Coronavirus in the Eastern Partnership states (updates)
New Eastern Europe is providing an update on the situation with COVID-19 (coronavirus) in the Eastern Partnership states. Each have enacted certain policies aimed at minimising the spread of the infection. Below we give the current status of these policies as well as an updated number of reported cases by country.
Stay tuned to New Eastern Europe for more updates on the coronavirus pandemic and its consequences in our region.
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Updated 7 April 2020
European Union announces 140 million euros in support for Eastern Partnership states for their fight against COVID-19:
This is very welcome news indeed! The EU🇪🇺 will support the EaP states 🇦🇲🇦🇿🇧🇾🇬🇪🇲🇩🇺🇦with additional 140 million euro for their fight against the pandemic. We hope for more signs of solidarity with our neighbours in Eastern parts of the continent. https://t.co/9BBk6MmAsF— New Eastern Europe (@NewEastEurope) March 30, 2020
In Armenia, the government passed a bill on a one-month nation-wide state of emergency (March 16th), this will include prohibition of public events, such as religious ceremonies, sport and entertainment events, as well as strikes and rallies. The bill also mentions the prohibition of disseminating information about the virus on social media and news outlets that has not been confirmed by the government. The government has already announced the closing of kindergartens, schools and universities for quarantine until March 23rd, and now will be prolonged until April 16th. Before the bill took effect, shopping malls and other companies initiated self-quarantines in the light of new case confirmations. The majority of cases in Armenia were transmitted locally from a woman who returned from Italy; other cases came from Iran and France. On March 18th, Armenia has began regulating the entering into the country, forbidding entrance to foreign nationals of the countries particularly affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. Armenians are prohibited to leave the country through land borders, with some exceptions. On March 19th, the Speaker of the Armenian National Assembly, Ararat Mirzoyan announced that March bonuses for the parliament members will be transferred to the fight against coronavirus. Later in the day, the Minister of Health Arsen Torosyan noted that all coronavirus infected people in Armenia are in satisfactory condition and there is no threat to their life. The total number of infected people reached 122. The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs in cooperation with “Mission Armenia” and “German Red Cross” will supply more than 4000 lonely elderly people with food for one month starting from March 20th.
March 23-27th: The Deputy PM Tigran Avinyan ordered a travel ban update for foreigners from the countries with highest numbers of coronavirus cases, including among others all the EU member states, Russia and the US. The Deputy PM also asked the grocery stores to have separate hours for senior citizens only (from 10am to 12pm) to minimise the contact of seniors with other age groups. The parliament adopted a bill on administrative and criminal punishment for the violation of quarantine and self-quarantine rules, which includes penalty for negligent infection of others in the amount of at least 300 times the minimum salary or up to one month in prison. On March 25th, the Prime Minister, Nikol Pashinyan, announced a week-long lockdown alongside new restrictive measures in order to contain the spread of the virus: the citizens are now only allowed to be outside for ‘primary necessity’ activities, encompassing going to the grocery store, pharmacy or bank. Cafes and restaurants are now closed. Following the lockdown, the government announced that interprovincial passenger transportations were banned. On March 27th, Armenian banks introduced principal and interest payment delays on individual and company loans. The Office of the Government of Armenia discussed measures for combating the economic effects of coronavirus, including the expansion of social assistance packages for those who lost their jobs during the crisis.
March 28-31st: Deputy Police Chief announced that citizens must fill out ‘a travel sheet’ any time they are leaving home, according to him this activity should increase the sense of responsibility among citizens. There is also a smartphone application available to log in your ‘travel’ in electronic format. The government discussed and approved the 7th program to neutralise the economic consequences of coronavirus, which concerns persons who have lost their jobs.
April 1-5th: According to Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, in light of coronavirus the Armenian government already took nine anti-crisis measures, five of which are purely social in nature and four are aimed at supporting the economy, and will continue to develop new measures on a daily basis.
April 6-10th: The Minister of Labour and Social Affairs Zaruhi Batoyan said that the powers of the Inspectorate for Health and Labour could be expanded in connection with the issue of violation of labour rights, which is often being raised during the crisis.
The first case of COVID-19 in Azerbaijan, a Russian national travelling from Iran, was confirmed on February 28th. On March 2nd, the government announced that educational institutions were to be closed until March 9th, later pushing back the date to March 27th. The authorities are particularly vigilant towards people travelling back from Iran, since it has the third biggest outbreak of the virus after China and Italy. Consequently, over 250 people returning from Iran have been put into preventive quarantine. The first death was confirmed on March 12th, after returning from Iran. The land border between Georgia and Azerbaijan was closed for 10 days on March 14th, after an agreement from both countries. Azerbaijan closed air and land borders with Turkey that same day. It was also announced on March 14th that three Azerbaijanis previously infected by the virus had recovered. On March 14th still, the government announced specific ‘social isolation’ measures, such as the cancellation of weddings, mourning celebrations, gatherings and large-scale events, the closure of cultural facilities such as cinemas museums and theatres and the closure of restaurants and cafes at 21:00. It was finally announced that the major cultural and sportive events originally planned in March would be postponed a month. On March 17th, a new article was added to the criminal code of Azerbaijan, which penalises those who violate the quarantine. The next day, President Ilham Aliyev announced a temporary increase in salaries of medical professionals working in state institutions. On March 19th, President Ilham Aliyev signed an order, which would among other things set up a Fund to Support Fight Against Coronavirus. The President also signed a decree which set up four working groups, whose job is to assess the impact of the coronavirus on the economy of Azerbaijan and come up with proposals to reduce the negative consequences of the pandemic. On March 20th, the Minister of Defense ordered preventative anti-epidemiological measures against coronavirus, including delivery of additional medical supplies and protective clothing to the military bases, virus-related educational training for the personnel, and the operation of ‘mobile hospitals’ for specialised medical aid.
March 23-27th: The government suspended the operation of large shopping centres for a month, with the exception of grocery stores and pharmacies. On March 24th, The Spokesman for the Azerbaijani Cabinet of Ministers Ibrahim Mammadov stated that there is no need for a state of emergency yet. The government announced the implementation of a ‘special quarantine regime’, to last from March 25th until April 20th. The new regulations encompass forbidding people over 65 to leave their homes, as well as forbidding gatherings in groups of more than 10 people. Inter-city and inter-district transportations are also now banned.
March 28-31st: A new hospital was opened in Baku that will treat coronavirus patients only. The traffic police in Baku are stopping drivers that use their cars unnecessarily. The Operational Headquarters under the Cabinet of Ministers introduced additional measures to prevent the spread of the virus, the citizens are asked not to leave their houses, unless it is a case of emergency.
April 1-5th: Spokesman for the Cabinet of Ministers Ibrahim Mammadov said that a declaration of the state of emergency is possible if the situation gets worse. The Operation Headquarters announced that the closure of borders (except cargo) from April 5th to April 20th. The Cabinet of Ministers announced a decision on restrictions of movement inside the country, meaning that people are allowed to leave their homes only in the cases of emergency or to purchase food and necessities, as well as attending a funeral of a close relative.
Belarus used to be leading in the numbers of confirmed cases in the region, as more than 16,000 tests for COVID-19 were carried out since February and another nine cases confirmed over the weekend (March 15th and 16th). However, in terms of prevention measures that the majority of the countries in the region are undertaking, Belarus remains to be the least proactive. On March 13th, the government decided to limit holding of mass events with international participation until April 6th, while other mass events can be held after attaining a permission. On March 16th, the Prime Minister of Russia announced the closure of the border with Belarus, yet no nation-wide closure of the borders was announced by Belarusian authorities to this date. The Ministry of Health questioned the effectiveness of both the border closure and the official quarantine. On the official telegram channel, the Ministry argued that closing borders for citizens is morally questionable, and that seven out of eight imported cases were confirmed in Belarusian citizens who returned home rather than foreigners bringing the virus into the country. In regards to quarantine, the Ministry stated that children who are less susceptible to the virus cannot stay at home alone and most definitely will be cared for by their grandparents, who are in the vulnerable group; and that cancelling classes will not be effective as the students of higher education institutions will continue to gather and closely socialise. Nevertheless, President Alyaksandr Lukashenka stated that the country is taking precautions by testing all people who enter the country from abroad, regardless of whether they have the symptoms or not. On March 18th, the Belarusian Health Ministry announced that 5 patients had recovered, and that the situation was “manageable”. The kindergartens and schools remain open despite people’s requests, more than 16,000 people have signed an online petition asking to introduce quarantine in all educational establishments. President Lukashenka maintains that people should not give in to the panic and continue working, and maybe have some vodka after work to kill the virus from within. The following day, he also stated that shutting down borders is a sign of ‘psychosis and foolishness’ and gave reasons for not imposing quarantine, which among others include an advice from the Chinese to avoid the imposition of an excessive quarantine. On March 20th, The students of Minsk State Linguistic University have started a strike demanding the university’s administration to introduce quarantine due to coronavirus pandemic. The National Bank asks commercial banks to introduce delays on loan repayments and on interest payment for loans for Belarusian citizens, the so-called ‘repayment holidays’ to counteract the effects of the inevitable decline in citizen’s incomes.
March 23-27th: The universities in Minsk are planning on moving some lectures online, yet do not consider the introduction of full distance learning as the Ministry of Education does not intend to introduce a quarantine at educational establishments for now. Belarus remains to be the country with the highest number of recoveries in the region. President Lukashenka continues to maintain that all necessary measures are being taken to prevent the spread of coronavirus, he adds that the quarantine will be imposed when it is truly necessary. According to the Ministry of Health, as of March 27, 94 people were infected with coronavirus in Belarus: 32 have already recovered, another 62 are continuing treatment. No officially confirmed deaths from COVID-19 have been reported.
March 28-31st: President Lukashenka questions whether politicians are using the virus for their own purposes and interests. He referred to the measures taken by world governments as ‘psychosis’ and said that his youngest son is still going to school. Belarus records its first death from COVID-19, a 75 year old theatre actor Viktar Dashkevich passed away on March 31st.
April 1-5th: Following the country’s first death of COVID-19, Lukashenka stated that an “80” year old should not have gone to work and been more careful. The Health Ministry frequently publishes reports about the COVID-19 in the country, but does not always give all the information: the March 31st report only references the number of patients who have recovered from the virus and the number of patients who are being treated in hospitals, but not the total number of people infected by the virus.
Georgia currently has 34 confirmed cases of COVID-19. The country’s first case was discovered on February 26th, the victim was a man coming back from Iran. The Georgian government has since announced that the first two victims of the virus have been cured. The infected people are now in quarantine or self-isolation in order to not spread the virus. Tbilisi also announced that there are 637 people currently in quarantine, mostly for prevention purposes. Consequently, the country has banned air travels with China, Italy, Iran and other European countries. On March 2nd, the authorities announced the closure of educational institutions, both schools and universities, and called for the implementation of online learning methods. On March 14th, Tbilisi announced the closure of borders with Armenia and Azerbaijan for 10 days. On March 15th, it also announced travel bans with both Russia and Turkey. The government has mostly issued recommendations instead of strict regulations: the public sector workers are now working from home, and the government recommends employers to implement telework when possible. The government also encouraged elderly people to stay home and avoid gatherings. On March 16th, the Georgian government banned entrance to all foreign nationals for two weeks. Georgian nationals will be able to fly back, but will be quarantined for fourteen days. On March 18th, the Georgian national bank announced it will sell $40 million in reserves in order to counter the devaluation of the lari, which dropped by 9,3% since Georgia announced its first case of COVID-19 on February 27. The Georgian government is considering a new law to combat the violations of self-isolation, as Georgian law enforcement officers forcibly quarantined 99 people who violated the rules of home self-isolation introduced in connection with the coronavirus pandemic. On March 21st, President Salome Zurabishvili announced a one-month nationwide state of emergency after the presidential decree was passed by the parliament. The parliament has approved the declaration of state of emergency with essential (not extreme) restrictions.
March 23-27th: The two municipalities in eastern Georgia, Marneulo and Bolnisi, are now under lockdown due to multiple citizens (more than 80) coming into contact with a local woman tested positive for coronavirus. The number of recovered from coronavirus in Georgia reaches eight. The government will suspend the public intercity transport in Georgia, including trains, by the end of the day. The schools and higher education institutions will remain closed until April 21st with classes being held remotely on online platforms. The Georgian authorities are now organising flights in order to evacuate Georgian citizens from abroad.
March 28-31st: The Interior Ministry urges the population to follow the rules of the state of emergency, otherwise they will be held administrative and criminal accountable. In just one day, the police fined 125 individuals for violation of the state of emergency rules. The Head of the National Centre for Disease Control urges people to stay at home due to the two unidentified sources of COVID-19 transmission in Georgia. The Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia declares a nationwide quarantine, which prohibits pedestrian and public transport movements from 21.00 until 6.00.
April 1-5th: The Georgian government has announced a $600 million package to “support the Georgian economy”, which includes covering families’ utility bills under certain conditions. The government is also working on measures to help those who lost their jobs because of the COVID-19 outbreak.
The first case of COVID-19 in Moldova was confirmed on March 7th, a woman returning from Italy. The country is particularly vigilant to the spread of the virus, since Italy is a major emigration destination for Moldovans: it is estimated that 500,000 Moldovans reside in Italy, representing one-seventh of the total Moldovan population. Consequently, on March 9th, Chișinău has announced strict measures to fight the spread of the virus nationwide, such as controlling potential infected people to be quarantined, closure of schools, restriction of gatherings and cancellation of air travels with Italy. Yet the border is to this day still opened, since the government has announced that it could not close the doors on its compatriots. The virus has not made any deadly victims yet, since it has only developed relatively recently, but the country does not register any recoveries yet either. The number of victims in Moldova jumped from 14 to 23 in just a day, between March 14th and March 15th. The country expects a large increase of cases since it does not have the means to ban air travels with all countries particularly affected by the virus, and because of Easter celebrations in April, when Moldovans living abroad usually come back home for the festivities. On March 17th, the parliament announced a state of emergency until May 15th. The country closed its borders, and cancelled all international flights for two weeks. On March 19th, The mayor of Chișinău, Ion Ceban, announced the “Be a Volunteer” campaign, urging residents of the capital to help those who are in quarantine and cannot go to a store or pharmacy on their own. The first two cases of the coronavirus were detected in Transdniestria on March 21st. The Prime Minister of Moldova Ion Kiku announced that Sunday services will be held in the courtyards of churches with safe distance between parishioners.
March 23-27th: The Minister of Defense Alexandru Pynzar ordered to allocate military personnel and vehicles to drive medical workers to work and home in Chișinău. President Igor Dodon stated that if the situation gets worse, the army will be used to control the implementation of the quarantine regime. He also announced that post offices will be issuing pensions on a special schedule, with policemen on duty to prevent the formation of large crowds on the premises. On March 27th, the quarantine measures have been tightened, which includes having an ID when going out on the streets, banning the gathering of more than 3 people in public spaces, forbidding people over 63 to leave their houses. Compliance with this ban will be monitored by the military and police. If the violation of these measures endangers public health, the offender can be brought to administrative responsibility. On March 28th, the Civil Aviation Authority announced that six more charter flights were approved in order to return Moldovans who ended up abroad after countries closed their borders due to the coronavirus pandemic. Prime Minister Ion Kiku announced that the authorities will not give permission for charter flights that will take on board Moldovans without a medical insurance.
March 28-31st: President Igor Dodon stated that doctors, social workers, police officers and border guards infected with coronavirus will receive a one-time assistance of 16 thousand lei. He also mentioned that the state will return 100% of taxes on personal income, as well as social and insurance contributions to the enterprises that have suspended their work due to the decision of the Commission for Emergency Situations.
April 1-5th: the government’s decision to deny citizens entry into the country unless they purchase a medical insurance turns into a scandal, as the opposition leader Maya Sandu appeals this decision in court . On April 2nd about 180 Moldovan citizens were blocked from boarding the plane in Prague, as the authorities deny the entry of the charter flight into Moldova. Furthermore, President Igor Dodon urges every citizen to buy a medical policy to show respect to the doctors and invest in the health care system. On April 4th, Prime Minister Ion Kiku stated that citizens who do not have medical insurance will be able to board the charter flights, however, they have to sign a declaration that they will buy a medical insurance in the next 72 hours.
April 6-10th: President Igor Dodon proposed declaring a temporary ‘moratorium on political debate in society’ until the crisis is over. He notes that there is a rise in toxic messages among certain politicians and that responsibility should be taken not for spreading panic, but rather for supporting the people and helping them overcome these tough times. Prime Minister Ion Kiku announced that mild cases of coronavirus will be treated at home, with the exception of persons with chronic illnesses who will be treated in a hospital.
The amount of confirmed cases in Ukraine is relatively low compared to other countries in the region (five total cases on March 16th), yet the government is taking extreme precautions due to the suspicions of multiple cases still remaining undiagnosed. The first case was confirmed on March 3rd, a man who travelled from Italy by car arrived in Chernivtsi and started exhibiting symptoms. On March 11th, the authorities approved measures for the prevention of the spread of COVID-19, which included the introduction of quarantine for educational institutions and imposition of restriction on mass events. In the following days, four more cases were confirmed and one death recorded, a 71-year-old woman who suffered from pneumonia was diagnosed with COVID-19, she died on March 13th in Radomyshl. For now, the virus remains to be “not found” in the large majority of the country. On March 13th, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addressed the nation and urged Ukrainians abroad to return home before the lockdown. All international flights and rail services are to be suspended from March 17th until April 3rd, after that date the situation will be reassessed. The ban of entrance for foreigners (excluding those with temporary and permanent residence, as well as diplomats) was initiated on March 16th and all visa issuance was suspended. In Kyiv, the mayor announced the closure of all cafes, bars, restaurants and shopping malls to prevent the spread of the virus. The Ukrainian Verkhovna Rada will be shut down after the morning session on March 17th until April 3rd. On March 17th, the Verkhovna Rada has passed a law #3219 “On amendments to certain legislative acts of Ukraine aimed to prevent the occurrence and spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19)”. This law includes: (1) the introduction of penalties for those violating self-quarantine; (2) the exemption from VAT on medicine aimed at combating COVID-19; (3) the right to work from home for public workers; (4) the right to change business hours of services with the condition of providing information about it online. On March 19th, The self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic decided to close the checkpoints on the line of contact with the territory controlled by Ukraine to prevent the spread of coronavirus. From today all educational establishments in the “DPR” will go on quarantine and classes will be held remotely through distance learning platforms. The government has introduced the state of emergency in Kyiv and 2 more regions, adding up to 5 regions in total as of March 20th. On March 22nd, The Minister of Health Illia Yemets advises to introduce the nation-wide state of emergency, saying that ‘it should have been done from the very beginning’. The Ministry of Health announced that express-tests will be used by the emergency room physicians, who will perform a flu test and a coronavirus test to those coming to the ER with fever and coronavirus symptoms.
March 23-27th: The Health Minister laments Ukraine’s inability to prevent the virus from entering the country and stresses the importance of containing the spread of the virus ‘to prevent the country from becoming part of the pandemic’. The first batch of 250,000 express-tests delivered by a Ukrainian military plane from China. The government has extended the quarantine to April 24th instead of April 3rd, and has also introduced an emergency situation in all regions of Ukraine until April 24th.
March 28-31st: The Ministry of Health implements the principle of “clinical sorting”, meaning that persons with mild symptoms of the coronavirus will not be hospitalised. A second cargo plane from China landed in Kyiv delivering 300,000 respiratory masks, 35,000 protective suits and 1.8 million of medical masks. The government introduces a mandatory quarantine in special hotels for the Ukrainians returning from abroad.
April 1-5th: The government plans to introduce stricter quarantine measures, including among others obligatory wearing of a face mask in public spaces, restriction of movement of more than two people, ban on visiting parks, gardens and forests, as well as playgrounds and recreational areas. On April 3rd, President Zelenskyy signed a decree “On humanitarian assistance to the Italian Republic”, according to which Ukraine will send 20 doctors to Italy and special alcohol disinfectants.
April 6-10th: Ukraine enforces tougher quarantine measures (see April 1-5th). President Volodymyr Zelenskyy discussed the creation of programs to support small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) during the coronavirus epidemic. These include among others helping new entrepreneurs through creation of new lending tools, and supporting existing SMEs through introduction of repayment holidays.