Dashboard: Coronavirus in Eurasia - May 4-10
Reports from May 4-10 on how the pandemic has upended life in Central Asia and the South Caucasus.
Last updated: May 10
Kyrgyzstan’s coronavirus tracking app alarms privacy advocates
There is anecdotal evidence that although the app is voluntary, many people are being pressured into loading it on their phones.
Coronavirus infects Armenia-Georgia rivalry
With the disease spreading far more slowly in Georgia, Armenians are asking: what did they do that we didn’t?
Georgia’s king of trolls
Facebook has pulled the plug on a fake news operation in Georgia that had been capitalizing on the coronavirus pandemic to sway public opinion in favor of the government.
Armenians begin return to normal life
After the government lifted the coronavirus lockdown, many Armenians flocked to cafes and restaurants. Others remain wary.
Food security in the time of coronavirus: A Eurasianet briefing
This briefing explores government policy and food provision in the Caucasus and Central Asia as COVID-19 upsets farming and trade networks around the world.
Tajikistan: Has the president’s son already taken over?
President Rahmon has kept a low figure, leaving his son to take the lead.
- Nationwide state of emergency. Schools closed.
- Starting on May 4, though COVID-19 cases continue to rise, Armenians can again eat out (in outdoor seating), go shopping anywhere except a mall or other large markets, and travel without restrictions (though public transportation remains suspended). Factories of all sorts are allowed to reopen, as are hairdressers and beauty salons.
- On April 26, Health Minister Arsen Torosian warned that hospitals were nearing capacity.
- As of April 28, people are allowed to exercise within 1 kilometer of their home. They must still carry a piece of paper stating their reasons for being outside.
- The armed forces will no longer disclose the number of infected soldiers or soldiers in self-isolation, OC Media reported on April 13.
Prime Minister Nikol 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.
As economic activity stopped, dust levels in Yerevan’s air fell 41 percent in April after falling 31 percent in March, OC Media reported on April 27, citing a government survey.
The government has spent over $90 million on the crisis so far, Armenian public radio reported on April 24.
Armenia's finance minister said on April 23 that he expects the economy to contract by 2 percent this year, compared to earlier predictions of 4.9 percent growth. The resulting decline in tax revenues will require the government to borrow an additional $500 million, he said.
Gazprom Armenia, a subsidiary of the Russian state energy firm, announced on April 22 that it would begin cutting off gas for residents who do not pay their bills within three days. Earlier in April Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan asked Russian President Vladimir Putin to reduce the price Armenia pays for Russian gas, to reflect falling prices on international markets.
- Schools and most stores closed. Traffic between regions banned; parks closed. The government on May 1 extended the quarantine regime through May 31. Borders are closed until the end of May, as well.
- The Baku metro will resume operations on May 9 for the first time since March 31, Azadliq reported on May 8. Riders must tell police their reason for boarding and maintain social distancing.
- Authorities have been rounding up local officials accused of corruption, prosecutors said on May 4. Among the alleged crimes: improperly giving out permissions to leave home amid a strict COVID-19 stay-at-home regime.
- 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. Some stores will be allowed to reopen on April 27, the government said. People will still need to text their intentions to the police department.
- Some 300 health workers have been infected with COVID-19, making about 19 percent of registered cases, authorities said on April 24.
Seven people were detained after protesting unemployment in the southern town of Bilasuvar, the Interior Ministry said on May 5.
State oil company SOCAR will reduce output by 96,000 barrels per day in May and June. It does not expect any mass layoffs, the company said in an April 30 statement.
Baku continues to defend the manat's dollar peg. In the latest sign of strain in the financial industry, the Central Bank appointed temporary administrators at four banks on April 27. Fitch Ratings revised its outlook for Azerbaijan from stable to negative, criticizing Baku’s insistence on defending the manat.
- State of emergency. Schools, most shops and open-air markets closed. There has been a nightly curfew since March 30. Gatherings of more than three people are banned.
- Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia on May 7 said the country would be ready to resume receiving foreign tourists on July 1. He said the country had gained experience hosting tourists in “high-risk” settings by making an early decision to turn hotels into quarantine zones.
- On May 11, restrictions on entering and leaving Tbilisi will be lifted, manufacturing will resume, and all stores, except for clothing stores and shopping malls, will be allowed to reopen, the prime minister said on May 7. On May 14, restrictions on entering several other cities will be ended. Restrictions on entering and leaving Kutaisi and Batumi, Georgia’s second and third cities were lifted on May 5.
- A 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew remains in place nationwide.
- The government has brought over 10,000 Georgian citizens home since the pandemic began, local media quoted the Foreign Ministry saying on May 8.
- Gakharia unveiled an anti-crisis plan on April 24 that outlined a phased reopening over roughly eight weeks.
Health Minister Ekaterine Tikaradze denied reports that there are too few medical workers in Georgia's rural regions, Interpress reported on April 28. Most doctors who have been infected, she added, were not infected at work.
Georgia has reached its infection peak, Paata Imnadze, deputy director of the National Center for Disease Control, said on April 27.
Dismissing media speculation that Georgia is hiding its true infection figures, Marina Ezugbaia, the director of Tbilisi’s infectious diseases hospital, said on April 27 that if that were the case, hospitals would be far more crowded.
- 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.
- “Receiving communion from a common spoon carries the risk of spreading the infection and does not require any special scientific research, Tengiz Tsertsvadze, director of the Infectious Diseases Hospital, told reporters on April 23, days after Health Minister Ekaterine Tikaradze said she wasn't sure if communion spoons could transmit the disease.
- A number of COVID-19 cases have been confirmed in the Church.
Economy Minister Natia Turnava said on May 1 that she believes Georgia can resume some international flights, but that decisions depend on foreign partners.
Essential agricultural workers will be allowed in and out of the capital with a special permit between 6-8 a.m. and 6-7 p.m., Civil.ge reported on April 29.
The National Bank of Georgia reduced its benchmark refinancing rate by half a percent on April 29 to 8.5 percent, as it expects demand to fall with the ongoing economic contraction, Civil.ge reported.
Fitch Ratings revised Georgia’s outlook to negative on April 27, predicting the economy will contract 4.8 percent in 2020 with a sharp rise in deficit spending.
The government will spend 3.5 billion lari, or roughly $1.1 billion, on crisis mitigation, the prime minister said on April 24.
- The International Crisis Group said that the South Caucasus’ three breakaway territories – Abkhazia, Nagorno-Karabakh and South Ossetia – are uniquely vulnerable with their aging populations and dilapidated healthcare systems. They are unlikely to share true infection numbers and may find their patrons unable to help in this time of greater need. “Their contested status complicates or blocks international aid. Moreover, traditional lifelines from foreign benefactors and diaspora communities are strained as many are contending with their own hardships."
- "South Ossetia arguably is at greatest risk,” the ICG said in the May 6 report. “Hospitals are severely underequipped. [...] many of the region’s medical professionals have had no training for years, lacking even the know-how to operate 26 ventilators delivered from Russia."
- South Ossetia 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 on April 30, state media reported. It is unclear how he passed the border, which has been closed. The next day, the number of confirmed cases had risen to 11.
- Abkhazia, Georgia's other breakaway region, lifted some restrictions on April 20, reopening markets and ending a curfew in two regions. 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. Abkhazia registered its first COVID-19 death, Georgian media reported on April 27.
- The de facto president of Nagorno-Karabakh declared a state of emergency on April 12. As of May 8, the region's de facto Health Ministry said it had only recorded 10 cases and that six people had recovered. Overall, the ministry added, it has carried out 316 tests in total.
- State of emergency, borders closed. Schools closed.
- Parliament passed a revised state of emergency law on April 29 that broadly expands the president’s powers.
Checkpoints within Almaty have been dismantled, city officials said on May 4, though police cautioned that restrictions on movement continue. “This does not mean that quarantine has been canceled. The conditions and rules have remained the same: You cannot move around the city unless absolutely necessary,” said Police Chief Kanat Taymerdenov. Checkpoints around the city perimeter remain.
Some businesses were allowed to reopen on May 4 and citizens allowed to exercize outdoors near their homes.
- Flights will resume between the two largest cities on May 1, and to four other cities on May 4. Six passengers were not allowed to board the first flight to Nur-Sultan because they lacked certificates showing they had tested negative for COVID-19.
- Border guards intercepted a shipment of 1 million face masks being transported illegally to the border with Russia, Tengrinews reported on May 1. The packages were disguised as food.
- 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.
- During a visit to a new infections diseases hospital on April 23, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev said his government had not done enough to protect health workers. About 29 percent of the country's registered infections are among medics.
- Kazakhstan has distributed 3.4 billion tenge ($7.9 million) in extra payments to over 17,000 medical workers, Tengrinews reported on April 23.
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.
Three more workers at Kazakhstan’s flagship Tengiz oil field have been diagnosed with COVID-19, bringing the total to 68, Fergana reported on April 29. Earlier, hundreds of Tengiz workers were refusing to show up for their shifts, fearing the disease is spreading rapidly onsite. Over 17,000 workers are being sent home, Xinhua reported on May 7.
Farmers in southern Kazakhstan's Turkestan region say they are unable to take their cabbage crop to market due to roadblocks, Tengrinews reported on April 28. Truckloads that would have been sold to Russia are going to waste, they say, offering anyone who can get to them to come take cabbage for free.
The central bank announced on April 21 that it would begin limiting cash withdrawals for companies on June 1, Reuters reported.
- State of emergency, schools closed. Nightly curfew in the largest cities.
- From May 1, the government will allow some small businesses to reopen.
Since May 4, residents of Issyk-Kul province have been prohibited from traveling to other regions without urgent need and a pass from local authorities. Others are only able to enter the province by showing a certificate indicating they have tested negative for COVID-19 and by submitting to quarantine for 14 days.
- A Kyrgyz lawmaker on April 30 asked the government to be more careful when it prepares resolutions on the state of emergency, 24.kg reported. "Does Kyrgyzstan even have mechanical engineering? Couldn't you at least try to hide the fact you just copied Kazakhstan's resolution?" MP Kanybek Imanaliev said.
- 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.
- The annual “Immortal Regiment” parade honoring those who died during World War II will be held online this year, the Culture Ministry said.
- Graduating student exams have been moved from May to late June, the government said on April 30. Students sitting exams will be placed at appropriate distances and testing halls will be disinfected.
- In Issyk-Kul province the last person with COVID-19 was discharged from the hospital. Issyk-Kul, which has a strict entry/exit regime in place, is now the second of seven provinces where they is officially no coronavirus, 24.kg reported on May 5.
- 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.
- On May 2, the first Kyrgyz medical worker died of COVID-19: a 58-year-old doctor in Bishkek. Her family will be paid 1 million soms (about $13,000) compensation, the government said on May 3.
- Reports of domestic violence are up 62 percent year-on-year, the Bishkek Commandant Almazbek Orozaliev said on April 24.
- One in four cases of COVID-19 has been found in healthcare workers. On April 22, the government said it would place healthcare workers in hotels to minimize the risk they could infect their families.
- 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).
Deputy Prime Minister Erkin Asrandiev on May 6 said that tax revenues in the first quarter were 22 percent lower than expected, a shortfall of some 9.7 billion soms (over $125 million).
The Ministry of Transport is preparing to receive almost 500 Chinese workers who will return to Kyrgyzstan to resume road construction activities, Economist.kg reported on May 5.
Asrandiev said on April 30 that the government will not be able to offer a detailed report on how foreign aid is spent. “There was a proposal to show data on itemized use of external assistance. The existing system does not allow this. There is a single account where taxes, customs payments, and external assistance are received,” Asrandiev said.
The national energy holding company said on April 20 that due to the COVID-19 lockdown and the economic impact of commercial subscribers not paying, repair work and preparations for the upcoming heating season may not be completed on time.
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.
The president's son, Dushanbe Mayor Rustam Emomali, has instructed workers to build temporary hospitals with 3,000 beds in the capital, which would increase hospital spaces in the city by 57 percent. Radio Ozodi reported on May 6, however, that "a lack of medical staff before the pandemic casts doubts on the role such new hospitals can play in the fight against coronavirus."
Besides closing schools and banning sports, Tajikistan has not introduced the kind of shelter-in-place orders seen in its neighbors. Analysts interviewed by Radio Ozodi on May 7 suggested political concerns are at play in this election year.
On May 5 the president sacked health minister Nasim Olimzoda shortly after news began to emerge that authorities had forbidden doctors from discussing COVID-19 cases until the president had placed his son in position to succeed him as chairman of the Senate in late April.
Galina Perfilyeva, the WHO representative who long supported the government’s dubious claims that the country was coronavirus-free, is stepping down, she said on May 7.
After weeks of denials and what appears to be a government coverup, on April 30 authorities confirmed the first 15 cases of COVID-19 in two geographically distant regions. Doctors now complain they do not have sufficient protective gear and say they are turning patients with COVID-19 symptoms away.
In the northern Sughd region, the head of the main hospital was fired for refusing to send home patients with pneumonia, Asia-Plus reported on May 4.
Schools had been closed on April 25. The government also suspended its domestic football league on April 26.
Mass gatherings, including for Ramadan, are banned and medical face masks are mandatory in public.
The head of the security services and the president's son should declare martial law to defeat COVID-19, Asia-Plus quoted the head of Tajikistan's ruling party, MP Saidjafar Usmonzoda, as saying on May 2. Usmonzoda is in hospital recovering from COVID-19.
Former Industry Minister Zaid Saidov, who is serving a 29-year sentence for fraud, polygamy, statutory rape and other charges that government critics call politicized, is experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, his son says. Khayrullo Saidov has asked the government to temporarily release his father, Radio Ozodi reported on May 6.
The World Bank predicted up to 21,000 people could die of COVID-19 in Tajikistan, Asia-Plus reported on May 1.
President Emomali Rahmon has donated a month's pay to the coronavirus fight, Asia-Plus reported on May 1. His salary is unknown.
An activist in the north has begun raising funds to purchase personal protective equipment for medical workers, Asia-Plus reported on April 28.
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.
Despite years of unbridled corruption linked to the president's family, and little, if any, government efforts to increase spending transparency, the IMF on May 6 approved a $189.5 million grant to Tajikistan to help it through the coronavirus crisis. “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,” the IMF statement said. "What's amazing about this isn't that IMF still gives money to Tajikistan -- its institutional mandate is to lend -- but that it refuses to attach any good governance, anti-corruption, or human rights CONDITIONS," wrote long-time Central Asia observer Steve Swerdlow on Twitter. For more on the IMF's history in Tajikistan, see this 2015 story in The Economist.
Five people have been detained in Tajikistan’s capital on suspicion of hiking prices for medicines, the Interior Ministry said on May 6. People had reported the price for drugs rising since the government revealed earlier this month that it had found its first COVID-19 cases.
On April 25 the government banned the export of basic food items including cereals, legumes, eggs, potatoes and meat, RFE/RL reported. The UN had reported price increases for food basics on April 17 compared to the previous week: "for wheat flour (4-9 percent), cotton oil (2-9 percent), carrots (18-36 percent) and onion (6-11 percent) in several markets, and potato (20-46 percent)." The World Food Program has classified the food price spike as a "crisis" in the country.
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.
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.”
Authorities marshaled thousands of spectators into packed stadiums to celebrate Horse Day, a local holiday, on April 25 and 26. "After a long discussion," judges determined that a horse belonging to strongman President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov was the most beautiful.
"We're not hiding anything," Foreign Minister Rashid Meredov told a meeting of foreign officials on April 22, in response to concerns the country's figures are unreliable. "If there was a single confirmed coronavirus case, we would have immediately informed ... the World Health Organization in line with our obligations," Reuters quoted him as saying. Meredov also offered foreign officials a chance to visit a quarantine center.
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.
As Eurasianet's weekly Turkmenistan reported on April 28: Shortages of flour in the Lebap province have compelled residents to take to grinding corn to produce a substitute. “In most state-owned stores, it has for several weeks become impossible to find cheap bread and flour,” an Azatlyk correspondent reported on April 24. Salaries are so low in some regions that state stores are the only viable way to obtain staple goods. Imported fruit and other products have reportedly appeared in Ashgabat's markets, however, albeit at significantly inflated prices.
Said the OECD on April 15: "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 ... Growth will fall markedly in 2020."
- State of emergency. Borders closed. Schools closed. Public transportation suspended. Travel by car in cities restricted. Public Ramadan celebrations banned by fatwa. Since April 29 people are allowed outside to exercise with their children and use nearby playgrounds.
- Uzbekistan is being divided into zones, depending on level of movement permitted. Starting Friday May 8, according to Vecherniy Tashkent: Red zones include Karakalpakstan, Andijan, Namangan, Fergana, Samarkand, Tashkent region, Bukhara, Syr Darya. Yellow zones: Surkhandarya, Khorezm, Tashkent city. Green: Navoi, Jizzakh, Kashkadarya. In green zones, cars can move freely without special permits.
- Uzbekistan must gradually weaken its lockdown regime, President Shavkat Mirziyoyev said on May 5, since the situation in the country is "stabilizing" and “no one in the world knows how long the pandemic will last.” He added that the government has allocated $250 million from its own coffers and $500 million from international donors to fight coronavirus.
- A Health Ministry official warned that easing of lockdown rules could bring a second wave of infections. "Quarantine mitigation does not mean that everyone should go outside," he said on May 6.
- A ban on drivers carrying more than two passengers is being considered, Chief state sanitary inspector Nurmat Atabekov said on May 4. Drivers have been allowed to use personal vehicles for three hours each morning and evening since April 29.
- In cities, 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.
- The Health Ministry dispatched a team of doctors experienced in fighting COVID-19 to neighboring Tajikistan on May 8 to help with the unfolding crisis there.
- Ten Uzbek hospitals have set up video links for distance medical consultations with two Chinese hospitals in Jiangxi Province, Podrobno.uz reported on April 28.
- Six medical facilities in Tashkent have been placed under quarantine after people infected with COVID-19 were found inside, Podrobno reported on April 23. Uzbekistan does not routinely publish figures on the number of medical workers infected with the disease.
Demand for gasoline fell 60 to 70 percent in April, the CEO of state oil and gas company Uzbekneftegaz told S&P Global Platts on May 5.
Bruce Pannier of RFE/RL on May 2 examined corruption and cronyism in several coronavirus-related charities in Central Asia. In one example, state employees in Uzbekistan are being forced to contribute part of their monthly salaries to a fund established by the president. They are also compelled to sign a paper saying the donations are voluntary.
Uzbekistan delivered its fourth shipment of humanitarian aid to Russia this month on April 29 -- five million medical masks and gauze -- Podrobno.uz reported.
The president said on April 29 that he had tasked the Prosecutor’s office with overseeing transportation for agricultural products to cities.
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.
Foreign trade turnover in the first quarter fell 11 percent year-on-year, the state statistics committee said on April 21. Gold accounted for 30 percent of exports.
Previous coronavirus dashboards:
April 27-May 3
March 31-April 5
Our recent headlines
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Turkmenistan: Fast times at Ashgabat hippodrome
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Kyrgyzstan’s sewing industry reorients to survive coronavirus slump
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