Coronavirus (COVID-19) in the South Caucasus and Central Asia

An overview from Eurasianet with links. They are updating this page several times a day with the latest on how the pandemic is upending life in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

25 March 2020

Like people, governments show their true colors in a crisis.
Azerbaijan’s authoritarian president, Ilham Aliyev, last week threatened to “isolate” members of the political opposition because he accused them of sowing panic over the coronavirus outbreak – and he has started to follow through, with the arrest of a number of opposition party officials.
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, an eager self-promoter, has taken the opportunity to seize the spotlight with multiple media and social media appearances per day, while using a coronavirus state of emergency to bully journalists and other critics who dare to suggest that something may be lacking in the government’s response.
Georgia is the happy exception: its government of typically ineffectual yes men (and women) has stepped aside and let public health professionals take control, earning well-deserved plaudits.
But all of this is only the beginning; we are still in the early days of this crisis. And even though the effects of the coronavirus on the Caucasus have – so far – been minor compared to those elsewhere, it still seems safe to say that they will eventually be profound. Beyond that, prediction is risky.
What would a significant outbreak of the disease do to the region’s rickety health care system? How will the economic shutdown affect the already precarious population? What will this period of fear and isolation do to the societal fabric? How will opportunists seek to exploit the chaos? Or will this crisis (allow me a moment of optimism) inspire people to create fairer, more effective structures?
As an editor and writer, I find myself worrying about overusing the word “unprecedented.” But we have indeed never seen anything like this.
-Joshua Kucera

Tajikistan: Feast in the time of coronavirus. The president is bullish that his country will dodge the pandemic and spent the weekend glad-handing the public. He then strong-armed 12,000 people to dance for him. As the government pretends everything is normal, families are in a state of deepening anxiety over a perfect storm that could plunge the country into an unusually severe crisis.

Turkmenistan’s unjust deserts. What’s it like to live in a country in denial during the COVID-19 pandemic? Check out our weekly Turkmenistan briefing.

Anxiety creeping, but few Kyrgyz can afford luxury of COVID-19 panic.Kyrgyzstan is finally facing up to the looming threat of the coronavirus, but many are too hard-up to adopt the protective measures required to stave off the danger

Georgia gets rare plaudits for coronavirus response. Along with coronavirus, Georgia has had an outbreak of something the country hasn’t seen in years: public confidence in the government. As countries around the world struggle to manage the pandemic, Georgia has become an unlikely success story.

…but the pandemic is testing Georgia’s faith in its church. The church’s obstinacy in not giving up the practice of sharing spoons for communion – a clear public health threat – is causing an unprecedented debate over the church’s role in society. The church has warned that it is “unacceptable” to fear getting sick from the ritual. 

Azerbaijan’s president suggests coronavirus may require opposition crackdown. In an address marking the spring Nowruz holiday, Ilham Aliyev said that his political opponents were a “fifth column” trying to use the outbreak to “destroy Azerbaijan.” The Aliyev dynasty has a long record of persecuting its political opposition.

Armenia takes hard line against media reporting on COVID-19.The authorities have aggressively hounded media and social media users for spreading non-official information about coronavirus, prompting press freedom organizations to protest that the government is overreacting.

Kazakhstan outlines plan to shelter economy. Kazakhstan’s anti-crisis package is targeted at easing the pain for the private sector by providing cheaper credit, tax incentives, cutting back on audits and promoting employment.

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