YEREVAN/April 5 (The Bulletin) — Battling to stop the spread of the coronavirus, governments in Central Asia and the South Caucasus intensified lockdowns that ban people from leaving their homes.
At least 17 people have died across the region with the COVID-19 disease caused by the coronavirus, although analysts think the real figure could be many more. Health ministries and international donors are now worried that the region’s underfunded and under-resourced hospitals and health systems will buckle if there is a surge in infections.
On March 26, Armenian deputy PM Mher Grigoryan appeared to betray his nervousness about whether Armenia’s health service could cope with rising infections.
“We have an obvious problem, which is outstanding everywhere else in the world and it is important to solve here in Armenia,” he was quoted as saying. “It is the modernisation and re-equipment of the healthcare system. Here, too, we must take measures.”
In the region, only Tajikistan and Turkmenistan have not reported any infections, to the derision of observers who think it is unlikely that either country has escaped the coronavirus that has been ripping across the world since it appeared in central China in December.
Armenia and Kazakhstan have been worst hit by the coronavirus, with 822 and 569 people infected by April 5, but Kyrgyzstan appears to be most vulnerable economically. Kyrgyz President Sooronbai Jeenbekov has already asked for emergency financial support from the IMF.
As for the intensified lockdowns, the Kazakh authorities have told people that they can only leave their homes every other day and in Azerbaijan people have to notify the police via an app or an SMS if they are going out onto the street.
In Armenia, where PM Nikol Pashinyan had only a few weeks ago said that the coronavirus could easily be beaten, the government has ordered all businesses, restaurants and cafes to close until at least April 10.
He has been criticised for holding referendum campaign rallies in March that may have contributed to the spread of the coronavirus.
“Compared to Azerbaijan and Georgia, our corona infection stats are higher. Am I the first to say that the reason for this is the referendum campaign?” said Samvel Grigoryan, a public health analyst.
A referendum on the status of the country’s top judges had been set for April 5. This has now been postponed.
Armenia’s government has said that the rate of infection is slowing, but people told The Bulletin’s correspondent that they are worried.
“We need to obey,” said Margarita Aghayan, 56, who is confined to her two-room apartment in a Yerevan suburb with her husband, her daughter and granddaughter.
“I feel very scared. I feel horror. I am scared of the people who don’t take this seriously.”
— This article was first published in issue 441 of the Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin