Dashboard: Coronavirus In Eurasia
Pressure on the health system has eased in the last week, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said on July 16, potentially indicating higher compliance with sanitary regulations, reported EVN. For the fourth day in a row, there are no patients waiting to be admitted to the hospital or to be transferred to hospitals treating COVID-19.
As Armenia’s COVID-19 epidemic continues to metastasize, with its infection rate among the highest in the world, the country’s leadership has said that it will continue to rely on voluntary self-isolation rather than reimposing a lockdown. The Health Minister said on July 2 that intensive-care units are full.
Yerevan extended the state of emergency on July 13 through August 12, EVN reported.
Starting on July 9, people with a number of respiratory diseases will not be required to wear masks in public, Radio Azatutyun reported.
A potential amendment to the administrative code would raise fines for not wearing masks to 20,000 dram ($42) in open spaces and 50,000 dram ($104) in closed spaces, with the fine doubled for repeat violations within one year, Radio Armenia reported on July 7. Pashinyan ordered mask distribution stations to be set up across Yerevan, Radio Azatutyun reported on July 6. Workers will also hand out guidance on sanitary rules and regulations.
A recently published survey by the Caucasus Research Resource Center (CRRC) revealed high levels of optimism among Armenians before the onset of the virus, according to EVN report. The survey results contrasted with those of 2017, when Armenians expressed deep doubt that life in the country would ever improve.
Schools are closed. Shops and restaurants reopened on May 18.
The mayor of Yerevan allocated 100 million drams ($205,000) from the city fund to medical workers battling the coronavirus, Radio Armenia reported on July 10.
Health Minister Arsen Torosyan said Armenia intends to increase testing to 4,000 people per day, reported EVN on July 7. The daily testing capacity is currently around 2,500.
Cities in Azerbaijan are under strict, stay-at-home lockdown until at least July 20. As under a previous regime used in April and May, residents must now send a text message to the authorities any time they want to leave home, and can do so only under a limited set of circumstances, including visiting a doctor or shopping for food. But unlike the earlier quarantine in April, people over the age of 65 may also request permission to go outside. Most commercial services are closed. Baku residents are not allowed to leave the city.
Tens of thousands of people violated lockdown on July 14 to protest the recent border clash with Armenia and the government's response. Some chanted "end the quarantine, start the war."
More checkpoints may be added in quarantine zones towards the end of the week, Trend reported on July 9. Vehicles may also be fined twice for attempting to pass through separate checkpoints, according to a State Road Police representative.
Police have been fining people for leaving their homes or appearing in public with permission but without a mask. On July 7, for example, 1,874 were fined, Turan reported.
The military has been deployed in Baku and several other cities to enforce quarantine, reported AFP on July 3. Despite the measures, the number of infections across Azerbaijan continues to rise.
Parliament doubled fines for not wearing masks to 100 manats for individuals and 200 for officials, Interfax reported on June 29. Authorities also reduced the number of times Baku residents may leave home from twice to once per day, Turan.az reported on June 29.
A "flash mob" organized by conservatory students sang “Long live Azerbaijan, long live the police” from a residential balcony, Jam News reported on June 26. The concert was widely panned on social media by people believing it was organized by the police.
Police installed traffic cameras on secondary roads out of Baku after hundreds attempted to flee the city on June 20, JAM News reported on June 23. Officials had earlier tried to dig up these roads to make driving impossible; but drivers simply filled holes themselves to escape. Police checkpoints on main roads stop anyone from leaving the city.
Schools and most stores closed. Borders closed.
One hundred fifteen Cuban medics arrived in Baku on July 13 to help the country fight COVID, Azertag reported. They are scheduled to stay for three months.
Income from Azerbaijan's oil exports fell 30 percent year-on-year in the first half of 2020, Turan reported on July 17. Non-oil exports decreased by 6.9 percent.
Oil workers on offshore platforms have been told to take pay cuts or be sacked, OC Media reported on July 2. Some workers report they have not been paid in months.
The KGB of South Ossetia – a Russian-backed separatist territory that the UN recognizes as part of Georgia – has accused Tbilisi of sending agents to collect bat colonies in an effort to develop biological weapons, Civil.ge reported on July 17. The head of Georgia’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention called the allegations a “staged provocation.”
Parliament extended its controversial emergency powers through the end of the year, Civil.ge reported on July 14. The opposition, which boycotted the vote, accused the ruling party of using coronavirus to "strengthen authoritarian rule." But the government said it needed the powers to keep the pandemic at bay through elections in October.
Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia announced that starting July 13, Georgia will allow open-air cultural events to proceed over the summer, reported Agenda.ge on July 9.
The European Union invited Georgia into a travel bubble on July 1. But in an unusual role reversal, Tbilisi has declined the offer. The EU on July 1 began allowing travelers from a select group of countries to visit as the bloc’s members begin to reopen their borders to foreign arrivals. Georgia earned a place on the list, but it has decided to keep its borders closed for at least another month.
Twenty-eight Georgian soldiers tested positive for the coronavirus in Afghanistan, though none appear to have a severe case of the illness, reported Agenda.ge on July 13. The soldiers were flown out back to Georgia early on a chartered flight after testing positive and will be replaced by other servicemen.
A student who recently took a university entrance exam tested positive for the coronavirus, reported Agenda.ge on July 10. All students who sat the exam with the teenager are now being observed by doctors.
World Health Organization Regional Director for Europe Hans Kluge praised Georgia for its quick and early response to the pandemic, reported Agenda.ge on June 25.
Masks are legally required indoors.
Georgia is considering opening its borders to foreigners who wish to work remotely from the South Caucasus, Interpress reported on July 16. Applicants would need to commit to living in Georgia for six months and subject themselves to a 14-day quarantine upon arrival.
Tourism company representatives gathered in Tbilisi on July 15 to protest the continued closure of air transport in and out of Georgia, reported Caucasian Knot on July 15. The demonstrators demanded that borders open to those countries in the EU where the pandemic has stabilized.
Georgia has opened its borders to nationals of Germany, France and the Baltic states, Agenda.ge reported on July 8. All must arrive on direct flights, of which there are few. Tbilisi recently reached an agreement with Lufthansa to schedule two flights a week to Munich in August. The EU has allowed Georgian citizens to resume visits since July 1.
The Health Ministry is allowing gyms to reopen after months of protests by fitness center owners and trainers, Agenda.ge reported on July 8. Social distancing must be observed inside the fitness centers, and every customer must undergo a temperature check before entering.
The de facto government in Abkhazia declared a state of emergency on March 27, closing borders and stopping public transportation. It banned tourists, the mainstay of the economy, and closed most businesses. The border with Russia is currently closed through July 21. The territory eased several quarantine restrictions, however, allowing markets to reopen and public celebrations, such as weddings, to resume on June 15.
South Ossetia, Georgia's other breakaway region, closed its border with Russia on April 5, including for freight, sealing the contested territory off for anyone without special government permission. It has extended the closure through July. 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.
The de facto president of Nagorno-Karabakh extended the region's state of emergency on July 11 through August 12.
Almaty introduced $200 fines for people who do not wear masks in public, Tengri News reported on July 15. Sanitary officials in Almaty have administered over 500 fines so far this month for individuals violating sanitary regulations in the city, Tengri News reported on July 16. Over 250 of the cases involved people not wearing masks.
Health Minister Alexei Tsoi wants to decrease “negative” coverage of the pandemic, Tengri News reported on July 14. The ministry intends to monitor social media posts for a critical tone and by distributing more information seeks to decrease such posts to 10 percent of the total.
President Tokayev on July 13 said the current lockdown, which began on July 5, would be extended for two weeks. Unlike the previous lockdown, from March to May, when people were forbidden from leaving their homes except to purchase food, this time some businesses will be allowed to remain open and groups of no more than three people will be permitted in public.
Public transport in Almaty paused for disinfection on July 6, reported Tengri News. Transport will resume on July 7.
With cases increasing rapidly, two cities in East Kazakhstan region, Semey and Oskemen, will be closed for entry and exit on July 5, the regional governor announced July 3 on his Instagram page. He did not indicate how long the lockdown will last. Restrictions in the two cities were reportedly increased on July 7.
Photos and videos on social media July 1 showed ambulances lining up outside Almaty hospitals and people waiting in lines for hours at pharmacies.
Clinics in Almaty are inviting volunteers to help care for patients with early and mid-stage pneumonia, reported Tengri News on July 16. Though the organizers have been aiming their invitation at medical school students or people with some medical knowledge, they have noted that all are welcome.
The head of Almaty's Department of Public Health called the current situation “tense but manageable” in a July 16 briefing, Tengri News reported. The same day, over 200 new cases were identified in the city.
A WHO team of experts will be sent to Kazakhstan to investigate a pneumonia outbreak that is most likely a surge in COVID-19 false negatives, Fergana reported on July 14. Of the 40,000 patients recently diagnosed with pneumonia in the country, 31,000 of them tested negative for the coronavirus.
Seven Kazakh news organizations launched a website to independently track COVID-19 deaths on July 13. Organizers say that official mortality statistics appear to be inaccurate because they do not include the huge spike in deaths from pneumonia, which is often a complication of COVID. The project can be found at umytpa.kz.
Kazakhstan’s government on July 10 denied a Chinese Embassy statement that had suggested the country was grappling with an “unknown pneumonia” more deadly than coronavirus. Hundreds of people are being hospitalized with pneumonia every day in the country, authorities have confirmed, though most are believed to be COVID-19 cases. The embassy later watered down the statement on its website, though only after it had appeared widely in Chinese media. WHO experts believe the pneumonia cases are merely coronavirus false negatives, reported Deutsche Welle on July 11. The WHO is working with local authorities to determine with X-rays whether the pneumonia cases are, in fact, deriving from the same source.
Health Minister Aleksei Tsoi said the government is struggling to keep up with COVID-19 death reports and had shifted to announcing fatalities weekly, rather than daily, Tengri News reported on July 7.
Masks are required in public.
The government site for filing for a lockdown stipend has crashed due to heavy traffic, Fergana reported on July 17. Authorities promised citizens 42,500 tenge (about $100) a month to those whose incomes have been severely compromised by the lockdown.
President Tokayev announced that Kazakhstan’s economy has shrunk 1.8 percent since the beginning of 2020, Central Asia News reported on July 10.
“The potential weakening of the ruble, the currency of one of our main trade partners, carries downside risk for the tenge,” Reuters quoted Kazakhstan's Deputy Central Bank Governor Aliya Moldabekova as warning on July 9. A widening current account deficit will also put downward pressure on the currency.
Kazakhstan has expanded the list of countries with which it has resumed flights, reported TengriNews on June 26: People traveling from Hungary, India, Germany, the Czech Republic and Malaysia now face minimal restrictions to entry. Kazakhstan resumed flights to Turkey, South Korea, Japan, China, and Thailand on June 20, reported Fergana News on June 22.
A group of political scientists drafted an open letter to Vladimir Putin, asking that he provide more aid to the country to help contain the pandemic, Fergana News reported on July 16. The group accused the Kyrgyz government of incompetence and corruption, and asked the Russian president to send doses of a new COVID-19 vaccine allegedly being developed in Russia, which is rumored to be available starting next month.
Several parliamentarians wrote an open letter to Prime Minister Kubatbek Boronev stressing the need to bring in international epidemiological experts to help contain the virus, 24.kg reported on July 14.
A group of World War II veterans from Kyrgyzstan has appealed to Russian President Vladimir Putin for assistance fighting coronavirus, likening the pandemic to the siege of Leningrad, Vecherniy Bishkek reported on July 11.
Kyrgyzstan hit another COVID-19 record on July 12, Kloop reported, with 719 new cases. The vast majority are in Bishkek. Of the 48 people who died over the previous 24 hours with symptoms, only seven had received a positive COVID test; 41 died with pneumonia.
The Supreme Court has canceled all sessions after staff and judges tested positive for the coronavirus, Fergana News reported on July 8.
A third pop-up hospital opened in Bishkek, reported 24.kg on July 17, with 45 beds.
A 65-year-old COVID-19 patient in Osh threw himself to his death from the second story of the hospital where he was receiving care, reported 24.kg on July 17. A 34-year-old patient had done the same weeks earlier at the same hospital.
The Health Ministry warned that the folk medicine practice of hajima, a type of bloodletting, does not help treat COVID-19 and can be dangerous, 24.kg reported on July 15. Interest grew in the method after a journalist and singer released a video on social media praising hajima.
Blood donors have decreased in number since the start of the pandemic, despite an increased need for blood plasma, reported 24.kg on July 15.
As the virus continues to spread, pharmacies are running out of the drugs used to treat COVID-19 symptoms, reported Azattyk on July 13. The price of such drugs has also skyrocketed, inducing widespread complaints about the government's handling of the crisis.
One-third of paramedics in Bishkek have fallen sick with pneumonia or coronavirus, 24.kg reported on July 10.
"Local medical services in Bishkek are overwhelmed. Hospital beds are unavailable and doctors and nurses are in short supply. This is true for both COVID and non-COVID medical care," the U.S. Embassy said on July 6.
Masks are required in public.
A health workers’ union is lobbying the government to increase medics’ salaries, 24.kg reported on July 17. The last salary increase occurred in 2011, when doctors began receiving 5,000 soms per month ($64.50 today) and other medical personnel began receiving 4,300 soms.
A social media user posted a video allegedly proving that PPE which volunteers had bought and sent to a Bishkek hospital never made it into the hands of the doctors, reported 24.kg on July 9. Some 550 masks and 200 bottles of antibiotics are missing.
Investigative journalists said on July 2 they had found evidence, by poring through public procurement contracts from January to May, that the government is purchasing personal protective equipment at inflated prices.
Kyrgyz students across Russia are unable to return home and they are falling increasingly into debt without part-time work to support their studies, Vecherny Bishkek reported on June 23. One student recorded a video on behalf of his peers pleading for help getting home.
The World Bank warned on July 13 that over 41 percent of Tajik households are unable to afford the food they need, a 17 point increase over last year. Over 17 percent of people reported being unable to obtain needed medical care in May. And "less than 2 percent of households report receiving any financial or in-kind support from the government" since the outbreak began. The Bank also found Tajiks poorly informed about COVID-19 compared to neighboring Uzbekistan.
Deaths in the first half of 2020 were 11 percent higher than last year, though the government will not connect the increase to coronavirus, Asia-Plus reported on July 13. The rate of births, marriages and divorces has also fallen this year.
Of the 98 prisoners across Tajikistan who have tested positive for the coronavirus, 11 have died, reported Central Asia Media on July 14.
President Emomali Rahmon signed an amendment to the criminal code allowing people to be imprisoned for up to five years for spreading the coronavirus, reported Asia Plus on July 6.
The country should increase testing from about 1,000 per day to 3,000-4,000 and deploy mobile laboratories, said local WHO representatives on July 6, Asia-Plus reported. The WHO also recommended Tajikistan report probable cases of coronavirus fatalities, which the country is not doing.
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. RFE/RL has reported that the government is not testing many people who die with COVID-like symptoms.
Tajikistan's health system is falling apart, its doctors so severely underpaid they would rather work in Yemen or Afghanistan, government investment promises unfulfilled, and the entire system – from medical colleagues to point-of-care – corrupt, says a July 14 report by the International Partnership for Human Rights. Most facilities are more than fifty years old and many "lack basic medicines or even a satisfactory supply of electricity, water, and heating, as well as a sewage system."
Kazakhstan has promised to send 100 ventilators to Tajikistan, Avesta reported on July 15.
Masks are required in public.
Apartment prices in Dushanbe have fallen by nearly $100 per square meter on average since the pandemic began, Avesta reported on July 17.
About 40 percent of Central Asian migrant workers in Russia were laid off this spring during the pandemic lockdown, making Central Asians almost twice as likely as Russians to lose their jobs, The Moscow Times reported citing a new survey by the Gaidar Institute in Moscow. Some 75 percent of Central Asians were out of work during the lockdown, including those on unpaid leave.
A working group led by representatives of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Administration met in Dushanbe to discuss how Tajikistan’s agriculture sector should respond to damage caused by the pandemic, reported Avesta on July 2. Topics discussed included options for investment following COVID-19 and a new program to promote sustainable agriculture going forward.
A 50-60 percent spike in the price of fertilizer is forcing farmers to skimp, which will reduce output, the United Nations in Tajikistan reported on June 15. "The use of agricultural inputs, particularly fertilizers for wheat production, is price sensitive. Farmers often use less fertilizers even with only slight increases in prices, leading to decreased yields and a consequent reduction of available food stocks," the report said. A reduced wheat harvest in 2019 has increased imports from Kazakhstan, the country's chief supplier, and prices are about 30 percent higher than a year ago. Wheat imports "still account for more than half of the domestic consumption needs of cereals, and wheat represents more than 90 percent of the cereal imports."
Mosques, bazaars and restaurants have been closed across Turkmenistan, AFP reported on July 16, though the country still insists it has no COVID-19 cases: "Speculation has been building that ex-Soviet Turkmenistan's authoritarian government was preparing to admit the country has some coronavirus cases after it recommended earlier this week that residents wear masks because of 'dust.'"
On the July 15 evening news, President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov donned a mask on camera for the first time, while solitarily fishing and reading a newspaper.
Berdymukhamedov suggested on July 10 that coronavirus may be blown into Turkmenistan by the wind – an excuse that would enable his government to later dismiss charges it had been covering up an outbreak all along.
The U.S. Embassy on July 9 doubled down on earlier accounts of receiving “reports of local citizens with symptoms consistent with COVID-19 undergoing COVID-19 testing and being placed in quarantine in infectious diseases hospitals for up to fourteen days.” The last time the Embassy did this, the government fired off a note of protest, but it has not bothered this time.
Yagshigeldy Kakaev, advisor to the president and former director of the agency on the management and usage of hydrocarbons, died from pneumonia on July 8, reported Central Asia News. Hospitals are reportedly overwhelmed with pneumonia cases, while authorities continue to insist the country is coronavirus-free.
After the government dragged its feet for over two months, an expert mission from the World Health Organization finally traveled to Turkmenistan on July 6. Since Ashgabat continues to cling to its claim of having detected no coronavirus cases, the WHO team will have a delicate mission during its 10-day deployment. Their official line is that they will be meeting with Turkmen colleagues to coordinate “preparedness and response” to a possible COVID-19 outbreak. But they are being pressed by the likes of Saglyk, a nongovernmental group that uses online resources to spread information about health awareness to Turkmen speakers, to make sure they do not allow themselves to be coopted in a coverup exercise. “We are asking the international organizations present in Turkmenistan not be complicit in practices that contradict science, logic, and reason,” Saglyk said in an English-language statement.
Authorities continue to deny the pandemic has reached the country.
Doctors in Uzbekistan say they are being forced to write letters absolving their superiors if they are infected with COVID-19, Radio Ozodlik reported on July 17.
President Shavkat Mirziyoyev criticized Tashkent's leaders for failing to contain the virus, pointing to other regions in the country where leaders had managed to stabilize the spread of the disease, Avesta reported on July 16.
The government on July 8 announced a three-week lockdown coming into effect on July 10 in response to the surge in cases that arrived after the last lockdown restrictions were lifted in early June. The movement of vehicles will be limited, travel between regions is to be forbidden for all but essential purposes and mass gatherings are mostly banned. Weddings are not permitted at all, while funerals may be attended by a maximum of 15 people.
Nearly 4,000 Uzbek citizens who had been camped on the Kazakh border have been allowed to enter Uzbekistan, Kun.uz reported on July 10. Their crossing occurred after extended diplomatic negotiations between Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. Prior to being allowed to enter their homeland, most of the migrants were sleeping on the ground by the border checkpoint.
The Health Ministry recommended citizens use an app called Self Safety to warn them when they have come into contact with someone with COVID-19, reported Fergana on July 17.
The Minister of Health announced that 200,000 packets of the Japanese drug Avigan have been delivered to Uzbekistan to help treat COVID-19 patients, Kun.uz reported on July 16. The Minister called Avigan “one of the most effective treatments” against the disease, although Japanese researchers recently determined that the difference in recovery speed among recipients of the medication was statistically insignificant.
Low salaries for health care workers incentivize many of them to work under the table, while the healthcare system is generally disorganized and the quality of care provided is often poor, said a World Bank expert on public health at a government roundtable, Kun.uz reported on July 12.
The mayor of Tashkent pleaded with residents to take the virus seriously and not go outside unless absolutely necessary, Avesta reported on July 10.
Hospitals in Uzbekistan no longer have space for COVID-19 patients, reported Ozodlik on July 8. Laboratories are also struggling to keep up with 20,000 coronavirus tests per day; some people are waiting up to a week for the results.
The Health Ministry assured the public that there is no top-down directive to underreport COVID-19 cases, reported Fergana News on July 5. Previously, the chief sanitary inspector of Uzbekistan denied allegations of manipulating the data on the number of coronavirus infections, Kun.uz reported on June 18.
Due to the pandemic, Uzbekistan has halted natural gas exports to Russia; exports to China have fallen by two-thirds, Russian media reported on July 16.
Dozens are complaining that hospitals are coercing them to sign papers saying they spent up to 35 million soms (about $3400) on treatment, even for negative coronavirus tests, reported Fergana on July 15. By one account, hospital workers threatened to cut up the corpse of an elderly woman who had died from COVID-19 if her relatives did not sign a claim that her treatment had cost such an amount. The demands are fueling suspicion of yet another pandemic embezzlement scheme; already several doctors have been arrested for skimming money off of hospital purchases since the start of the outbreak.
In a July 14 video address, President Mirziyoyev noted the worsening epidemiological situation and stressed the need for a three-month supply of food.
People are purchasing foreign currency at about three times the rate as in the same period of 2019, reported Central Asia Media on July 15.
About a thousand Uzbek migrants are stranded at the Russian-Kazakh border trying to get home. In stifling temperatures living in the open air, some have been there for weeks. On July 14, Meduza published a detailed and atmospheric dispatch from the camp.
About 300 workers from Uzbekistan rioted over unpaid wages at a future gas processing plant in the Russian far east on July 13, local media reported. The regional prosecutor's office says it has opened a criminal case.
Over 200 trucks are stuck on the border with Tajikistan as drivers wait for coronavirus test results before being allowed to enter Uzbekistan, reported Fergana News on July 13. The turnaround period for test results has taken as long as five days for the drivers, some of whom expressed fear of infection as they wait.
Uzbekistan has suffered severe economic damage from the pandemic across many sectors, the UNDP said on July 6. Besides an 18 percent year-on-year drop in exports for the first quarter, about 85 percent of small businesses were forced to close as early as March. Income among the self-employed fell 67 percent. Gender-based violence is on the rise, and in a recent UNDP survey half of female healthcare workers reported feelings of anxiety, depression or burn-out.
Republished from www.eurasianet.org.