Tue, 02 Jun 2020

Dashboard: Coronavirus in Eurasia - March 31-April 5

Eurasianet
06 Apr 2020, 05:49 GMT+10

Last updated: April 5

Our latest

Coronavirus diary: Can Kyrgyzstan survive this?

The government is betraying signs of not knowing quite how to run a state of emergency - especially one instated to defend a population against an invisible virus.

Kazakhstan resorts to snap military draft as coronavirus spreads

Supporters of the move think it will provide a useful outlet for the momentarily unemployed.

Rubles in the Near Abroad: Testing a testy union

Russia's shipment of PPE to New York violated Moscow's pledge to its closest allies.

Kyrgyzstan reports first coronavirus-linked death

The 61-year-old man with a history of illness died in a hospital near Osh.

Azerbaijanis to need police permission to leave home

They will also be required to wear masks, under what are set to be the strictest control measures in the region.

Kyrgyzstan: Major flour producer halted by coronavirus lockdown

Authorities deny the claim, saying the company didn't pick up permits.

ARMENIA

Restrictions

State of emergency; travel restrictions; most businesses and schools closed.

Health

Armenia has the most confirmed cases in the Caucasus. The first death was reported on March 26. (Yerevan city hall)

Authorities introduced an app on March 26 to help people determine if they need to visit a hospital for COVID-19 testing. The data is sent to a central registry.

The Ministry of Health reported on March 29 that 14 employees of the Center for Control and Prevention of Diseases have tested positive for COVID-19.

The Ministry of Technology announced on March 30 that it is seeking information from local engineering companies to build ventilators in the country.

Economy

Minister of Economy Tigran Khachatryan said April 3 that "there will be a significant reduction in economic output" this year, Hetq.am reported. While outlining current emergency measures, he added that the government may make mistakes in its rush to right the economy and that it would revise its plans as necessary.

On March 30, parliament approved cash transfers to workers affected by the coronavirus outbreak.

Nagorno-Karabakh: Armenia closed its border with Nagorno-Karabakh except for residents of Karabakh, cargo shipments, and journalists and observers working on this week's elections in the de-facto republic. Voters went to the polls in the Armenian protectorate on March 31 to elect a new de facto president and parliament, even amid many calls to postpone the election because of coronavirus.

AZERBAIJAN

Restrictions

Schools and most stores closed. A full lockdown began March 31, forbidding residents from leaving home in most cases. People 65 and older are prohibited from leaving their homes unless they are healthcare workers. Traffic between regions has been banned and parks have been closed. Officials said on April 2 that "in recent days the virus has appeared in all parts of Azerbaijan." The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) criticized President Ilham Aliyev for using coronavirus to threaten the opposition. "I am astonished and appalled by the Azerbaijani government's shameful exploitation of the coronavirus pandemic to launch yet another crack-down on the country's beleaguered political opposition," Sir Roger Gale said on March 25. "It beggars belief that any head of state would abuse a public health emergency in order to tighten his grip on power." In response, on March 27 Baku condemned PACE's "biased" statement.

Economy

The Economy Ministry rolled out a draft plan for tax breaks on businesses affected by the outbreak on April 1.

Security

The Justice Ministry said it has begun releasing prisoners near the end of their sentences to lower the risk of COVID-19 spreading in prisons. No political prisoners were released, OC Media reported March 26. The OSCE paused its monitoring mission on the Nagorno-Karabakh frontlines. (March 18)

GEORGIA

Restrictions

State of emergency. Schools and most shops closed. Georgia banned all public transportation and gatherings of more than three people on March 30. It also added a nightly curfew nationwide. People over the age of 70 are only allowed to leave home to shop for food, medicine or go to the hospital. Police set up checkpoints on roads leading into Tbilisi to test people's temperature before they can enter the city, RFE/RL reported on March 31. Police checkpoint (Interior Ministry photo) Police announced on April 2 that they had fined 204 people for breaking curfew orders the previous night and 415 people for violating rules on transporting passengers over the preceding 24 hours. All flights, except those coordinated by the government to bring Georgian citizens home, have been canceled. Abkhazia: The breakaway region declared a state of emergency on March 27 and stopped public transportation. It banned tourists, the mainstay of the economy, and closed most businesses. Abkhazia's de facto government said on April 2 that if movement around the country doesn't decrease, it may have to institute restrictions including a nighttime curfew and full border closures. South Ossetia, Georgia's other breakaway region, also stepped up emergency measures on March 27. Russia, South Ossetia's sponsor, closed its border with the region on March 30. Georgia's Minister for Reconciliation and Civic Equality, Ketevan Tsikhelashvili, on April 1 expressed readiness to help the two regions confront the pandemic.

Health

Georgia reported its first COVID-19 death on April 4. Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia said on April 4 that "as an ordinary Christian" he would not attend Easter services in person, but watch on television. He called on believers to do the same. The previous day, four government ministers said that attending Easter services would violate curfew, OC Media reported. Orthodox Easter falls on April 19 this year and in many Orthodox churches the services are held at night. The Georgian Church has refused to stop sharing communion spoons, earning rebuke from many Georgians fearful the practice could spread the virus. The Church earlier warned the faithful that rejecting communion is akin to rejecting Christ, but it has called on sick parishioners to stay home. Georgia closed currency exchange points on March 31 in an effort, the Central Bank said, to slow the spread of coronavirus. The Georgian lari fell almost 20 percent against the dollar in March. The Ministry of Health canceled an agreement with a Chinese company to buy coronavirus tests after the tests turned out to be faulty, Agenda.ge reported on March 27. The ministry said that 1,000 tests donated by the Chinese government, however, were of good quality and were being used in areas where the outbreak was most widespread. The first case of coronavirus in a resident of Abkhazia was detected on March 30. The person, who lives in the Georgian-majority Gali district, was diagnosed in Georgia proper. In response, the Abkhazian authorities blocked transport between Gali and the rest of Abkhazia.

Economy

Air pollution in Tbilisi has halved since the government took measures to limit movement to halt the spread of coronavirus. OC-Media has a liveblog on the crisis, as does Civil.ge.

KAZAKHSTAN

Restrictions

State of emergency, borders closed. Schools closed. The government extended the lockdown on its three largest cities for another week on April 3. Almost all businesses in Kazakhstan's largest cities have been forced to close. Government offices, law enforcement, health service providers, media outlets, grocery stories and pharmacies are the only entities allowed to stay open. People are not allowed outdoors other than to buy groceries and medicine or to go to work. Parks, squares, pedestrian streets, riverside footpaths and playgrounds are closed. Underage children are not permitted out without their parents. The western city of Atyrau was put on lockdown April 2. Only authorized vehicles are permitted to enter and exit. Restrictions similar to those introduced in other cities are being enforced, so residents are barred from leaving their homes without justification.

A Chinese-built surveillance system in the capital will follow drivers to and from work, ensuring they do not deviate from their allowed routes, Tengrinews reported on March 31. The same system is being used in Almaty to enforce quarantine.

Prime Minister Askar Mamin visiting a car assembly plant on March 28. (primeminister.kz) Police in Almaty said parents of children found playing on the street will be fined. Eurasianet correspondents in Almaty have reported seeing many children still in the playgrounds as before - a violation of shelter in place orders issued by the government. Police also stepped up checks on motorists. Footage posted on social media on March 30 showed large numbers of cars backed up on one important thoroughfare in Almaty as police questioned motorists individually on their purpose for being on the move. Six cities and one region, the Akmola Region, are currently under a state of lockdown.

The railway service said on April 2 that it is halting all passenger services. Trains are being returned back to their depots - that process should be completed by April 4.

Health

Kostanai on April 3 lost its status as the final region in Kazakhstan without coronavirus after a case was detected there. Late last month, a group of Russian Orthodox priests flew over the region in a plane with an icon of Our Lady of Kazan in an effort to ward off the virus. It didn't work. Health Minister Yelzhan Birtanov said on March 30 that he expects the number of COVID-19 cases in Kazakhstan not to exceed 3,500. "We hope that we will pass the peak of the epidemic in April," he said. The government launched an app featuring a map showing the number and location of coronavirus carriers. The app also has an option for infected people to provide data about who they have been in contact with and what places they have visited.

Economy

The National Bank cut interest rates on April 3.

Kazakhstan's Economy Minister forecasted on April 2 that the economy will contract by 0.9 percent in 2020, forcing it to dip into its rainy-day National Fund, Reuters reported.

Authorities in the North Kazakhstan Region said on March 31 that they have earmarked 150 million tenge ($330,000) to buy new ventilators. The estimated five machines that can be procured for that amount will be used for severe coronavirus cases. The region has 300 ventilators already, but officials admit that most of them are severely outdated.

KYRGYZSTAN

Restrictions

State of emergency, schools closed. Nightly curfew in the largest cities. A government meeting in Bishkek It is illegal to gather in groups of more than three people in the capital, Bishkek. People are allowed out of their homes to shop for food so long as the store is within 1.5 kilometers. Pets may be taken no further than 100 meters of their owners' home. Deputy Interior Minister Almazbek Orozaliyev said 48 checkpoints have been erected at entrance points into the capital, Bishkek. A doctor complained on April 3 that she was not allowed to pass a checkpoint on her way home from work and was detained for 1.5 hours, until 10 p.m. A police officer in Bishkek was arrested on April 1 for ferrying sex workers in his service car and getting around quarantine lockdown checkpoints by using his police ID.

Health

The country recorded its first coronavirus death on April 3. The government asked neighboring China on March 26 to send doctors to help. President Sooronbai Jeenbekov sacked Health Minister Kosmosbek Cholponbayev and Deputy Prime Minister Altynai Omurbekova on April 1. He faulted the pair for failing to containing the coronavirus.

Economy

The Tourism and Culture Ministry on April 2 forecasted an 80 percent drop in tourism industry activity in 2020. Minister Azamat Zhamankulov said no decision has yet been made on whether to shutter sanatoria, hotels and hostels, but that the government would seek to support the industry. The National Statistics Committee estimates that tourism in 2019 contributed 30 billion som ($430 million at December 2019 rates) to the economy. That was equivalent to 5.3 percent of gross domestic product.

The government banned the export of most basic foodstuffs on March 23. Farmers involved in spring sowing are allowed to proceed as normal and bazaars may stay open to sell spare parts for agricultural machinery.

First Deputy Prime Minister Kubatbek Boronov said on March 30 that the government is still working to devise measures to assist businesses struggling as a result of the coronavirus-related restrictions. Options on the table include deferral of loan payments and tax breaks. Boronov offered no figures.

Society

The Education Ministry said on March 31 that it will begin broadcasting classes for schoolchildren on local television stations from April 8.

The city hall in Osh, Kyrgyzstan's second-largest city, is offering psychological counseling by phone in three languages - Kyrgyz, Uzbek and Russia - for people suffering from anxiety as a result of the unfolding coronavirus crisis.

Kloop.kg has a liveblog on the crisis.

TAJIKISTAN

Tajikistan's president on March 26

There are still no confirmed cases in Tajikistan.

Schools reopened on April 1 after a spring holiday.

Health

The Health Ministry does not know how many ventilators are in the country, Asia-Plus reported on April 2.

On March 30, authorities recommended bus drivers wear masks.

A WHO representative in Tajikistan, Galina Perfilieva, said on April 1 that the country had carried out over 700 tests and all had been negative. She praised the Health Ministry and urged Tajiks to avoid crowded places.

President Rahmon has continued to disregard the advice of international health experts and attend crowded mass events, at times posing for pictures with large groups of people. At one event, he was almost knocked off his feet by a cluster of enthusiastic children, whom he then hugged and kissed.

Mosques reopened on March 19 after being disinfected.

Economy

Sustained shopping by spooked citizens pushed up prices for many staple goods. In March, for example, the price of a kilo of potatoes rose from 3.80 somoni ($0.38) to 5 somoni, onions from 2.50 somoni to 4 somoni. The National Bank has set the somoni at 10.2 to the dollar, but nobody is offering that rate on the black market, where the dollar sells at more than 10.70 somoni.

Tajikistan closed its borders on March 24 (at least at official checkpoints; its borders are notoriously porous).

TURKMENISTAN

Turkmen authorities have not acknowledged any confirmed cases, despite independent media reports to the contrary.

The Health Ministry set up a telephone hotline for members of the public wishing to learn about coronavirus. Eurasianet called the hotline on April 1 and was told by an operator that people had "telephoned frequently" with queries and that there was no truth to the claim that saying the word had been forbidden.

Movement into Ashgabat was suspended on March 19, but then eased again on March 23, at which point people entering were required to have their temperature taken.

Food prices are skyrocketing in the country, RFE/RL reports, and shortages growing.

UZBEKISTAN

Restrictions

State of emergency. Borders closed. Schools closed. Public transportation suspended. Travel by car in cities banned from March 30. Freight traffic was exempted from the travel ban. The Interior Ministry has appealed to the public not to leave home unless absolutely necessary. On April 1 new restrictions forbid city residents over age 65 from leaving their homes except to shop for groceries or at a pharmacy in their immediate vicinity. The fine for appearing in public without a mask was increased to 1.1 million sum, Podrobno.uz reported on March 26; that is, according to IMF data, about double the monthly minimum wage. The Justice Ministry said on April 1 that people can be fined up to 11.1 million sum (about $1,150) for hiding information about an infected person from the authorities. RFE/RL's Uzbek service, Radio Ozodlik, reported on April 1 that hundreds of Andijan residents had been marshaled into landscaping efforts in advance of a visit this week from President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, though the city had been put in a state of lockdown on March 27. Deputy Justice Minister Khudoyor Meliyev said on March 23 that people diagnosed with COVID-19 and placed in quarantine will have their mobile phones, audio and video equipment and bank cards temporarily confiscated because these objects "could be carriers of the virus." Uzbekistan closed access through the mountain pass that connects the Ferghana Valley to the rest of the country on March 24. Only people living in the Ferghana Valley may pass to return home.

Health

The Health Ministry on April 3 unveiled a new information portal. The website includes a map pinpointing where infected people were identified. It is also supposed to show where they traveled before being diagnosed. Textile industry association Uztekstilprom said on April 1 that the number of firms producing medical masks in Uzbekistan rose almost tenfold to 195 in March, enabling output to reach 2.6 million units a day. The government will only consider ending the nationwide lockdown 14 days after the last recorded infection in the country, Nurmat Otabekov, the head of the State Inspectorate for Sanitary and Epidemiological Control, said on April 1. The previous day Otabekov said that over 22,000 tests have been administered to detect the coronavirus. On April 2 Otabekov said he does not believe it necessary to pursue a large-scale testing campaign, that doing so would be "impractical and impossible." People eligible for testing are those coming from virus hotspots or those known to have been in contact with coronavirus carriers. The Central Bank advised the public to refrain from using paper money as much as possible to try and limit the spread of the coronavirus. Uzbekistan is an intensely cash-based economy and many businesses have no facilities to accept card payments. A man in Tashkent is facing criminal charges after defying a ban on weddings. Podbrobno.uz cited an Interior Ministry representative as saying that the man's friends, as well as friends of his son-in-law, attended the wedding. A 60-year-old woman diagnosed with the coronavirus in Kazakhstan's Almaty region had recently attended a wedding in the Uzbek village of Tortkul.

Uzbekistan is building 10 new hospitals for quarantining and treating patients diagnosed with the coronavirus. The buildings are going up in Tashkent and in the Andijan, Navoi and Surkhandarya regions.

Economy

The Tashkent regional government estimated that pollution from cars will fall 80 percent during the lockdown. The deputy mayor of Tashkent said on March 31 that potato sales in the capital had shot up by 50 percent, from 100 tons to 150 tons per day, as the public seeks to stockpile food. He added, however, that there is no problem with supplies. Uzbekistan requested $1 billion in budget support from the Asian Development Bank on April 1.

Previous coronavirus dashboards:

March 23-30

March 16-22

Official information:

Armenia

Azerbaijan

Georgia

Kazakhstan

Kyrgyzstan

Uzbekistan

Previous headlines

Chinese business briefing: Force majeure

Trade has plummeted, Chinese goods are disappearing from markets, and exports of China's favorite Central Asian commodity - natural gas - have nosedived.

Coronavirus, oil prices push Kazakhstan toward recession

Economy forecast to shrink by 0.9 percent.

Tajikistan provides solace to soccer junkies

The Central Asian dictatorship insists it has no cases of coronavirus. So the beautiful game must go on.

Kazakhstan: President unveils more coronavirus mitigation plans

Tokayev pledges more help for health workers, the poor and businesses.

Perspectives | Turkmenistan has not banned "coronavirus"

Failure to take defense measures against the pandemic is not the product of authoritarian caprice. Just delusion and mismanagement.

Uzbekistan: Neighbor committees enlisted in coronavirus fight

Mahalla councils were co-opted for purposes of population control in Soviet times. Coronavirus is giving them a new mission.

Armenia seeks to stem coronavirus spread by tracking phones

Parliament has granted Armenia's government broad authority to track residents' whereabouts and contacts through their telephones as a measure to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Turkmenistan: All's well that ends well

State media is gradually breaking the taboo on mentioning the pandemic, but denialism is still the order of the day.

Kazakhstan introduces wheat, flour export quotas

Producers complained they were being denied an opportunity to become competitive again.

Kazakhstan records first COVID-19 fatality in Central Asia

The victim was a 64-year-old woman.

A brief guide to economic stimuli in Eurasia

Twin economic shocks have gripped Central Asia and the Caucasus with astonishing speed.

Georgian currency falls ill as virus spreads

The Georgian lari has become one of the fastest depreciating currencies in Europe, despite the fact that coronavirus has hit the country relatively weakly.

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