Kazakhstan takes measures to offset relaxation of COVID-19 measures

After easing the restrictions in May, people flocked to the streets but ignoring essential rules such as wearing masks. [astana.gov.kz]

The international community recognised the successes of the measures taken by Kazakhstan during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in the spring. Things have changed since then, however, and this time, Kazakhstan needs to respond to an increase of cases resulting from relaxation of measures.

Despite a very small number of COVID-19 cases in the spring, Kazakhstan took very decisive steps to stop the spread of the pandemic. In the meantime, measures have been relaxed, leading to a second wave of the pandemic. The same phenomenon is taking place in countries in Eastern Europe, such as Bulgaria or Serbia.

Kazakhstan takes decisive steps to stop the spread of coronavirus

Despite the relatively small numbers of confirmed coronavirus cases and a first death reported on Thursday (26 March), the authorities in Kazakhstan, a country neighbouring China, are taking the coronavirus pandemic very seriously.

In the case of Kazakhstan, the relaxation of measures resulted in more than 61,000 cases and 375 fatalities. According to the classification of the Johns Hopkins University (USA), Kazakhstan now occupies the 31st position in the world in terms of the prevalence rate of the illness.

For the country’s authorities, a further rise in this rating is not desirable or acceptable. Therefore Kazakhstan has adapted to the new epidemiological situation and taken active measures to combat the spread of the coronavirus infection.

Following the instructions by President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, 150 billion tenge (€319 million) has been allocated to resolve urgent issues in the fight against coronavirus.

In addition, based on a proposal by the Ministry of Health to further stabilise the epidemiological situation, it was decided to extend the restrictive quarantine measures in the country for another two weeks – from 20 July to 2 August.

Furthermore, additional measures have been taken to ensure public safety during the state of emergency.

Particular emphasis was placed on the social support for the population. Usual fines and penalties have been suspended, as well as repayment of debt and interest on all loans of the population, monthly payments have been made to people who have lost income because of the state of emergency, and free grocery sets are being provided for socially vulnerable groups.

The analysis of the mistakes led to the adoption of a number of administrative measures, including the change of senior management of the healthcare system.

The minister of health was dismissed from his post, and an experienced head of ministry was appointed to replace him. Moreover, the new minister of health was endowed with a special status, and given broader powers for inter-agency coordination in the field of countering the epidemic.

For example, President Tokayev has instructed the government and akimats (mayoral districts) to provide the health ministry with daily reports and information on combating the pandemic. At the same time, recommendations and requirements of the minister of health for other members of the government and akims (mayors) will become a priority.

Also, the health ministry brought in line with international practice the methodology for counting patients with coronavirus. This led to an increase in the incidence rate, which raised questions about the epidemiological situation both domestically and in international institutions.

But this was reportedly done to avoid confusion and prevent growing distrust of the statistics provided by the ministry of health.

The pandemic also exposed a number of problems in the activities of two organisations in the country’s health care – SK Pharmacia, a state organisation specialising in the distribution of medicines among medical facilities, and the mandatory Health Insurance Fund.

The heads of these organisations were replaced and an audit of their financial and economic activities has been initiated, upon instructions from the country’s president.

The new heads of these structures have been tasked with creating the necessary reserve of medicines and medical devices, and establishing their own production of a wide range of medicines and medical equipment.

For example, in the event of a worsening epidemic scenario,  instructions were issued to purchase an additional 4,000 ventilators, of which more than 3,000 from domestic manufacturers.

At the same time, the ministry of industry and infrastructure development has guaranteed that by August, almost 600 ventilators produced in Kazakhstan can be ordered by the country’s healthcare organisations.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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