JALA-ABAD,Kyrgyzstan/April 5 (The Bulletin) — Resentment is building in south Kyrgyzstan towards groups of pious Muslims who are accused of bringing the coronavirus into the country.
Officials have said that in mid-March infected pilgrims returning from the Hajj to Mecca in Saudi Arabia and members of the Tablighi Jamaat religious organisation, who had visited Pakistan and India, ignored orders to self-isolate. Instead they celebrated their return with a series of feasts, spreading the coronavirus.
South Kyrgyzstan is now the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak in the country. More than half of Kyrgyzstan’s 149 coronavirus infections are in the region and in the small town of Nookat, south of Osh, where many of the pilgrims lived, two people have died with the COVID-19 disease caused by the coronavirus. A strict lockdown has been imposed on Osh and Jala-Abad, the region’s two main cities, and the villages that orbit them. Bishkek has also been placed under a lockdown.
Anastasia, a resident of the village of Blagoveshchenka near Jala-Abad, said that she has been unable to work as a shop cashier since the lockdown was imposed.
“People are very angry at the pilgrims who brought this infection to us,” she said. “Now, like everyone, I just have to sit at home and probably have to get into debt.”
Since the state-of-emergency was announced, the streets of Osh and Jala-Abad have emptied. A Bulletin correspondent said that these rules are being tightened every day and that a person on the street without official permission and a passport can now be arrested.
Some people are not merely frustrated with the pilgrims for bringing the coronavirus into Kyrgyzstan, they are also suspicious of the authorities’ motives for the harsh lockdown.
Bolotbek, works as an IT specialist in a state institution in Jalal-Abad, and lives in the village of Bazar-Korgon, 30km from the city. He said that he has been placed on unpaid leave.
“I see it as an attempt to strengthen control over people, following the example of China,” he said. “Of course, the epidemic must be fought, but not by the same harsh measures. Soon people will begin to starve if they do not lift quarantine.”
— This story was first published in issue 441 of the Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin
— Copyright the Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin 2020