, ignoring social-distancing protocols. The women were returned to the hospital, where most tested COVID-19-positive, Kloop reported on May 26. In Osh and Bishkek, public service centers reopened on May 21, allowing people to apply for and receive government documents. Hundreds queued in cramped quarters, videos showed, causing concern on Kyrgyz social networks. The films showed police doing little to enforce social distancing.

Economy

Prices for food staples rose sharply in March and April, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization reported on May 20. Potato prices were twice as high as a year earlier, "due to strong demand from consumers fearing supply shortages as a result of the pandemic,

which exacerbated seasonal trends."

TAJIKISTAN

Dushanbe officials are digging extra graves and covering them with plastic in preparation for COVID-19 fatalities, Prague-based Akhbor reported on May 28.

Restaurants remain open, but police say they frequently fail to adhere to sanitary requirements, Asia-Plus reported on May 28.

The Dushanbe mayor's office -- that is, the office of President Emomali Rahmon's son and heir apparent -- has placed about half of city employees on unpaid leave, Asia-Plus reported on May 21. An exception was made for law enforcement and health professionals.

Tajikistan has blocked a website that is trying to independently track COVID-related deaths. The crowd-sourced site, kvtj.info, lists hundreds of deaths caused by COVID-19 or related pneumonia, many times the government's official tally.

Health

The head of the GBAO region is being treated for COVID-19 and responding well to retroviral drugs. But several days after being tested, Yodgor Fayzov has still not received the results, he told Asia-Plus on May 28.

The UN reported on May 25 that, while public prayers were cancelled for the holiday marking the end of Ramadan on May 24, "food markets and shops were overcrowded, neglecting social distancing measures on the eve of Eid-al-Fitr."

The WHO has a new representative in Tajikistan, Avesta reported on May 27. The previous was widely considered too deferential to authorities as they denied, until April 30, that COVID-19 had appeared in the country.

Fifty of the 194 Tajiks who were returned from Turkey on a special May 23 flight have tested positive for COVID-19, reported Asia-Plus on May 25. According to Sputnik, the number is closer to 70.

Economy

Loaves of bread (naan) in three of five markets that the UN monitors were smaller than normal but being sold at the same price, as bakers contend with rising flour prices, the UN reported on May 25.

Uzbekistan has become the biggest humanitarian aid donor to Tajikistan in COVID-19 containment efforts, giving about $2.5 million since the pandemic started in January, reported AsiaPlus on May 22. A group of eight doctors who had been sent to Dushanbe to help treat COVID-19 patients returned to Uzbekistan on May 22.

TURKMENISTAN

Turkmenistan says it has no cases of COVID-19 and that it would be happy to invite a WHO mission to share the secrets of its success. But it keeps finding reasons not to play host, RFE/RL's Bruce Pannier wrote on May 8: "Officials in Ashgabat are using an old trick to delay and possibly prevent the [WHO] delegation from arriving."

Economy

Turkish Airlines hopes to resume flights to Ashgabat on June 1, regional media reported on May 29.

Not a week passes now without a fresh report of public anger about food shortages in the regions. Vienna-based Chronicles of Turkmenistan reported on May 10 that the head of the Turkmenbashi district in the Dashoguz province was, while he was out inspecting cotton fields, manhandled by residents indignant at the scant supplies of subsidized flour at the local state store. People are particularly exercised that more emphasis has been placed in the area on cultivating cotton, which can be used to raise foreign currency but cannot be eaten, instead of wheat. Police eventually got involved, Chronicles reported

UZBEKISTAN

Restrictions

State of emergency. Borders closed. Schools closed. Public transportation limited. The lockdown was tightened in several regions near Tashkent on May 27.

Train service resumed on May 26 between Tashkent and the Fergana Valley. Limited domestic train and air services resumed on May 18.

Some 65,000 Uzbeks in Russia have asked their government for help getting home, Fergana News reported on May 14. Dozens rallied outside their consulate in St. Petersburg the day before; some were detained for violating social distancing regulations. Several hundred more gathered in Orenburg, near the Kazakh border, demanding a transit corridor so they can return home. Russia closed its borders in March.

The country has been divided into zones to indicate the level of permitted movement: red, yellow and green. In the green zone, cars can move freely without special permits and more businesses are allowed to reopen.

Health

The government has spent approximately $11 million on treatment of COVID-19 patients, reported Kun.uz on May 25. Professor of Epidemiology Hairulla Mustafayev, chief researcher at the Institute of Virology in Tashkent, stated on May 25 that there will not be a second wave of coronavirus infections in Uzbekistan. The government said on May 19 that all newly confirmed cases were detected in people who had recently returned from abroad, suggesting the country has stopped community transmission of COVID-19.

Economy

In the first four months of the year, Uzbekistan Airlines carried 15 times more cargo than the same period of 2019, state media reported on May 28. The airline converted four passenger Boeing 767s to transport cargo as a way of helping mitigate the fiscal crunch caused by grounded passengers.

The president unveiled a project to restart the tourism industry on May 27. In the first stage, the aim is to encourage domestic tourism. Later, the country will resume connections with countries that have contained their COVID-19 cases, Gazeta.uz reported. The project is entitled "Uzbekistan. Safe travel guaranteed."

Authorities in Samara, Russia, have offered Uzbek migrants stranded there work in exchange for food, Asia-Plus reported on May 25. Twenty-five of the migrants accepted.

Previous coronavirus dashboards:

May 18-24

May 11-17

May 4-10

April 27-May 3

April 20-26

April 13-19

April 6-12

March 31-April 5

March 23-30

March 16-22

Official information:

Armenia

Azerbaijan

Georgia

Kazakhstan

Kyrgyzstan

Tajikistan

Uzbekistan

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