Sat, 15 Aug 2020

Dashboard: Coronavirus in Eurasia

Eurasianet
15 Jul 2020, 06:49 GMT+10

Last updated: July 14

For Eurasianet's latest coronavirus coverage, click here.

(graphs by Aseem Shukla)

ARMENIA

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.

Restrictions

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. Prime Minister Nikol 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.

Health

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.

In a June 28 Facebook post, Health Torosyan called on Armenians to implement a "conscious, voluntary lockdown" by refraining from nearly all social activities, from eating in restaurants to holding birthday parties to allowing children to play outside. "There is simply no other way out of this situation," he said.

The number of emergency calls for domestic violence during the pandemic are higher than during the same period in 2019, reported EVN on June 1, while the number of criminal proceedings initiated from the calls has decreased.

Economy

A charter flight from Los Angeles carried 265 passengers to Armenia, 240 of whom were Armenian citizens stuck in the U.S. due to COVID-19, Radio Armenia reported on July 12. President Emmanuel Macron of France has offered Armenia a loan for COVID-19 damages and promised a team of French doctors to Armenia, reported Jam News on June 30. While the government has approved 21 programs to provide social and economic assistance during the pandemic, the effects of those programs have not been equitable, Jam News reported on June 18. In some cases, police and wealthy business people received financial aid, though the programs were designed for the unemployed or economically vulnerable. The programs have also had the effect of bringing 87,000 unregistered workers out into the open, revealing the contours of the Armenian shadow economy. Pashinyan praised the performance of the Central Bank at keeping prices stable during the pandemic, Radio Armenia reported on June 15.

AZERBAIJAN

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.

Restrictions

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.

Health

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.

Ambulance workers in eastern Azerbaijan are protesting poor working conditions and unpaid bonuses, OC Media reported on June 17.

Economy

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 Food Safety Agency has continued surprise inspections around Baku, most recently finding 88 violations of sanitary regulations, Trend reported on July 2. Trend reported 98 violations of sanitary regulations among various businesses on June 30. Agency employees conducted over 200 surprise inspections on June 27 alone.

The government will provide $110 in financial assistance to the unemployed in regions hardest-hit by the pandemic, including Baku, Sumgayit, Ganja and Lankaran, and the Absheron, Yevlakh, Jalilabad, and Masalli districts, reported OC Media on June 23.

GEORGIA

Restrictions

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.

The Head of the National Center for Disease Control and Public Health, Amiran Gamkrelidze, said that elections may be held in the fall and schools may reopen, reported Agenda.ge on June 22.

Health

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.

Economy

Open air cultural events, permissible as of July 13, will be limited to 200 people, reported Agenda.ge on July 13. Gakharia stressed the importance of making open air events available as the country pushes to increase domestic tourism.

Gakharia has been traveling around Georgia in an effort to promote domestic tourism, Agenda.ge reported on July 10. The prime minister visited Dashbashi Canyon and a German settlement in Asureti on July 10.

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.

Education Minister Mikheil Chkhenkeli says that applicants to Georgian universities from Abkhazia and South Ossetia may be admitted without entrance exams and that the Georgian state would pay for the cost of attendance, reported Ekho Kavkaza on July 6. Students from Abkhazia were reportedly unable to take the entrance exams due to the closed border.

Hungary's Foreign Minister is visiting Tbilisi on June 6, reported Civil.ge, to discuss resuming flights by the Hungarian airline Wizz Air. The minister's visit makes him the first senior foreign official to enter Georgia since the start of the pandemic.

The Georgian economy may have shrunk by as much as 13.5 percent in May compared with the previous May, according to government figures cited by Interpress on June 30.

BREAKAWAY TERRITORIES

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. Schools closed on May 13. The territory eased several quarantine restrictions, allowing markets to reopen and public celebrations, such as weddings, to resume on June 15, though the borders remain closed. The leader of Abkhazia's Tbilisi-backed government-in-exile, Jemal Gamakharia, said that a "terrible humanitarian catastrophe" is underway in the region's Gali district, where residents have not received pensions for four months and many are attempting to enter Georgia via backroads or by crossing the Enguri River, Agenda.ge reported on July 6. 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 June. 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. Outdoor seating in cafes, as well as open-air markets, have been allowed to reopen in South Ossetia, OC Media reported on June 12. As summer approaches and people move outdoors, police in South Ossetia say they will conduct spot checks in forests, parks and outdoor recreational areas to stop people from gathering in groups, official media reported on June 2. The Red Cross has delivered over $70,000 of PPE to hospitals in South Ossetia, OC Media reported on June 19. The ICRC has been the only international aid group to be actively involved in this disputed territory during the pandemic. Kindergartens in South Ossetia may reopen on July 1, state media reported on June 11. The de facto president of Nagorno-Karabakh extended the region's state of emergency on June 11 through July 11, reported Tert.

KAZAKHSTAN

Restrictions

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.

Health

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.

The Health Ministry published a list of medics who have died from COVID-19, only to later delete the list from its site for unknown reasons, reported Tengri News on July 13.

Thirty-five children and 22 employees at a school for children with special needs have tested positive for coronavirus, reported Central Asia News on July 13.

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.

The Health Ministry has registered a deficit of about 1,000 physicians across 10 regions, Tengri News reported on July 9. The ministry has called upon doctors at private clinics to help with COVID-19 cases and is hoping newly graduated medical students can help mitigate the shortage.

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.

About 28,000 people are currently hospitalized for pneumonia but have tested negative for COVID-19, reported Vlast.kz on July 7. The Deputy Health Minister noted that nearly all show symptoms of medium severity.

Masks are required in public.

Economy

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.

KYRGYZSTAN

Restrictions

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.

Health

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.

The deputy prime minister threatened to fine doctors who do not treat COVID-19 patients according to protocol, 24.kg reported on July 10. She noted that some patients order drugs themselves and ask to be treated with them, and warned physicians not to comply with such requests.

"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.

A man in Batken who fled the hospital and claimed he did not believe in the existence of the coronavirus died the following day, 24.kg reported on July 9.

Bishkek announced on July 8 that acute pneumonia cases would henceforth be classified as COVID-19 cases, 24.kg reported. Previously, the statistics on deaths from pneumonia and COVID-19 were categorized separately, but the government said the sharp increase in the number of direct hospitalizations from pneumonia make such a distinction no longer practical.

Masks are required in public.

Economy

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.

TAJIKISTAN

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.

Restrictions

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.

"Most of the public health measures introduced by the government since the beginning of the COVID outbreak have been lifted," the UN reported on July 6.

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.

Masks are required in public.

Economy

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."

TURKMENISTAN

After recommending people wear masks due to "dust" on July 7, authorities began implementing what looks like a partial lockdown - many weeks after most of the rest of the world did so. Bazaars and shopping malls are being shuttered nationwide. Railway travel is to be suspended until July 23 as a measure to prevent the spread of infectious diseases.

President Gurbanguly 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.

UZBEKISTAN

Restrictions

According to the Health Ministry, the lockdown restrictions in Uzbekistan may be extended past August 1 if infection rates continue to rise, reported Central Asia News on July 13.

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.

At the Urtacarai quarantine container camp, inhabitants are being bussed home in droves, reported Fergana News on July 10. The reasons for the sudden evacuation is unknown. Some believe it is to make space for Uzbek citizens who had been waiting on the Kazakh border, while others argue it is likely due to the shortening of the required self-isolation period in Uzbekistan from 14 to 10 days.

Local trains and domestic flights in Uzbekistan will be put on pause starting July 13, reported Central Asia News on July 10.

Uzbekistan will decrease the number of chartered flights from abroad due to a shortage of hospital beds and quarantine space, Podrobno reported on July 8.

Health

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.

A new call center has opened in Tashkent to help handle questions about the coronavirus and self-isolation, Central Asia News reported on July 9.

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.

Economy

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.

Some 800 migrants who have been camping on the Russian border in Orenburg will be returned to Uzbekistan by train in two days, reported Central Asia News on July 13.

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.

Previous coronavirus dashboards:

June 22-28

June 15-21

June 8-14

June 1-7

May 25-31

May 18-24

May 11-17

May 4-10

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April 20-26

April 13-19

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March 23-30

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