Georgia’s furious fight against COVID-19

Georgian servicemen inspects cars and people at an entrance to the town of Marneuli, some 40 km from the capital of Tbilisi, Georgia, 23 March 2020. The Georgian government has quarantined the municipalities of Marneuli and Bolnisi and put them on lockdown on 22 March 2020. [EPA-EFE/ZURAB KURTSIKIDZE]

Since reporting its first case of coronavirus on 26 February, Georgia has had only 61 confirmed cases of the virus as of 23 March. With 3,320 people placed in mandatory quarantines, the Caucasian country is being lauded as a success story in the global fight against the pandemic.

In comparison, the first case in neighbouring Armenia was reported on 2 March and the country counted 194 confirmed as of 22 March.

“It’s something maybe to do with a great cohort of health professionals and good habits of resilience in times of trouble,” wrote Thomas de Waal, senior researcher at Carnegie Europe think tank, complimenting the country’s response.

Zurab Tatanashvili, a Georgian expert on public health and social services told Eurasianet that “putting professionals in the driver’s seat was perhaps the smartest thing this government has ever done”.

Lika Chipashvili, a researcher at GEOCASE think tank told Euradio that the virus is spreading very slowly in Georgia compared to other countries. “It is estimated that Georgia has gained two weeks compared to other European countries in order to slow down the transmission of the virus as much as possible.”

Georgia has cancelled flights to China as early as January and introduced strict airport checks for travellers from countries with a high risk of coronavirus.

Day nurseries stopped working on 2 March and schools and universities were closed until 1 April.

However, the closure of public spaces such as malls came relatively late, Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia announced the closure of shops on 19 March. Only groceries, pharmacies, gas stations, post offices and banks were allowed to remain open.

After shutting its borders, on 20 March, Georgia set up mandatory quarantine zones at border crossing, placing citizens arriving home under quarantine.

“All Georgian citizens will be placed under quarantine, as safety of each resident inside and outside the country is very important for us,” said Georgia’s health minister, Ekaterine Tikaradze.

On 21 March, the parliament approved a state of emergency that Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili described as “not an extreme one”, with no curfew imposed.

The imposition of strict measures continued yesterday, when government spokesperson Irakli Chikovani announced that all forms of intercity transport, including rail, will be suspended from 24 March.

On Monday (23 March), the authorities placed the entire municipalities of Marneuli and Bolnisi numbering 158,000 people under quarantine after discovering that a diagnosed elderly woman had come in contact with more than 80 people when attending a religious event.

The Georgian orthodox church was previously criticised for continuing service despite the state of emergency measures.

[Edited by Georgi Gotev/Zoran Radosavljevic]

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