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Tajikistan strains credibility with apparent COVID-19 turnaround
Tajikistan is claiming major strides in containing its coronavirus outbreak. The figures may prompt some to cock an eyebrow, however.
Kyrgyzstan: Distance-learning exposes weaknesses of education system
Interest is waning in the state’s distance-education offerings, which have struggled to reach poor, rural students.
Tajikistan sees unusual protests, authorities react with force
Chinese workers rallied with a demand to be allowed to travel home.
Georgia hopes to sell its pandemic response to tourists
The nation is working on a coronavirus-conscious tourism plan.
Kazakhstan: Controversial law portends struggle over coronavirus vaccine
Without credible media, a lack of trust in government seems to be fueling anti-vaccination campaigns, pandemic be damned.
Kazakhstan to allow free export of food products
Restrictions had been put in place to prevent deficits during the coronavirus outbreak.
Armenia nears limit of hospital capacity for COVID patients
Two weeks after the country largely ended its lockdown, the number of coronavirus cases has shot up and the government is preparing to use a repurposed sports hall to treat patients.
Prime Minister Nikol 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.
- Nationwide state of emergency through June 13. Schools closed.
- A group of 168 Armenians residing in Turkey were returned home on May 22 thanks to negotiations mediated by Georgia, reported OC Media.
- During a government meeting on May 21, Pashinyan expressed surprise at attitudes toward the virus, reported EVN. A government report revealed that some believe authorities are exaggerating the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths to receive more international funding.
- Pashinyan addressed the country via Facebook live on May 19, pleading for citizens to take the threat of the coronavirus epidemic more seriously and consider their civic responsibility as the country reopens, reported Radio Azatutyun. The number of infections has been rising faster since the country emerged from lockdown.
- Shopping centers, restaurants and gyms reopened on May 18, though face masks will be required in all public places and groups of more than five prohibited.
- Public transport reopened in Yerevan on May 18. Deputy Mayor Hrachya Sargsyan announced adjustments to the bus system, including a box for paying fares and maintaining disinfectant on board. Passengers must wear PPE while on board and remained seated.
- Health Minister Arsen Torosyan expressed doubt about the veracity of Georgia’s coronavirus statistics, Echo Kavkaza reported on May 22, adding that Armenia's testing regime is superior to Georgia's.
- Armenia will begin producing its own COVID-19 tests next week, Radio Armenia reported on May 20. Currently, the country receives most of its tests from Russia and Japan.
- In a meeting with journalists on May 21, Health Minister Torosyan explained that civilians need to become habituated to wearing masks for the long-term and described measures to move non-critical cases out of hospital beds and into a monitored home environment.
- Torosyan announced a new strategy on May 19 wherein people who test positive for COVID-19 but exhibit mild symptoms may quarantine at home. The purpose is to ease demand for hospital beds, he said in a Facebook message reported by the public broadcaster.
- Torosyan said on May 18 that as infections rise, conspiracy theories are spreading. Rumors he cited include: “We will be fitted with microchips,” “There is no such disease,” “It is an international conspiracy,” EVN reported. Torosyan warned people not to become complacent to the risks of COVID-19 and said his ministry would be obliged to report to law enforcement any media spreading such rumors.
The health minister estimates that the fight with COVID-19 will directly cost Armenia at least $300 million by the end of the year, Radio Armenia reported on May 21.
CivilNet reported on May 19 that Armenia has sent medical supplies to the Syrian city of Aleppo.
The EBRD said on May 13 that it expects Armenia’s GDP to fall by 3.5 percent this year.
Pashinyan told parliament on May 5 that his government has assisted 24,000 businesses and 360,000 individuals since the crisis began, OC Media reported. In addition, he said, over 1 million households received help paying utilities bills, to the tune of $4 million.
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.
- Schools and most stores closed. Traffic between regions banned; parks closed. Borders closed.
- In anticipation of sun-seeking crowds, the head of the executive branch of Baku, Eldar Azizov, has suggested an electronic registration system for beachgoers. While beach administrator Amil Mammadov responded positively to the idea, Bakuvians reacted “mainly with irony,” reported Jam News.
- Baku has announced a national holiday from May 23 to May 30 to celebrate both Ramadan and the Day of the Republic, while maintaining coronavirus quarantine measures.
- Lockdown measures will continue until at least June 1, reported Turan on May 22, while international flights may begin on June 15.
- While many quarantine measures within cities and on businesses have been lifted, travel to and from the cities of Baku, Sumgait, Ganja, Lankaran and the Absheron Peninsula remains prohibited through May 31.
- The Cabinet of Ministers discussed easing coronavirus restrictions on holidays and weekends, “depending on the epidemiological situation,” reported Trend on May 18.
- Pharmacists in Baku say they are having trouble sourcing medicines due to the country’s closed borders, Radio Azadliq reported on May 12.
- The Baku metro resumed operations on May 9 for the first time since March 31. Riders must tell police their reason for boarding and maintain social distancing.
- Since the beginning of the epidemic, courts have released 1020 prisoners ahead of schedule, reported Turan on May 20. Forty-six prisoners had tested positive by May 15, according to a government count, OC Media reported.
The EBRD said on May 13 that it expects Armenia’s GDP to fall by 3.5 percent this year.
Customs revenues fell 5.6 percent in April compared to April 2019, Turan reported on May 12.
- Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia announced on May 22 that bans on public transport will remain even after the curfew and state of emergency end that evening, reported OC Media.
Parliament passed a bill on May 21 giving the government the power to introduce new restrictions intended to fight COVID-19 without parliamentary approval. The opposition abstained, arguing that the bill gives the government unconstitutional privileges. The ruling party countered by pointing out that the bill only provides for temporary measures during the pandemic, reported Agenda.ge.
- Georgia’s opposition has accused the ruling Georgian Dream party of taking advantage of the COVID-19 epidemic to expand its executive privilege, reported Echo Kavkaza on May 20.
- On May 18, the cap on the number of people allowed to gather together was raised from three to 10.
- Some of the stricter restrictions in the Bolnisi municipality, site of Georgia’s largest coronavirus outbreak, have been eased, though limitations on public gatherings remain, Civil.ge reported on May 19.
Marneuli municipality, another hotspot, which spent 55 days under lockdown, has also reopened, reported OC Media on May 19. Armenian citizens who have been held under lockdown in Marneuli may now return to Armenia, EVN reported on May 18.
- The government's April 24 anti-crisis plan outlines a phased reopening over roughly eight weeks.
Turkey is allowing Georgians with non-COVID-19 related health issues to seek treatment at Turkish hospitals, reported InterpressNews on May 21.
Georgia’s National Center for Disease Control and Public Health released a study on May 19 showing that 16.6 percent of people hospitalized with COVID-19 before April 28 were asymptomatic, OC Media reported on May 20. The study also revealed that in early March, Georgians with COVID-19 were likely to infect 3.88 people, a number that has fallen since the implementation of quarantine measures.
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.
Senior Church officials have condemned any future COVID-19 vaccine, declaring that vaccination is the “devil’s machinations,” Ekho Kavkaza reported on May 11.
The Georgian Church continues to refuse to stop sharing communion spoons, earning rebuke from many Georgians fearful the sacrament could spread the virus. During his Easter mass, the patriarch said that rejecting communion is akin to rejecting Christ.
The Finance Ministry announced on May 21 that the Beijing-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) has offered Georgia a 91 million euro loan for COVID-19 relief, reported Agenda.ge.
Georgia’s Revenue Service announced on May 20 that, according to data provided by employers, some 78,000 workers have been furloughed or let go since the start of the pandemic — a number that the Revenue Service estimates to be much lower than reality. The Georgian government has promised to pay furloughed workers 200 lari (63 euros) per month, but the financial aid depends upon employers submitting the correct documentation for affected workers.
The World Bank Group has approved a loan of 73.1 million euros for Georgia to help with COVID-19 relief, reported Agenda.ge on May 18. Deputy Financial Minister Giorgi Kakauridze expressed doubt that the amount would cover Georgia’s needs, but expects another loan agreement to be signed soon with the Asian Development Bank.
International money transfers into Georgia fell 42.3 percent in April year-on-year, Interpress reported on May 15.
The EBRD said on May 13 that it expects Georgia’s GDP to fall by 5.5 percent this year.
Under an agricultural assistance package announced on May 12, about 200,000 farmers with plots of under 10 hectares will will receive 200 lari ($62) per hectare. Also, farmers will be exempt from paying irrigation taxes this year, be able to source diesel at below-market prices, and receive government grants to assist with procuring new machinery and technology.
- Abkhazia lifted many restrictions on movement on May 15, allowing cafes, restaurants and gyms to reopen and inter-city minibus services to resume, OC Media reported. Most cases in the region 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. Children will begin returning to school in Abkhazia on June 2, reported Apsny Online.
- An infectious disease hospital in Sukhumi has only one remaining doctor at work after all others came into contact with a COVID-19-positive patient while not wearing protective gear, reported Jam News on May 21.
- 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. It has extended the closure through May. 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.
- 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 Donetsk People's Republic will send a shipment of domestically produced PPE to South Ossetia, the two region's de facto leaders agreed on a May 20 phone call, Sputnik-Ossetia reported.
- In South Ossetia, construction and investment projects will proceed according to plan no matter the coronavirus restrictions, reported Sputnik Ossetia on May 18.
- The de facto president of Nagorno-Karabakh declared a state of emergency on April 12. As of May 15, the region's de facto Health Ministry said it had recorded 20 cases and that eight people had recovered. Overall, the ministry added, it has carried out 554 tests in total.
A train full of military conscripts that rolled into Karaganda on May 20 was met by a crowd of friends and relatives, reported Tengrinews. A video shows that the bulk of the supporters was not wearing masks or observing social distancing. Despite widespread and increasing infections in the Karaganda region, the population remains reluctant to wear PPE and observe social distancing, locals say.
- The state of emergency ended on May 11. Restrictions will be lifted in stages. Schools remain closed.
Kazakh authorities have promised Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan that they will ensure special transport for hundreds of Kyrgyz and Uzbek migrants encamped on the Russian border, reported Ozodlik on May 20. A special, zero-contact corridor will be constructed to facilitate the migrants' return to their respective countries.
Nearly half of residents using public transport in Almaty are not wearing masks and gloves and not observing social distance regulations, reported local media on May 20.
- On May 18, hotels, small restaurants and restaurants with outdoor seating were allowed to reopen. Mosques and churches can also reopen, but they are not to exceed 30 percent capacity. Rail service will resume in phases starting on June 1.
- President Tokayev announced on Twitter on May 18 that this quarantine schedule will remain in place going forward, with some alterations. The president warned that the virus is still prevalent and urged them to exercise caution in public places. Tokayev plans to award an honorary medal named “National Gratitude” to those who have distinguished themselves fighting the virus, reported Tengrinews on May 19.
The lifting of restrictions in the western Aktobe region will be delayed, however, due to a spike in infections, including among workers at the flagship Tengiz oilfield, authorities said on May 15.
Airlines will no longer require proof of a negative COVID-19 test as of May 11, Tengrinews reported.
- New cases have appeared almost daily among store workers in the capital, reported CentralAsiaNews on May 20. According to the federal head of sanitation, Aizhan Esmagambetova, store workers are coming to work without masks, gloves or antiseptic, and generally are disregarding sanitation orders.
- Over 6,000 people are currently quarantined at home in Kazakhstan, while 3,000 more are quarantined in hospital facilities, Deputy Health Minister Ludmila Burabekova told Tegrinews on May 19.
- While noting some successes in fighting COVID-19, the Health Ministry warned on May 8 that it expects a second wave of infections in the autumn.
- Reports of domestic violence increased fourfold between February and April.
Teams of doctors and police were dispatched on May 20 to the Tengiz oil field, where a massive outbreak amongst workers had worsened steadily in recent days. According to TengriNews, the number of infected at Tengiz was 935 on May 20, while Informburo reported that cases of pneumonia among the infected were increasing. The Tengiz field is one of the largest in the world, typically producing 500,000 barrels a day. The Financial Times reported on May 21 that Kazakhstan's Chief Sanitary Doctor Aizhan Yesmagambetova had threatened to stop production.
A mine in Karaganda region was closed for quarantine until June 1, following an outbreak there, Fergana News reported on May 22.
Hundreds of market traders protested in Nur-Sultan on May 14 over demands from the market owners that they pay two months’ rent in advance during a period in which most are not able to work, Radio Azattyq reported.
Retail trade fell 45 percent year-on-year in April, Minister of Trade and Integration Bakhyt Sultanov said on May 12.
Under the terms of the OPEC+ agreement, Kazakhstan will reduce oil production by 390,000 barrels per day, the Energy Ministry said on May 1. The day before the state oil company announced it had laid off 34 percent of staff at its Nur-Sultan headquarters.
According to the Kyrgyz ambassador in Russia, Alikbek Djekshenkulov, all Kyrgyz citizens who had been stranded in the Orenburg region of Russia have successfully been returned to Kyrgyzstan as of May 22, reported Kloop. Several Tajiks who attempted to accompany them, however, were not allowed to cross the border.
- Festivities to mark the end of Ramadan this weekend have been cancelled, the government announced on May 21.
- A group of 540 Kyrgyz migrant workers, forced to leave Moscow due to job loss and unable to pay rent, are trapped outside the Russian city of Buzuluk, 24.kg reported on May 20. The migrants attempted to return to Kyrgyzstan after receiving false information about open borders, only to encounter canceled flights and closed borders once they had left Moscow.
- Another group of some 500 Kyrgyz migrants who had returned from Russia's Orenburg province protested their detention at the former American air base outside of Bishkek, with some rioting, attacking doctors and attempting to overturn an ambulance on May 18. At least one medic was injured. Officials said the returnees had been angered by rumors that they were being quarantined while people testing positive for COVID-19 were being released. After the riot, most were allowed to leave and quarantine at home (the Health Ministry the following day insisted that these people had all tested negative). Forty-three people who tested positive will remain at the base for treatment.
- Public transport will reopen in Bishkek starting on May 25, reported Akipress on May 19. Social distancing and masks will be required on public vehicles.
- The number of patients with COVID-19 on May 18 increased by 17.2 percent over the previous day, reported 24.kg.
- The Interior Ministry on May 18 reported that 65 people were being charged with quarantine violations. Of these, 36 people were fined 3,000 som (about $39); others face fines or up to three years in prison.
- Curfews were lifted in Bishkek, Osh and Jalalabad on May 11, as well as in the At-Bashy district of the Naryn region. A state of emergency remains throughout the country and schools remain closed. The government has allowed some small businesses to reopen.
- A group of 22 Kyrgyz desperately in need of treatment, either for severe illness or pregnancy, were allowed to return from Russia to Kyrgyzstan on a May 22 chartered flight despite closed borders, Kloop reported.
- In Osh and Bishkek, public service centers reopened on May 21, allowing people to apply for and receive government documents. Hundreds queued in cramped quarters, videos showed, causing concern on Kyrgyz social networks. The films showed police doing little to enforce social distancing.
- The government placed 77 people under observation in Osh province for attending a funeral service or for having come into contact with an infected attendee, reported Kloop.kg on May 20.
- The Ministry of Health on May 12 reported that a vender at the Frunze supermarket in Bishkek was found to be infected. Doctors are examining other employees at the market.
- In Russia's Pskov region, 38 of 40 Kyrgyz citizens working on a new infectious diseases hospital were diagnosed with COVID-19, the head of the region's health inspectorate said at a May 5 briefing.
- 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."
- Business Ombudsman Robin Ord-Smith warned that excessive bureaucracy would slow the economic recovery. The requirement that businesses should receive a special permit to move around Bishkek is creating "hours-long queues" that hinder the economy while threatening to spread COVID-19, he said on May 12.
- On May 12 RFE/RL released a video report from the Dordoi bazaar outside Bishkek, the largest market in Central Asia, where some 50,000 people are now unemployed. "I am not afraid of dying from the coronavirus, but from hunger," said one lady who works and lives at the market.
The Dushanbe mayor's office -- that is, the office of President Emomali Rahmon's son and heir apparent -- has placed about half of city employees on unpaid leave, Asia-Plus reported on May 21. An exception was made for law enforcement and health professionals.
Police fired into the air to disperse rioting Chinese workers at a zinc, lead and copper mine in northern Tajikistan, Prague-based Akhbor news agency reported on May 20. Several hundred workers have staged several rallies, demanding they be allowed to return to China, Akhbor cited witnesses as saying. The border has been closed for several months due to the pandemic.
Despite a massive spike in infections, Tajikistan as of May 15 is still refraining from instituting the kinds of precautionary measures seen in nearby countries. Public transportation is crowded, it is still permitted to leave one’s home at any time and meet in groups. Social distancing is generally not observed. Schools, many shops, although not grocery stories, and beauty salons are closed, however. Bazaars selling food are still operating.
Pharmacies are running short of basic supplies, writes our Tajikistan correspondent, as shoppers seek to buy up whatever medicine is available.
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.
Tajikistan must prepare for the worst-case-scenario, the WHO warned on May 12, as the virus spreads all around the country and the number of cases doubles every three days. Only one lab in the country has the capability of carrying out testing, Fergana News reported on May 13.
Russia is planning a charter flight to evacuate its teachers from Tajikistan, Avesta reported on May 20.
A charter flight brought 213 stranded Tajik citizens from Moscow to Dushanbe on May 19.
The Health Ministry launched a coronavirus information portal in Tajik and Russian on May 15: covid.tj.
The World Bank predicted up to 21,000 people could die of COVID-19 in Tajikistan, Asia-Plus reported on May 1.
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.
For journalists in Tajikistan, the pandemic has made work nearly impossible, reported AsiaPlus on May 21. Except for those affiliated with government outlets, field work is impossible and the cost of PPE prohibitive, raising the question of how Tajikistan's few independent media outlets will survive the epidemic.
Food security is "concerning" in remote areas of GBAO province, "due to the lean season and sharp decline in remittances, which has led to increased food purchases on credit with repayment delays, making it difficult for district retailers to deliver food to their local markets from Khorog central market," the UN said on May 18.
In a letter to the IMF reported by Asia-Plus on May 8, President Emomali Rahmon said that remittance transfers from Tajik laborers in Russia fell 50 percent in March and the first half of April. Remittances equal about a third of GDP. The IMF on May 6 approved a $189.5 million grant to Tajikistan to help it through the coronavirus crisis, saying "the authorities are committed to full transparency and reporting of resources deployed for the emergency response, including publication of quarterly reports and ex-post audits of crisis-related spending.”
Turkmenistan says it has no cases of COVID-19 and that it would be happy to invite a WHO mission to share the secrets of its success. But it keeps finding reasons not to play host, RFE/RL’s Bruce Pannier wrote on May 8: “Officials in Ashgabat are using an old trick to delay and possibly prevent the [WHO] delegation from arriving.”
On May 8, Foreign Minister Rashid Meredov told reporters that Turkmenistan was ready to admit a delegation of WHO experts into the country. “There are absolutely no problems here," he said. This is false. The WHO has been trying to get into Turkmenistan since at least April 23 without success.
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
- State of emergency. Borders closed. Schools closed. Public transportation limited. Travel by car in cities restricted.
High schoolers will receive their diplomas virtually this year, Kun.uz reported on May 19.
Limited domestic train and air services resumed on May 18.
Some 65,000 Uzbeks in Russia have asked their government for help getting home, Fergana News reported on May 14. Dozens rallied outside their consulate in St. Petersburg the day before; some were detained for violating social distancing regulations. Several hundred more gathered in Orenburg, near the Kazakh border, demanding a transit corridor so they can return home. Russia closed its borders in March.
On May 11, the government published a 36-page list of rules for how businesses may operate and how they must be cleaned during the coronavirus crisis.
- 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 said on May 19 that all newly confirmed cases were detected in people who had recently returned from abroad, suggesting the country has stopped community transmission of COVID-19.
- Chief State Sanitary Inspector Nurmat Otabekov asked people not to wear their masks on their chins: "Remember that coronavirus does not enter the body through the chin and neck," Podrobno.uz quoted him as saying on May 12.
- A medical worker from Samarkand, failing to self-quarantine when he first became symptomatic, went on to infect 11 people, who in turn infected 23 more, Podrobno.uz reported on May 13. The regional prosecutor's office has opened a criminal investigation.
Turkey has sent Uzbekistan 50 ventilators to help the country in its battle with COVID-19, the Uzbek MFA said on May 22.
Foreign trade in Uzbekistan was down 10.6 percent year-on-year in January-April, the State Statistics Committee said on May 21.
The IMF allocated $375 million to Uzbekistan on May 18 to help with COVID-19 relief and to stimulate the economy.
Uzbekistan recently sent a second shipment of medical supplies to Kyrgyzstan, including nearly 500 medical beds and 150,000 pairs of medical gloves and masks, reported Akipress on May 20.
The Finance Ministry has postponed indefinitely a move to liberalize energy prices, Gazeta.uz reported on April 23. The plan to raise prices, unveiled last August, was designed to attract foreign investment.
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