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Emergency in Kyrgyzstan: Government Without Masks and the Precious Passes

On March 25, the Kyrgyz government imposed mandatory curfew restrictions from 8 PM to 7 AM in a number of cities and regions. Thus, it strengthened the emergency and quarantine related to the coronavirus epidemic. These three situations (emergency, quarantine and curfew – Ed.) were supposed to contain the spread of infection and organize the citizens’ lives. However, just one incomplete week of restrictions turned communications into complete chaos.


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Early Response or a Haste?

The curfew was announced in less than a day. On March 24, the Commandant’s office held a meeting with Bishkek mayor’s office, and the news for capital residents appeared one after another.

From now on, only three reasons for going outside during the daytime exist in the country: to go to a pharmacy, a store or a hospital. Later, visits to the bank were allowed, but with a reservation: “in case of emergency”. The authorities immediately added that nonresidents are required to leave the areas of emergency before midnight; otherwise, they will be deported.

However, the information from Almazbek Orozaliev, the Commandant of the city, became the most discussed and controversial. He informed the residents that from now, a certain route sheet and identity document are required to move around.

It immediately became clear that this route sheet was not ready yet, “is under development and soon will be printed”, so that citizens would be able to pick them up at the internal affairs authorities. That is, in order to get a document that allows going outside under quarantine, first you must go to a crowded place without having it.

All social networks in the .kg segment discussed this news until the morning, wondering how that was possible.

At night, a new piece of news appeared: at the emergency briefing, the government declared the emergency, the closure of all institutions, and banned the public transportation and taxi services.

Immediately after that, the city administration distributed a statement contrary to that ban.

“State authorities and institutions are obliged to ensure the employees’ transportation and all the transport logistics,” the official page of the Bishkek administration in social networks specified.

Main Road Safety Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs added, “in case of failure to comply with emergency requirements, the vehicles of city taxis services and private drivers will be confiscated and sent to the parking of the Internal Affairs Departments; the drivers will be liable for violation of the requirements according to the law”.

By the night, more than 70 patrols were sent to the capital. Dozens of checkpoints were installed throughout the city.

Announcements asking to wear the protective masks spread across the city. Photo: CABAR.asia

Curfew. The Beginning

On the first night of the emergency in Bishkek, CABAR.asia reporter received permission to stay in the city for several hours to observe the situation.

Medical posts were opened at the entrances to cities and regions where drivers were examined. However, their temperature was not taken, since there is not enough of thermal imaging cameras.

On the verge of the curfew, the city became noticeably empty. Exceeding the speed limits, late drivers were in a hurry to finish the route and get home. As one of them said, “no one is being fined now, but it is better to get a fine for exceeding the speed limits rather than spend the night in the police department for violating the restrictions”.

Photo: CABAR.asia

At 8 PM, cars with loud sirens began to patrol the city. Very few private vehicles could be seen in the city until 10 PM; however, police officers did not arrest or fine anyone.

“Our task for today is to make sure that everyone returns home and does not break the restrictions in the future. We are people too, and we understand that everything happened very quickly, so today we are trying to be loyal to latecomers,” said Nurgazy, patrol officer.

During the first few hours, people running late were simply asked to hurry home. After that, violators were detained. Over the first night, there were about 200 such people.

Chaos, Collapse and Lack of Information

That was how the city residents described the public services’ work and their communication with the population and with each other these days.

After almost a day, the Commandant’s office finished the work on the route sheet. It had seven fields to fill in: the name, address, phone number, time, destination, and the reason for going outside. The requirements were eased for the city residents: the sheet does not have to be printed out, it could be simply handwritten.

We cannot let you go, they say, because we do not know if you are registered in Bishkek or not.

Vladislav Zapilin, Bishkek resident, said that he tried twice on that day to visit his elderly parents in the central part of the city to bring them food.

“It was a nonsense! Patrol officers requested to show a passport, but they could not read the residence registration: since the passports are biometric, this information is encoded. We cannot let you go, they say, because we do not know if you are registered in Bishkek or not. I was shocked!” resented the resident of the eighth microdistrict.

He suggested officers to decode his registration data with a card reader, but they only shrugged their shoulders in response – they were not equipped with such tools.

This issue is still not resolved.

Tilek Minbaev, security guard of one of the large grocery stores, told the reporter that he had all the documents required by the Commandant’s office: a security pass with a seal, a pass for transportation, a certificate of employment, a passport. However, the passport became an obstacle: Tilek has been living in Bishkek for 11 years with a residence registration in Sokuluk (the suburb).

What should I do? Where to go? It turns out that I am a citizen of this country, but it does not need me!

For two days in a row, he tried to get to work. He could not get in by his car – he was not let in due to the absence of the Commandant’s personal seal. The next day, a security guard decided to walk. Almost near the final destination, he met the patrol officers. They told him not to leave the house at all.

“They told me, straightforward: you should be deported to Sokuluk. If you want to stay here, it is better to stay inside. How am I supposed to stay inside? I rent the housing; I need to make money to pay for it. I do not have food supplies, my children are waiting for help. What should I do? Where to go? It turns out that I am a citizen of this country, but it does not need me!” says the guard.

In this regard, the Commandant’s office explained, “If a citizen does not have a city registration, but lives in Bishkek, then he needs to take a certificate from his place of residence for unrestricted movement around the city”.

However, there are no answers to the question on how to get to the place of residence without any transport. If the residence registration is regional, then, accordingly, the citizen will not be released from there. The authorities still have no explanations.

The passes issues are also still not resolved. As soon as employees of hospitals, emergency services, and municipal services received from their state employers special passes enabling them to move around the city during the daytime, they were declared invalid without the Commandant’s signature and the checkpoints refused to accept them. The same thing happened with food delivery agents. As a result, crowds of entrepreneurs were surrounding the Commandant’s office for several days.

The situation is not resolved, but the Commandant’s office promises to start issuing electronic passes within 1 or 2 days and distinguish them by colour: blue – for moving around Bishkek twenty-four seven, red – for moving around from 7 AM to 8 PM, mainly for officials and entrepreneurs and yellow – for healthcare workers.

Almaz Orozaliev, the Commandant of Bishkek, has repeatedly promised that journalists’ accreditation for the emergency period will also be issued soon. However, just recently it turned out that this would not happen. Orozaliev himself informed about this.

Photo: CABAR.asia

A Bitter Pill to Swallow       

Another critical question arose: the doctors were not provided with transportation by their institutions or the Ministry of Health. All this time, this issue has been resolved with volunteers’ assistance.

The reporter decided to visit the Children’s Hospital No. 3. There, at 8:20 AM she met a doctor who was actually running to work. They agreed to talk later. An hour later, the doctor anonymously told about the difficulties that doctors are facing these days.

At 8 AM we have a daily briefing. I am late already for the second day, and today I almost was reprimanded. Therefore, I could not talk to you immediately. Nevertheless, what should I do? I live in Beshkungey village, I do not have a car, my neighbor agreed to drive me.

First, I walk to him and then we drive to the city. His work starts later, and therefore we leave accordingly. That is why I am late, and there are many people just like me now. I do not know what will happen next.

In fact, we are not provided with anything, the country lacks mechanical ventilators, special protective suits, and there are no safety measures taken.

Surgeons of the Bishkek’s National Centre for Motherhood and Childhood also confirmed this information. According to them, they were not provided with transportation and the hospital does not even have protective masks.

“There are only antiseptics. We have to solve other problems ourselves: find the masks, search for the ways to get to work. We are trying to cooperate with colleagues, but our places of residence is far away from each other. Someone walks through half a city; someone rides a bicycle. The hardest thing after the shift is that a hungry, tired doctor still has to walk home during an hour and a half,” the doctor said.

The hardest thing after the shift is that a hungry, tired doctor still has to walk home during an hour and a half.

The editors contacted the Director of the National Centre for Motherhood and Childhood Kamchybek Uzakbaev. He confirmed that they have had a problem with the masks for a long time, but assured that now there are enough of them.

A problem appeared with attending physicians, who are not yet the official employees of the hospital, do not receive a salary, often do not have their own housing and personal cars, but during the emergencies are forced to get to work on a daily basis.

Uzakbayev assured that their shifts in the hospital were voluntary.

Thank God, almost all attending physicians own cars. They work in the hospital out of patriotic feelings. I do not force anyone who does not want to or is not able to, because I have no such rights.

However, the doctors from Bishkek hospitals in the WhatsApp groups share another feedback: the management strictly obliged everyone to be in their workplaces, regardless of the circumstances.

It also turned out that all this time the doctors of the mentioned hospitals have been working with the patients who presumably may have been contacting coronavirus infected persons.

The administration denies the COVID-19 testing, and they are diagnosed with pneumonia

“There are patients who have many similar symptoms: continuous fever, difficulty breathing. The administration denies the COVID-19 testing, and they are diagnosed with pneumonia. Perhaps, it really is the virus. However, I would like to know for sure, because we all work without any special protective equipment. The whole hospital is in no way protected!” the doctors worry.

We did not manage to get official comments from the Ministry of Health on this issue. Officials do not respond to requests and distribute information only in rare official statements.

In turn, the Heads of city hospitals are waiting for special passes, so that they simply can get to work from one part of the city to another.

Businessmen Without a Business

Small and medium enterprises had to reorganize completely. Restaurants, banquet halls, clothing stores, fitness and shopping centres were forced to close. Some places of foodservice industry left only delivery services, which are now also causing concerns.

Photo: CABAR.asia

Simultaneously, all the major food stores and banks switched to the new operating mode. They not only significantly reduced work hours, but also tried to limit the number of workers: everyone tries to work in shifts.

Small stores now work rarely. This is due to the lack of supplies.

According to Marlen Zakirov, the owner of a small wholesale store, during the first days after the emergency announcement, he was still selling the stocks of the goods. Now there is nothing left to sell: the last packs of pasta and tea are sold, no one allows ordering new goods.

The Commandant’s office gave promises, but did a completely different thing: it issued the passes only to large products suppliers. They say that large trucks will be allowed in, but small cars with food will be not.

This looks like lobbying for the interests of the large networks. That is, they do not help us, but they deliberately ruin our business.

Soon the loan repayment period will approach, and since there is no exemptions or payment holidays, I will pay my last money, and together with my three children will settle to live in a tent near the “White House”. Apparently, this is the only way to draw the state’s attention to simple people, thanks to which it functions.

Three days after the emergency introduction, the Commandant of Bishkek finally met with entrepreneurs. They asked for assistance, in return they were promised special passes.

Крупные гипермаркеты не обеспечили транспорт своим сотрудникам. Те перемещаются благодаря волонтерам и коллегам-попутчикам. Photo: CABAR.asia

All other categories of workers have difficulties with transportation. For example, CABAR.asia found out that large hypermarkets did not provide transportation to their employees. Those get around with volunteers’ and friend’s help.

Nurzhan Osorova, the cashier of such a market, shared other difficulties.

“It is very hard emotionally now: my parents are pushing me to quit the job, since it became dangerous. Visitors are nervous, embittered and rude. Of course, I try to understand them – there are very few reasons for joy now,” the girl shared her opinion.

It should be noted that the republican headquarters on COVID-19 officially communicated the following requirements: keeping a social distance of 1.5 meters between customers and employees; cashiers should wear masks and gloves; there must be means for cleaning the air inside the markets.

We went to one of the most visited well-known hypermarkets and found out that the list of requirements is violated. All the cashiers wear the masks, but only few wear gloves. At the same time, inside a large store there were simultaneously many visitors not following any rules. The distance between people at the checkout barely exceeded 30 centimetres.

Masks Off

It is impossible to quote all the comments from the upset residents due to their large numbers. There is no social assistance from the state yet. A much greater amounts of financial and food assistance comes from volunteers and philanthropists, but it cannot help everyone and cannot cover all needs.

A few days ago, a representative from the Ministry of Health announced that a 24-hour curfew could probably be introduced in Kyrgyzstan. That is, simply put, complete isolation. The authorities do not explain how to live under such conditions. In addition, the representative of the Ministry of Health did not specify what preventive measures would be taken in that case and whether it would it be at all. She spoke publicly without a protective mask…

To be fair, during the emergency and quarantine days, in addition to representatives of the Ministry of Health, the country leaders, such as the Head of government, deputy Prime Minister, Commandant of Bishkek, the Mayor and his deputies also constantly appeared in the public places without a mask.


This article was prepared as part of the Giving Voice, Driving Change – from the Borderland to the Steppes Project.

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