Dashboard: Coronavirus in Eurasia - April 13-19
Reports from April 13-19 on how the pandemic has upended life in Central Asia and the South Caucasus.
Last updated: April 19
This is an archived page. For the latest dashboard, click here.
- The Cabinet on April 13 extended the nationwide state of emergency for another month, to May 14. It dropped restrictions on the media for the time being, however, Factor.am reported.
- Most businesses and schools remain closed.
- The Armenian embassy in Russia said on April 6 that 2,000 of its nationals in the country wish to return home, but have been thwarted by Russia’s closed borders.
- The armed forces will no longer disclose the number of infected soldiers or soldiers in self-isolation, OC Media reported on April 13.
- A planeload of medical supplies from China arrived in Yerevan on April 8, Deputy Prime Minister Tigran Avinyan said. Some of the goods were gifts and some were purchased by the Armenian government. Boxes were stamped with the phrase, “May our friendship higher than Mountain Ararat and higher than Yangtze River.”
- A Russian military team with a mobile laboratory arrived in Yerevan on April 7 to support the government’s testing efforts, Tert.am reported.
Former Economy Minister Vahram Avanesyan told Civilnet on April 15 that Armenia may lose 15 percent of GDP during the coronavirus crisis and compared the effect on trade links to the collapse of the USSR.
The Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), of which Armenia is a member, announced on April 3 that it had dropped tariffs on food and medical products until June 30.
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.
- Schools and most stores closed. Traffic between regions banned; parks closed.
- Having closed its borders until April 20, Azerbaijan is not allowing some 300 of its citizens to cross into the country from Russia, where they are stuck in increasingly dire conditions, Turan reported on April 14.
- Azerbaijan is abusing coronavirus-related restrictions to silence its critics, Human Rights Watch said on April 16.
- As of April 5, anyone wishing to leave home must first notify the police. People 65 and older are prohibited from leaving their homes unless they are healthcare workers.
- Police detained two men for selling fake media credentials that would enable bearers to move around quarantine checkpoints, Turan reported on April 8.
- The Interior Ministry said 3,796 people were fined and five arrested on April 5 for violating restrictions on movement.
- “Thanks to the measures taken in Azerbaijan, the sanitary-epidemiological situation in connection with the coronavirus is under control,” said presidential advisor Hikmet Haiyev on April 16, Haqqin reported.
- The mask shortage in Azerbaijan has come to an end, JAM News reported on April 13, with locally produced coverings now becoming widely available. The new masks, however, are “made of a material similar to plastic.”
- President Ilham Aliyev signed a decree allocating about $56 million to purchase medical equipment and supplies to fight coronavirus, Turan reported on April 9.
- The first cases of COVID-19 were reported April 6 in the isolated exclave of Nakhchivan. Eighteen people were said to be infected and 2,896 quarantined.
Fitch Ratings revised its outlook for Azerbaijan from stable to negative on April 10, three months ahead of the next scheduled review. Fitch specifically criticized Baku’s insistence on defending the manat: “The authorities' persistent defense of the 1.7 AZN/USD exchange rate despite a 32% fall in Brent oil prices since end-February is proving costly and appears unsustainable if external pressures fail to ease.” The state oil fund spent almost $2 billion defending the currency in March alone.
A few days later, the president warned that "internal and external enemies of Azerbaijan" are sowing panic about the manat and that the currency is not under threat of devaluation, Haqqin reported.
Independent news website Caucasian Knot canvased economists and small business owners on April 10 and concluded that Baku's economic stimulus offerings are not reaching large segments of the population.
- State of emergency. Schools, most shops and open-air markets closed.
- The government banned private vehicles from the country's roads between April 17 and 21, excluding those transporting goods, OC Media reported. The ban appears to be an effort to depress Easter turnout on April 19 (see below), though the Church unilaterally declared that the driving ban does not apply to clergy and those service the church. Face masks are also now mandatory.
- Prime Minister Gakharia banned movement into and out of Georgia’s largest cities -- Tbilisi, Kutaisi, Batumi and Rustavi -- effective April 15 for 10 days.
- The government on April 17 closed all cemeteries except for burials. Georgians often visit the dead around Easter. Authorities in western regions began closing cemeteries on April 15.
- 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.
The government said on April 10 that “cases of domestic violence in Georgia have not grown” since the country went into lockdown, rejecting claims by a coalition of civil society groups that more women are seeking help under the state of emergency than at any previous time.
Four Georgians have died abroad from COVID-19 – in Spain, France and the United States – Paata Imnadze, deputy head of the National Center for Disease Control and Public Health, said on April 10.
- Georgia’s official coronavirus information portal, StopCoV.ge, is now available in Abkhaz, the language spoken in the breakaway territory. Ossetian, the language spoken in Georgia’s other disputed region, will soon be added, Ekho Kavkaza reported on April 13.
- Churches were full for Orthodox Palm Sunday services on April 12, civil.ge reported. Facing pressure to hold Easter services on April 19 remotely, the church has doubled down, insisting that the 87-year-old patriarch will preside over services in-person that evening.
- Officials have called on parishioners to obey emergency orders and stay at home, but have not closed churches. Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia on April 14 said the government would not interfere.
- Gakharia as well as President Salome Zurabishvili have said they will attend services remotely.
- Earlier in the month, several other government ministers said that attending Easter services would violate curfew, OC Media reported.
- 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.
- A number of COVID-19 cases have been confirmed in the Church. On April 14, OC media reported that a priest in Tbilisi had tested positive for the disease, as had a security guard at the Patriarchate. Earlier, an altar boy was reported to have fallen ill. At least one member of the clergy has been hospitalized with COVID-19, as have his mother and grandfather.
Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia said on April 9 that Georgia’s richest man, Bidzina Ivanishvili, who is the head of Gakharia’s Georgian Dream party, offers Georgia “unique insurance” with his largess. “Wherever the state is struggling, this person … provide[s] assistance, and this needs to be duly appreciated,” Gakharia said.
- OC-Media has a liveblog on the crisis, as does Civil.ge.
- Abkhazia: The region recorded its first case of COVID-19 on April 7, Ekho Kavkaza reported. 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. On April 10, the de facto president published details describing who is permitted to cross the border.
- The Russian military has deployed a field hospital at one of its bases in Abkhazia, Abkhaz Inform reported on April 9.
- The de facto president of Nagorno-Karabakh declared a state of emergency on April 12, Hetq.am reported. He said run-off elections scheduled for April 14 would go ahead as planned.
The de facto Health Ministry said it had disinfected polling stations. Six cases of COVID-19 have been reported in the region.
- The OSCE paused its monitoring mission on the Nagorno-Karabakh frontlines. (March 18)
- 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. On April 10, the closure was extended to May 1. The Moscow-backed statelet has not confirmed any cases of COVID-19. Georgia’s Minister for Reconciliation and Civic Equality, Ketevan Tsikhelashvili, on April 1 expressed readiness to help the two regions confront the pandemic. On April 15, she condemned South Ossetia’s refusal to allow residents to receive free medical care on Georgian-controlled territory, noting that deaths are needlessly occurring in the closed region, Ekho Kavkaza reported.
- State of emergency, borders closed. Schools closed.
- Almaty police said on April 18 that they had detained two men -- one a political activist, the other the former head of a popular television station -- for “disseminating knowingly false information” by social media, Vlast.kz reported.
- 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.
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.
- As of April 13, 211 health workers had tested positive with COVID-19, Fergana News reported.
- The Health Ministry expects infections to peak in late April or May, TengriNews reported on April 13.
- 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.
Kazinform state news agency reported on April 16 that 37 percent of the people who applied for welfare payments of 42,500 tenge -- being paid by the government as compensation for losses of earnings during the coronavirus crisis -- have had their requests denied. Reasons include errors in compiling applications, incorrect bank details and ineligibility.
The government on April 15 released a list of enterprises that may resume operations from April 20 as the country seeks ways out of its state of emergency. The list varies from city to city and includes companies involved in industry and construction, car dealerships, notaries, and banks (albeit with reduced staff). In Nur-Sultan, food takeaway and delivery establishments will be permitted to stay open until 10 p.m.
- State of emergency, schools closed. Nightly curfew in the largest cities.
- A ban on alcohol in Osh, Kyrgyzstan's second city, was lifted on April 17, two days after coming into force, due to pressure from local businesses, Kloop.kg reported. On April 15 police chief Malik Nurdinov accused drunken people of violating curfew and fighting with police. He said the decision to ban alcohol sales was made after an appeal from local citizens. Bishkek is considering similar measures, the newswire reported on April 16.
- 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.
- A group of Kyrgyz migrants in Turkey released a video message to President Sooronbai Jeenbekov on April 11 requesting help returning home. The group said more than 350 Kyrgyz citizens in Turkey had lost their jobs and are stuck there without money for food or housing. On April 17, 212 Kyrgyz citizens returned from Istanbul, the government said.
- Kyrgyzstan's chief Muslim cleric called on believers April 16 not to observe public worship or iftar meals during Ramadan, which starts next week.
- Deputy Health Minister Nurbolot Usenbaev said on April 14 that half of Kyrgyzstan’s ventilators are not working (365 of 649 work).
- At least five people have died waiting for kidney dialysis during the state of emergency, as hospitals are crowded and patients have lost the means to drive to their care facilities, the head of the Dialysis Patient Association, Venera Tashmanbetova, told 24.kg on April 15.
- The Health Ministry expects infections to peak between April 20 and 24.
- The Foreign Ministry said a consignment of protective suits and masks and non-contact thermometers donated by a foundation set up by Chinese tycoon Jack Ma arrived in Bishkek on April 10. A delivery of express coronavirus tests and ventilators is expected soon. The aid is worth a total of 1.8 million yuan ($255,000).
Citing the Ministry of Labor and Social Development, the OECD estimated in an April 15 report that 1.8 million workers of 2.6 million in the formal labor force are now unemployed. Informal unemployment is already high.
Kyrgyzstan’s president asked his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, on April 14 for debt relief "considering the negative impact of the infection on the macroeconomic situation,” RFE/RL reported.
The government’s coronavirus crisis coordination center said on April 16 that it had distributed humanitarian aid to 170,000 of 220,000 needy families.
The government Deputy Prime Minister Kubatbek Boronov said on April 9 that the government will provide "all-round assistance" to farmers doing spring sowing. “The movement of farmers and agricultural machinery will carry on without any difficulties. The checkpoints set up in some villages should not be an obstacle to conducting spring field work,” he said.
The Education Ministry said on March 31 that it will begin broadcasting classes for schoolchildren on local television stations from April 8.
- Kloop.kg has a liveblog on the crisis.
The government insists there are no cases of COVID-19 in the country, but several mysterious deaths, and apparent government coverups, are undermining that claim.
Schools reopened on April 1 after a spring holiday.
The government closed mosques as of April 18 and banned gatherings for Ramadan, which begins around April 24, Asia-Plus reported. Ahead of the ban coming into force, thousands of men gathered for Friday prayers on April 17, AFP reported, many wearing masks.
President Emomali Rahmon called his counterpart in Kazakhstan on April 9 to discuss the coronavirus pandemic, which Tajik authorities continue to insist has not reached their country. He thanked President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev for donating 5,000 tons of flour and expressed appreciation for Kazakhstan allowing the transit of goods headed to Tajikistan.
The Dushanbe city health department on April 17 took receipt of 20,000 coronavirus test kits and 10 ventilators donated by Tajik energy infrastructure building company TGEM. The company, which is privately owned but rumored to be linked to the president’s son, Rustam Emomali, says it intends to buy an additional 20 ventilators. Tajikistan has no confirmed coronavirus cases to date.
The Health Ministry does not know how many ventilators are in the country, Asia-Plus reported on April 2.
The IMF paused the debt repayments of 25 poor countries including Tajikistan for six months on April 13.
The overall volume of cash transfers from Russia decreased between 30 and 35 percent in March compared to last year, according to two of the major payment systems, RBK reported on April 7. Tajikistan is among the most remittance-dependent country in the world. Tajik workers in Russia send home billions of dollars per year, equivalent to about 30 percent of GDP.
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.
"Turkmenistan has one of the highest ratios of out-of-pocket spending to total health expenditure in the world, which means that the costs of a major COVID outbreak might be passed onto an economically precarious population, particularly at a time when public finances are likely to come under severe pressure," said the OECD on April 15. "Growth will fall markedly in 2020."
Vienna-based news website Chronicles of Turkmenistan on April 14 cited unidentified sources as saying that at least seven people are being held in isolation in the city of Turkmenabat after being diagnosed with COVID-19. The government denies the country has any cases
To mark World Health Day on April 7, Turkmenistan held public sporting events and a cycling parade. The country continues to insist it is unaffected by the pandemic.
The soccer season is set to resume on April 19 after a month-long pandemic-inspired pause. Fans will be invited to attend matches in person, RFE/RL reported.
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.
Food prices have been skyrocketing in the country, RFE/RL reported, and shortages growing.
- State of emergency. Borders closed. Schools closed. Public transportation suspended. Travel by car in cities banned.
- Chief mufti Usmonkhon Alimov issued a fatwa on April 14 proscribing public Ramadan events such as group iftars or gatherings for prayer, Podrobno.uz reported. The month of Ramadan begins this year on April 23.
- The Justice Ministry relayed new guidance on April 9 to state that residents of Tashkent, Nukus and other regional centers may during the lockdown walk their dogs only once a day, and for a distance no more than 100 meters from their homes.
- A senior government official, Economic Development Minister Jamshid Kuchkarov, said on April 15 that he believes it is likely the lockdowns in effect across the country will be extended beyond April 20. That would emulate a similar policy in Kazakhstan, where it was decided this week that the state of emergency should be rolled over until at least May 1.
- Strict shelter-in-place rules prohibit residents of Tashkent and regional centers leaving their homes except to buy food or medicine, visit a doctor or go to work. Anyone found outside without a valid reason may be fined up to 6.6 million sum (almost $700), Podrobno.uz reported, or about three times the average monthly wage. Previously, fines for appearing without a mask stood at 1.1 million sum.
- Chief state sanitary inspector Nurmat Atabekov said on April 15 that up to 9,000 people are being tested every day. He said that capacity is limited, however. Uzbekistan has 200 devices spread across 40 laboratories that are able to do PCR-based tests, Atabekov said.
- The Innovative Development Ministry said on April 10 that Uzbekistan plans to have 50,000 domestically manufactured coronavirus testing systems in place by the end of the month. Clinical trials to verify whether the systems will work are reportedly still underway, however.
"According to the Ministry of Labor, only 5.7 million people are employed in the formal sector out of 19 million in the labor force, leaving a large amount of people vulnerable to the slowdown," the OECD said on April 15.
The sum fell below 10,000 against the dollar for the first time on April 14. All regional currencies are facing downward pressure.
The minister of labor asked international human rights groups on April 16 to consider the dire economic forecast and lift their boycott of Uzbek cotton. Promising that reforms to the sector, which was notorious for forced labor under the previous president, will continue, the minister wrote in an open letter, "your decision to end the cotton boycott would be pivotal. Uzbekistan’s textile sector is one of the country’s leading sources of employment. In textile production alone, nearly 7,000 enterprises employ more than 200,000 workers, whose incomes support the livelihood of 1 million of our citizens. Our preliminary assessment suggests that the end of the cotton boycott could double overall exports of Uzbek textiles — growth that would create much-needed jobs."
A Eurasian Economic Union ban on food exports until June 30 will impact Uzbekistan's ability to feed itself, according to an analysis by an Uzbek business magazine reprinted by Podrobno.uz on April 13. The country imports most of the vegetable oil, soybeans and sunflower seeds it needs from Kazakhstan and Russia, EAEU members. Its own cooking oil refining industry employs 15,000 people, many of whom will lack inputs under the ban. Left unsaid is the pressure the Russia-led trade bloc is heaping on former Soviet republics like Uzbekistan and Tajikistan that are not members, but import key foodstuffs from neighbors that are.
Previous coronavirus dashboards:
March 31-April 5
Kazakhstan: Coronavirus tests a stuttering private sector
Kazakhstan is still far from being the developed market economy its leaders pine for. And the current crisis risks shunting the country back toward a more traditional, state-directed stance.
Georgia’s nightmare before Easter
Georgia has received plaudits for its response to COVID-19. But as the biggest event in the Christian calendar approaches, the nation finds itself torn between church and state, faith and science.
Kazakhstan: 2.7 million receive coronavirus payments, millions more waiting
60 percent of the working population has filed for financial aid.
As it attempts to reopen economy, Armenia juggles stimulus plans
Businesses complain the plans do not address the scope of coronavirus-related economic damage.
In trial by fire, Armenia pilots distance learning
Armenia’s success with distance learning is overwhelming parents and teachers, and illuminating socio-economic divides.
Kazakhstan: Medics struggling to keep themselves safe
182 health workers have been infected at one hospital alone.
Tajikistan: The mysterious deaths raising suspicion
Officials insist they are testing for coronavirus and finding no cases
Uzbekistan shores up food defenses as coronavirus rages
Mirziyoyev wants his country-people to grow more of their own vegetables.
Turkmenistan: Together in Electric Dreams
Instead of being transparent about the economic crisis, the president is, in the manner of an unaccountable manager incapable of long-term planning, trying to do the same with less.
Perspectives | Eurasia’s citizen-led response to the coronavirus crisis
Despite years of state pressure, civic groups are providing services for those in need and showing the effectiveness of social engagement, solidarity and selflessness.
Kyrgyzstan struggles to protect medics from coronavirus
At least 79 front line workers have fallen sick as of April 13.
Coronavirus exacerbates Armenia-Turkey rancor
An initial, promising breakthrough was quickly spoiled by a dispute over an impolitic dedication on some Chinese aid to Armenia.
Infodemic infects Chinese-Russian relations
The pandemic is undermining official efforts in China and Russia to foster mutual amity.
Azerbaijan cracks down on opposition amid coronavirus outbreak
At least 16 opposition activists have been arrested since the outbreak began, and human rights groups accuse the government of taking advantage of the pandemic.
Georgians literally laundering their cash during coronavirus
One Georgian bazaar has avoided the government’s order to close by adopting a novel way to clean its money.
Azerbaijanis adjust to strict stay-at-home regime
An SMS system to regulate residents’ trips outside the home seems to be working smoothly, but there are still thousands of violations of the regime every day.
Winter comes for Georgian hospitality
The coronavirus pandemic has paralyzed Georgia’s booming tourism and hospitality industry.
Kyrgyzstan: Government promises help, but warns of limited options
Businesses will be given breaks to survive, but not all will qualify
Turkmenistan: Through the looking glass
While the government seems to concede the inevitability of the incipient downturn, it is still clinging to rosy economic performance figures. This and more in our weekly Turkmenistan briefing.
Tajikistan's nonchalance on coronavirus shows cracks
Critics are exasperated by the government’s passivity, warning that the reforms needed for Tajikistan to weather this moment should have been adopted “the day before yesterday.”
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.
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