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Uzbekistan: Heartbreak and despair for expat laborers trapped by COVID
Tens of thousands of Uzbek workers are trying to get home. In Uzbekistan itself, however, not everybody is eager to see them.
Amid renewed COVID-19 outbreak, Azerbaijan introduces strict lockdown
The long weekend curfew is modeled after Turkey’s, as the disease is spreading rapidly following the loosening of earlier restrictions.
Armenia continues to suffer skyrocketing COVID cases – including the prime minister
Pashinyan’s diagnosis highlights the country’s increasingly unsuccessful battle against the disease.
Kyrgyzstan: President pleads for sovereign debt restructuring
Debt has risen to $4.6 billion this year.
Tajikistan: Coronavirus panic puts sufferers of other illnesses in grave danger
With supply chains disrupted, patients with chronic needs are unable to find key medicines.
Parents struggle to reach newborn surrogates in Georgia
Dozens of babies are marooned in hospitals, their international parents unable to travel during the coronavirus crisis.
Georgia and Armenia bicker over pandemic response
Preoccupied as they are fighting the coronavirus, Armenia and Georgia have still found time to pick one of their classic fights about who is better at something.
- Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan announced on June 3 that Armenia had run out of open hospital beds, while the same day brought the highest number of new cases in the country so far. In response to the dire epidemiological situation, the government has extended mask requirements to all public spaces, reported OC Media on June 4. Previously, masks were only required in closed spaces, such as public transport and shops.
- As COVID-19 infections continue to surge upwards, Pashinyan announced on June 2 that people must follow sanitary rules or he would impose a new lockdown regardless of the economic cost, Reuters quoted him as saying: "Either the rules are not followed and we go to complete restrictions accompanied by a curfew, subjecting the country to new social and economic shocks, or we cooperate and take control of the situation and achieve quick results," he said. "We have 1-3 days to change this situation." Pashinyan said that he had ordered law enforcement to crack down, reported EVN on June 2, “without taking into consideration any sentiment, any counterargument, any excuse, any emotion.” He added that at every meeting of the emergency pandemic commission the possibility of returning to lockdown is discussed.
- Pashinyan and members of his immediate family have tested positive for COVID-19, Public Radio reported on June 1, his 45th birthday. Pashinyan is asymptomatic and self-isolating at home. Vladimir Putin called to wish him a happy birthday and a speedy recovery. Pashinyan said he hopes to attend a military parade in Moscow on June 24 if he has recovered by then.
- Mindful of the caseload, a group of Armenian civil society organizations has called on the government to implement a strict, two-week lockdown. "Protecting the economy at the cost of spiking numbers of deaths is not acceptable as in this scenario neither people’s lives, nor the economy will be saved," said their statement, epress.am reported on May 27.
- Nationwide state of emergency through June 13. Schools closed. Shops and restaurants reopened on May 18.
- Work at a garment factory was put on hold for 14 days after 115 workers became infected with the coronavirus, reported Radio Azatutyun on June 5.
- According to RFE/RL's Armenian service, few people are following restrictions and mask rules, motivated by a desire for fresh air.
- 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.
- A four-year-old who tested positive for COVID-19 has been diagnosed with Kawasaki syndrome, which has been noted worldwide in children affected by the coronavirus, reported OC Media on June 3.
- Someone is leaking the names of COVID-19 victims on Facebook, reported EVN on June 2. The spokesperson for the Health Ministry confirmed that the names of the dead are accurate, and that law enforcement will attempt to locate the source of the leak, which she called “a breach of human rights.”
- Pashinyan came under withering criticism for appearing mask-less at a crowded banquet in Nagorno-Karabakh on May 21, shortly after instructing Armenians to take personal responsibility for stopping the spread of COVID-19.
- The government on June 4 approved a proposal by the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs to expand the list of sectors wherein workers may receive state benefits during the pandemic, EVN reported on June 4.
A strict quarantine will be imposed in Azerbaijani cities over the weekend, Prime Minister Ali Asadov said on June 4. The new restrictions were required because the disease has begun to spread again rapidly following the May 18 lifting of the previous regime.
- Final exams for some students will be postponed to September, reported Trend on June 5.
- Starting June 3, police began to fine citizens appearing in public without masks. The oncoming summer heat has made people reluctant to comply with mask regulations, Jam News reported, and some have begun to keep masks at hand nearby, only to don when they catch sight of police.
- Three members of the opposition Popular Front Party were each arrested a second time during since the pandemic began for “quarantine violations,” OC Media reported on June 1.
- Baku has announced new regulations for reopening the intercity bus system. Tickets for long rides will be limited, to help passengers social distance, and all must wear gloves and masks, Trend reported on June 1.
- On May 29, the government extended border closures through June 15.
- Schools and most stores closed. Traffic between regions banned; parks closed. Borders closed.
- The government ended some lockdown measures on May 18, including the requirement that anyone wishing to go outside must first notify police. People over age 65 have been allowed outside their homes for the first time since March 24. Borders remain closed. Inter-city transportation and most large gatherings will remain banned. Restaurants will be allowed to reopen with a limited number of patrons.
- The prime minister of rival Armenia, who announced he had contracted COVID-19 on June 1, is faking his illness to avoid having to travel to Moscow for a military parade later this month, claimed a Baku-based political analyst without evidence in a June 2 commentary published by a prominent Azerbaijani media outlet.
A student was arrested in Baku for protesting with a group of his classmates in front of the Ministry of Education, reported Jam News on June 2. Others received fines. The students were seeking to have their tuition payments for the past semester cancelled since, they argued, the quality of classes had dipped after they were transferred online.
Azerbaijan's economy has taken a “double hit” under the epidemic, as tourism and service revenues tank alongside oil prices, reported OC Media in a May 26 feature on the country's economic malaise.
Customs revenues fell 5.6 percent in April compared to April 2019, Turan reported on May 12.
Parliament is considering legislation that would allow fines for citizens who do not wear masks in public spaces, reported Echo Kavkaza on June 2.
Shops and restaurants reopened on June 1 with strict sanitary requirements, including face masks, reported Agend.ge.
A new cluster of COVID-19 cases has emerged in Tbilisi's central Saburtalo district, Jam News reported on June 1.
Public transportation resumed on May 29, OC Media reported, with passengers required to wear face masks. Windows must remain open. Intercity transport is scheduled to resume on June 8.
- The state of emergency ended on May 22. The government published a revised list of lockdown measures that will remain in place until July 15. Restrictions remain on international flights, public transport, public gatherings, schools, shopping centers and bars and restaurants.
- Georgian troops are no longer confined to their barracks, the Defense Ministry said on May 25. The measure was put in place on March 21.
On June 4, Foreign Minister Davit Zalkaliani offered his Armenian counterpart unspecified help fighting the pandemic. Petitioners in Georgia have asked the government to treat Armenian COVID-19 patients in Georgia, OC Media reported on June 5.
In Georgia, as elsewhere, national restrictions on travel put in place to fight the coronavirus have had the positive side-effect of easing air pollution, Agenda.ge reported on May 20. Georgia's National Environmental Agency reported lower levels of nitrogen dioxide in both Tbilisi and nation-wide.
The Georgian government is working with experts from Cambridge, Deloitte, and the University of London to construct a post-COVID-19 economic recovery plan, reported Agenda.ge on June 4.
The government statistics agency said Georgia’s year-on-year inflation amounted to 6.5 percent in May, reported Civil.ge on June 3.
Georgia’s tourism plan envisions opening only to tourists hailing from countries the government classifies as "green," where the virus has significantly abated, reported OC Media on June 2. Armenia, with its recent upsurge in COVID-19 cases, will not be included among the sanctioned countries, reported Radio Armenia on June 2. Currently, countries being considered include Israel, Austria, Germany, Czechia, Greece and the Baltic states, reported OC Media on June 3. Czechia has said its citizens would be safe visiting Georgia.
Georgia’s economy contracted 16.6 percent year-on-year in April, the national statistics committee said on May 29.
The prime minister presented his fourth anti-crisis policy on May 28, a 434 million lari ($136 million) package to support the construction sector, Agenda.ge reported. The industry accounted for 9 percent of GDP before the crisis, Giorgi Gakharia said. Some resistance to the plan has emerged on social media, Jam News reported on May 29.
The Health Ministry is offering one-time payments of 300 GEL (about $95) to self-employed people, Agenda.ge reported on May 25. So far, 57,443 people have registered for the assistance.
- Most cases in Abkhazia were brought by students returning home from Russian military academies. The de facto government declared a state of emergency on March 27 and stopped public transportation. It banned tourists, the mainstay of the economy, and closed most businesses. High school seniors were required to return to school on June 2 for a two-week preparation period for their final exams, reported Apsny News. All other grades finished school on May 13 due to the pandemic.
- The de facto government closed the border along the Enguri river after a brief reopening from May 26 to June 1, during which 532 people returned to Abkhazia from Georgia, reported Apsny on June 1.
- Hotel bookings are open for reservation in Abkhazia starting June 1, despite continued closed borders, reported JamNews on May 25.
- 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.
- 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.
- A group of cadets who had been quarantined for two weeks after returning from a Russian military school fled the hospital, reported Sputnik on May 21. The police returned the cadets to the hospital and the de facto president of South Ossetia denounced the cadets, ordering police to tighten control over quarantine. More than 270 cadets from South Ossetia study at Russian military universities; they were sent home when school ended early due to the pandemic.
- The de facto president of Nagorno-Karabakh declared a state of emergency on April 12.
- Health officials have called on people not to attend planned protests in major cities on June 6, with Health Minister Yelzhan Birtanov warning that protesters face the risk of arrest. The capital’s chief doctor, Zhanna Pralieva, said that people attending public protests increase the risk of infection in the city tenfold, reported TengriNews on June 5, and urged people to follow sanitary regulations at all times. Activists believe such calls are yet another way for the government to crack down on free expression.
- Quarantine regulations have been increased in Atyrau, where two recent deaths from COVID-19 reportedly drove a decision to close public parks and squares, reported TengriNews on June 5.
- About 300 Uzbek migrants have once again gathered on the border between Russia and Kazakhstan trying to get home, CentralAsia.media reported on June 4.
- In response to concerns about the easing of quarantine restrictions, including, most recently, the reopening of spas, fitness centers, and communal baths on June 1, the chief sanitary doctor of Almaty, Zhandarbek Bekshin, announced that stricter measures may be considered going forward, reported TengriNews on June 3.
- Thirty-nine cafes, stores and beauty salons were closed in Almaty over the weekend for health-code violations, reported TengriNews on June 1.
- Local media are beginning to question official COVID-19 mortality statistics. Vlast.kz reported on May 26 that authorities are often not counting deaths when the deceased have other health conditions. A cemetery outside of Almaty created solely for COVID-19 victims has more graves than reported deaths from the epidemic in the city, RFE/RL reported on May 25.
- Kazakhstan, and possibly other Central Asian countries, appear to be using the “Russian way” to approximate COVID-19 deaths, Fergana News reported on June 2. Russia and Kazakhstan are not including in their death totals patients who succumbed to COVID-19 but had underlying health issues.
- In response to criticism for easing quarantine restrictions while COVID-19 infections continue to rise, Kazakhstan's chief sanitary official, Aizhan Yesmagambetova, on June 2 pointed to the country's increased testing capacity and ability to keep infections from sharply peaking, Tengrinews reported.
- In Almaty, 17 more emergency response personnel have tested positive for the coronavirus, reported Tengrinews on June 2.
Veteran Central Asia watcher Bruce Pannier examined how the pandemic is spreading rapidly at oil production and mining sites in Kazakhstan, exacerbating economic fears, in a June 3 RFE/RL analysis: "While government warnings about shutting down operations at sites where the spread of the coronavirus appears to be out of control are prudent, the authorities will be hard pressed to actually take such measures. [...] A suspension of work at any of the major oil fields or major copper mines would represent an additional loss of revenue the state can ill afford at the moment."
Half of the 1,000-odd oilfield service companies in Kazakhstan are close to bankruptcy, said Rashid Zhaksylykov, the head of the Union of Oilfield Services Companies of Kazakhstan, on May 26.
- Parliamentary elections scheduled for October may be postponed due to the virus, reported 24.kg on June 3.
- Starting June 5, domestic flights and public transport will resume, reported 24.kg. Masks and temperature checks will be required before passengers board flights.
- Bishkek may require passengers on incoming international flights to attain a certificate of health three to five days before traveling to Kyrgyzstan, reported 24.kg on June 4.
- Mosques and churches will re-open starting on June 8, reported 24.kg on June 4.
- In Bishkek, a crowd of protestors sought to reverse the government’s decision to make a newly built Turkish-Kyrgyz hospital into a COVID-19 observation center, fearing that the virus would then spread into the populous Osh market region of the city, Kloop reported on May 31.
- Nearly 200 Kyrgyz citizens returned from Novosibirsk on a May 31 chartered flight, reported Kloop, while 233 returned from Ekaterinburg.
- Teams of medics in Bishkek are knocking on doors to offer COVID-19 tests and check on people who may be treating themselves for the virus, 24.kg reported on June 2.
- Nineteen medics at Bishkek's infectious diseases hospital have tested positive for COVID-19, said the hospital's chief physician, Gulzhigit Aaliev, on May 29. "This is a great tragedy for us," he said in comments carried by Kaktus Media. "The psychological situation was good before, but after this, of course, it isn't anymore."
- The tourist season is officially open in Kyrgyzstan, reported 24.kg on June 5, but the flow of holidaymakers to Lake Issyk-Kul is not expected to start until June 20.
- Charter flights will begin bringing Chinese workers back into the country this month, Vice Prime Minister Erkin Asrandiev said on June 3, to resume work on numerous investment projects backed by China.
- Prices for food staples rose sharply in March and April, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization reported on May 20. Potato prices were twice as high as a year earlier, "due to strong demand from consumers fearing supply shortages as a result of the pandemic, which exacerbated seasonal trends."
The Health Ministry warned of the prevalence of a second wave of coronavirus infections in the region, urging people to continue strictly observing social-distancing regulations and wearing masks in public spaces, reported Avesta on June 4.
Over 1,200 Russian citizens were evacuated from Tajikistan in May, Ferghana News on June 4 quoted the Russian ambassador as saying.
Dushanbe officials are digging extra graves and covering them with plastic in preparation for COVID-19 fatalities, Prague-based Akhbor reported on May 28.
Restaurants remain open, but police say they frequently fail to adhere to sanitary requirements, Asia-Plus reported on May 28.
AirDubai on June 1 returned 180 Tajik citizens who had been forced to remain in Dubai after the start of the epidemic, reported AsiaPlus. Two Tajik citizens who intended to return were forced to remain in Dubai after a medical examination by airport personnel. Forty-nine more Tajiks arrived home from Russia on May 29 and 30.
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.
In May the number of virology labs in Dushanbe increased from one to three, reported Avesta.tj on June 3.
The head of the GBAO region is being treated for COVID-19 and responding well to retroviral drugs. But several days after being tested, Yodgor Fayzov has still not received the results, he told Asia-Plus on May 28.
Wages decreased by 10 percent in the 12 months to April 2020, the UN said on June 1. (The report did not specify if the change was real or nominal).
Service industry businesses will benefit from new tax holidays designed to mitigate the effects of the pandemic on the tourism and hospitality sectors, reported Fergana News on June 5.
Physicians in Tajikistan who diagnose or treat COVID-19 patients will receive salary bonuses over the coming months from the presidential reserve fund, reported Avesta.tj on June 3. Some 4.2 million somoni ($409,000) have been allocated to that purpose so far.
Asia-Plus on June 2 published an FAQ about unemployment benefits, who is eligible, and how to apply.
Loaves of bread (naan) in three of five markets that the UN monitors were smaller than normal but being sold at the same price, as bakers contend with rising flour prices, the UN reported on May 25.
Uzbekistan has become the biggest humanitarian aid donor to Tajikistan in COVID-19 containment efforts, giving about $2.5 million since the pandemic started in January, reported AsiaPlus on May 22. A group of eight doctors who had been sent to Dushanbe to help treat COVID-19 patients returned to Uzbekistan on May 22.
After six weeks of negotiations, Turkmenistan says it will permit a visit from the World Health Organization at an unspecified date in June, RFE/RL reported on June 5. Ashgabat continues to insist it is unaffected by the global pandemic and has carried on holding mass events, like celebrating World Cycling Day on June 3 by recording a music video featuring the president.
Tehran says Turkmenistan and Iran have agreed to restart road and rail traffic as of June 10. This had been due to happen on June 1, but the date was delayed as facilities were being put in place for disinfecting cargo. Trucks must pass 26-meter-long tunnels through a 70-centimeter deep pool of disinfectant liquid – in effect, a sheep dip for trucks. Turkmenistan has said it wants to build similar facilities on the Afghan border.
Turkish Airlines hopes to resume flights to Ashgabat on July 1, regional media reported on May 29.
Not a week passes now without a fresh report of public anger about food shortages in the regions. Vienna-based Chronicles of Turkmenistan reported on May 10 that the head of the Turkmenbashi district in the Dashoguz province was, while he was out inspecting cotton fields, manhandled by residents indignant at the scant supplies of subsidized flour at the local state store. People are particularly exercised that more emphasis has been placed in the area on cultivating cotton, which can be used to raise foreign currency but cannot be eaten, instead of wheat. Police eventually got involved, Chronicles reported
- The government announced on June 4 that it would allow more stores, restaurants and kindergartens to reopen on June 15. A ban on nightclubs, city buses and the Tashkent metro, concerts and group prayers will remain.
- High school seniors applying to university will only have to sit tests on two subjects during their exit exams instead of the usual five, reported Fergana News on June 4. However, they must still report physically to take the exam. Students will wear masks and gloves during the test, while the exam room will be disinfected no less than four times during the day.
- The lockdown was tightened in several regions near Tashkent on May 27.
- The country has been divided into zones to indicate the level of permitted movement: red, yellow and green. In the green zone, cars can move freely without special permits and more businesses are allowed to reopen.
- The government has spent approximately $11 million on treatment of COVID-19 patients, reported Kun.uz on May 25.
- Professor of Epidemiology Hairulla Mustafayev, chief researcher at the Institute of Virology in Tashkent, stated on May 25 that there will not be a second wave of coronavirus infections in Uzbekistan.
Medical workers in the Syrdarya region received the salary supplement promised by the president only after the General Prosecutor's office intervened, reported Kun.uz on June 5.
In the first four months of the year, Uzbekistan Airlines carried 15 times more cargo than the same period of 2019, state media reported on May 28. The airline converted four passenger Boeing 767s to transport cargo as a way of helping mitigate the fiscal crunch caused by grounded passengers.
The president unveiled a project to restart the tourism industry on May 27. In the first stage, the aim is to encourage domestic tourism. Later, the country will resume connections with countries that have contained their COVID-19 cases, Gazeta.uz reported. The project is entitled “Uzbekistan. Safe travel guaranteed.”
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