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.
- State of emergency; travel restrictions; most businesses and schools 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.
- A Russian military team with a mobile laboratory arrived in Yerevan on April 7 to support the government’s testing efforts, Tert.am reported.
- Armenia has the most confirmed cases in the Caucasus. The first death was reported on March 26.
- Nagorno-Karabakh registered its first COVID-19 case on April 7, in a person who had returned from Armenia, OC Media reported. Civilnet reported on April 8 that the person voted in the region’s March 31 elections before registering symptoms.
- 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.
- On March 30, parliament approved cash transfers to workers affected by the coronavirus outbreak.
- Schools and most stores closed.
- 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.
- Traffic between regions has been banned and parks have been closed.
- 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.
- On a visit to a new face-mask factory on April 6, President Ilham Aliyev said that anyone artificially inflating the price for masks will be “severely punished” and their actions regarded as “treason.”
- The government approved a 1 billion manat ($588 million) economic support package on April 4.
- The OSCE paused its monitoring mission on the Nagorno-Karabakh frontlines. (March 18)
- State of emergency. Schools and most shops closed.
- The government has closed open-air markets in Tbilisi, Civil.ge reported on April 7.
- 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.
- Abkhazia: The breakaway 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.
- South Ossetia, Georgia’s other breakaway region, closed its border with Russia on April 5 for a week, including for freight, sealing the contested territory off from the world. 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.
- An altar boy has been infected with COVID-19, reported OC Media on April 7: “The case has raised concerns about the Georgian Patriarchate’s continued non-compliance with Georgian health officials’ recommendations on social distancing, including using a common spoon for Holy Communion.”
- Churches were full for Annunciation services on April 7, JAM News reported, in violation of emergency social-distancing rules. One member of the clergy has been hospitalized with COVID-19, as have his mother and grandfather.
- The Health Ministry launched a pneumococcal vaccination drive on April 6, OC Media reported. The inoculation helps prevent pneumonia, a common cause of death for patients suffering COVID-19.
- Georgia reported its first COVID-19 death on April 4.
- Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia said on April 4 that “as an ordinary Christian” he would not attend Easter services in person, but watch on television. He called on believers to do the same. The previous day, four government ministers said that attending Easter services would violate curfew, OC Media reported. Orthodox Easter falls on April 19 this year and in many Orthodox churches the services are held at night. The Georgian Church has refused to stop sharing communion spoons, earning rebuke from many Georgians fearful the practice could spread the virus. The Church earlier warned the faithful that rejecting communion is akin to rejecting Christ, but it has called on sick parishioners to stay home.
- Georgia closed currency exchange points on March 31 in an effort, the Central Bank said, to slow the spread of coronavirus. The Georgian lari fell almost 20 percent against the dollar in March.
- OC-Media has a liveblog on the crisis, as does Civil.ge.
- State of emergency, borders closed. Schools closed.
- The government extended the lockdown on its three largest cities for another week on April 3.
- Almost all businesses in Kazakhstan’s largest cities have been forced to close. Government offices, law enforcement, health service providers, media outlets, grocery stories and pharmacies are the only entities allowed to stay open. People are not allowed outdoors other than to buy groceries and medicine or to go to work. Parks, squares, pedestrian streets, riverside footpaths and playgrounds are closed. Underage children are not permitted out without their parents.
- 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.
- The railway service said on April 2 that it is halting all passenger services. Trains are being returned back to their depots – that process should be completed by April 4.
- A spokesman for former President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who still chairs the powerful national security council, was forced to declare on April 7 that all was well with his boss amid mounting chatter prompted by the fact that the ex-leader has not been seen in public for weeks. Rumors that Nazarbayev was suffering from ill-health were “lies” and “a provocation,” the spokesman said in a statement.
- As of April 6, 120 health workers had tested positive with COVID-19, Inform.kz reported.
- Kazakhstan’s president on April 6 said that two local laboratories had developed their own tests for diagnosing the coronavirus. Kassym-Jomart Tokayev said he believed the test could save thousands of lives.
- 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.
- Almaty city hall said on April 7 that 67,000 residents have applied for the 42,500 tenge ($97) social welfare payments offered by the government to compensate for lost income as a result of the coronavirus lockdown. RFE/RL’s Kazakh service has reported that banks and post offices across the country have been assailed by crowds of people hoping to secure the money.
- The government said on April 7 that internet use has increased dramatically since the lockdown began, reaching twice the load reported during the high-traffic New Year’s holidays. Exacerbating the problem, residents with mobile base stations attached to their buildings have tried to remove the equipment, fearing radiation.
- The National Bank cut interest rates on April 3.
- State of emergency, schools closed. Nightly curfew in the largest cities.
- 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 doctor complained on April 3 that she was not allowed to pass a checkpoint on her way home from work and was detained for 1.5 hours, until 10 p.m.
- Of the 42 new coronavirus cases confirmed on April 8, 13 were among health workers. That brings the total number of infected health workers to 32. The government will pay around $2,400 in compensation to medics with COVID-19. The families of those who die will receive a payment of $11,900.
- Health officials said on April 7 that 19 health workers have been infected with the coronavirus. This comes one day after Kazakhstan said 120 health workers there had tested positive with COVID-19.
- The country recorded its first coronavirus death on April 3.
- A man in the southern city of Osh has been detained for failing to disclose to relatives and colleagues that he had contracted the coronavirus. It is believed he may have infected up to nine other people. The man faces up to five years in prison, police said on April 7.
- Deputy Prime Minister Erkin Asrandiyev said on April 7 that the government forecasts a 15 percent drop in the volume of remittances being sent home by labor migrants because of lockdowns in Russian cities.
- Customers of state-owned internet service provider KyrgyzTelecom have been complaining that the Zoom videoconferencing application is not working properly on their connections and they suspect it is being blocked, Kaktus media reported on April 8. Zoom is used by businesses and schools, which are being forced to teach by long-distance. KyrgyzTelecom said it is blocking nothing, and that their customers have routers set incorrectly.
- The Tourism and Culture Ministry on April 2 forecasted an 80 percent drop in tourism activity in 2020. Minister Azamat Zhamankulov said no decision has yet been made on whether to shutter sanatoria, hotels and hostels, but that the government would seek to support the industry. The National Statistics Committee estimates that tourism in 2019 contributed 30 billion som ($430 million at December 2019 rates) to the economy. That was equivalent to 5.3 percent of gross domestic product.
- The government banned the export of most basic foodstuffs on March 23. Farmers involved in spring sowing are allowed to proceed as normal and bazaars may stay open to sell spare parts for agricultural machinery.
- 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.
- There are still no confirmed cases in Tajikistan.
- Schools reopened on April 1 after a spring holiday. Mosques are open.
- The Health Ministry denied concerns on April 6 that a man had died of COVID-19, insisting he died of pneumonia.
- The Health Ministry does not know how many ventilators are in the country, Asia-Plus reported on April 2.
- A WHO representative in Tajikistan, Galina Perfilieva, said on April 1 that the country had carried out over 700 tests and all had been negative. She praised the Health Ministry and urged Tajiks to avoid crowded places.
- 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.
- Turkmen authorities have not acknowledged any confirmed cases, despite independent media reports to the contrary.
- The Health Ministry set up a telephone hotline for members of the public wishing to learn about coronavirus. Eurasianet called the hotline on April 1 and was told by an operator that people had “telephoned frequently” with queries and that there was no truth to the claim that saying the word had been forbidden.
- Movement into Ashgabat was suspended on March 19, but then eased again on March 23, at which point people entering were required to have their temperature taken.
- Food prices 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.
- Freight traffic was exempted from the travel ban.
- Podrobno news website reported on April 8 that a popular 21-year-old Instagrammer in Tashkent has been arrested and charged with violating lockdown rules and hooliganism for filming himself out and about while mocking police efforts to enforce quarantine rules. Earlier in the week, three young people were sentenced to 15 days in jail for filming themselves sitting in a public whilst complaining about the boredom of remaining in quarantine.
- Strict new shelter-in-place rules introduced on April 6 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.
- The Justice Ministry said on April 1 that people can be fined up to 11.1 million sum (about $1,150) for hiding information about an infected person from the authorities.
- RFE/RL’s Uzbek service, Radio Ozodlik, reported on April 1 that hundreds of Andijan residents had been marshaled into landscaping efforts in advance of a visit this week from President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, though the city had been put in a state of lockdown on March 27.
- The Foreign Ministry said on April 6 that two Uzbek nationals in New York have died with COVID-19. Both had lived in the United States for many years.
- Health Minister Alisher Shadmanov said the sudden surge of coronavirus diagnoses is attributable to the deployment of express tests. He was quoted on April 6 as saying that 4,737 tests had been administered over the previous day to people currently in quarantine.
- The Health Ministry on April 3 unveiled a new information portal. The website includes a map pinpointing where infected people were identified. It is also supposed to show where they traveled before being diagnosed.
- Textile industry association Uztekstilprom said on April 1 that the number of firms producing medical masks in Uzbekistan rose almost tenfold to 195 in March, enabling output to reach 2.6 million units a day.
- On April 2 Nurmat Otabekov, the head of the State Inspectorate for Sanitary and Epidemiological Control, said he does not believe it necessary to pursue a large-scale testing campaign, that doing so would be “impractical and impossible.” People eligible for testing are those coming from virus hotspots or those known to have been in contact with coronavirus carriers.
- The government said on April 7 that the World Bank is willing to provide Uzbekistan with $1.2 billion to support its anti-crisis program. The funds would be used to fund health care costs and social welfare programs.
- A holding company owned by Russian-Uzbek tycoon Alisher Usmanov has pledged to donate 2 billion rubles ($26 million) toward Russia’s fight against coronavirus, Kommersant reported on April 6. The money is mainly to be spent on buying protective equipment for medical workers and volunteers.
- Uzbekistan requested $1 billion in budget support from the Asian Development Bank on April 1.
- Schools and most stores closed.