TBILISI/March 2 2020 (The Bulletin) — Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia all declared their first cases of the coronavirus Covid-19 and closed their borders with Iran, a hotbed of the disease.
In Central Asia, governments blocked entry to countries that they considered high-risk and cut flights to China in a desperate attempt to keep out the coronavirus that has spread around the world from its origin in the city of Wuhan.
All the confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the South Caucasus appear to have been linked with Iran. Borders between Iran and Armenia and Azerbaijan have become increasingly porous over the past few years as trade and relations improved.
Governments in the South Caucasus appealed to the public not to panic. In an Instagram message, Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili stood on a commuter bus wearing a facemask. She appeared to be the only person wearing a mask.
“Let’s spread #SafetynotFear!” she wrote. “We need to show people that safety means remaining calm and being responsible.”
In Armenia, PM Nikol Pashinyan was more dismissive of the threat from the virus, saying that flu was a bigger killer. He also said that the health services were on top of the situation in Armenia, although there was a “shortage of masks”.
Central Asian countries have not reported any cases of the coronavirus, although analysts said that this may be because officials were not keen on reporting them or that health officials had failed to spot them.
And governments continued to try to incubate against the disease. Kazakhstan cut the number of flights to China and South Korea and stopped issuing visas to Chinese.
— This story was first published in issue 438 of the Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin
— Copyright the Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin 2020