Illegal clubs and beauty salons, dismissals and lines – coronavirus pandemic has become a strength test for social responsibility of businesses in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.
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Kazakhstan: Spots of Sanitation and Illegal Clubs
The state of emergency because of coronavirus pandemic was declared in Kazakhstan on March 15. It implied reinforcement of public order, closure of shopping malls, and social distancing in public places and stores.
However, not all listened to the government’s recommendations. On April 27, it was reported that a karaoke bar and a nightclub continued operating despite the lockdown in Almaty. During the police raid, they were crowded: one company was celebrating a birthday, another company was having fun after a long separation.
One week earlier, an illegal massage salon where risks of contamination of coronavirus infection were ignored was found in Almaty.
After all, not all entrepreneurs in Kazakhstan took the threat of contamination seriously after the lockdown.
Aisulu is a student of the Nur-Sultan University and was a manager of the furniture salon before the lockdown.
“When the closure of the town was announced, I asked my supervisor to place me on leave, as I live in Petropavlovsk. But she said it would not take long and then added that if I want to come back home and take some rest, she wouldn’t retain me,” the girl said.
The girl wrote a statement of resignation and went back home. On March 19, the capital was totally closed for quarantine, while the furniture salon closed down temporarily.
According to the healthcare analyst Ali Nurgozhaev, it is difficult to measure all actions taken by entrepreneurs related to the lockdown measures as they depend on specific persons, their responsibility and the business segment.
For example, looking at banks, we can have the impression that participants of this segment stopped working happily.
“They stopped exchanging, deposit operations, or made this process complicated,” Nurgozhaev said.
Madina from Kostanai who works as consultant in a bank was placed on a paid one-week leave despite the fact that the region did not announce the lockdown.
“We were supplied with reusable face masks as soon as all started to buy them,” the girl admitted saying that every officer was provided with a sanitizer and had a warning sign beside to sanitize their hands for their customers.
According to her, every officer in the bank was placed on a leave in turns to reduce the number of persons in the company. One week after Madina was placed on a leave, she was again sent on leave once Kostanai region declared lockdown on April 15.
As to the service industry, according to Ali Nurgozhaev, there are both responsible and irresponsible business owners.
“Some sellers were more equipped than medical officers, but these were random spots of sanitation. Some small enterprises such as hair salons, beauty salons continued to work illegally,” the expert said.
Before the lockdown, the stores of Kostanai had warning signs for resellers not to enter the store without masks, and then for buyers.
A hand sanitizer is available at the entry of the store, but no one notices it. The tension is felt around and shop assistants work in shifts.
“Marat, you can take off your mask,” the shop assistant said to the store owner, but he looked at her grimly.
In the evening, the store is flooded with buyers who rush to buy what they need before 21:00. However, before the lockdown, no one ever kept distance in queues, buyers crowded so tightly as they did not want to lose their place in a queue.
However, once the lockdown was announced, only five people are let in at a time. A special sperson at the entry regulates the number of people inside.
As to large industrial enterprises, various regions had various level of preparedness and response to coronavirus threat, Ali Nurgozhaev said.
From April 20, industrial enterprises, large hardware stores, car showrooms, service stations, car washes, tire shops, automotive parts stores, dry cleaner’s, and second-tier banks started to operate in Almaty and Nur-Sultan. They work mainly from 9:00 to 18:00 and despite the lockdown they have enough customers.
Therefore, according to Nurgozhaev, the sanitary and epidemiological service now has two approaches:
- To perform epidemiological surveillance and take no other measures but impose standard requirements;
- To hold social-hygienic monitoring to develop recommendations and specify the direction.
Kyrgyzstan: “Everyone is responsible for their health”
Kyrgyzstanis have been on lockdown for two months already. The country faces pandemic for the first time and, according to the authorities, during the lockdown “many measures were developed on the fly”. In the first week, people were shocked and hysterically swept away all foodstuffs and personal care products from stores and markets.
The resident of Bishkek Uulkan Zhumalieva is 65 years old. The pensioner has diabetes. During the state of emergency, the woman rarely goes outdoors – only to buy food and medicines.
“They said it on TV and radio that we need to wear masks and keep a two-metre distance. But the nearest Frunze hypermarket always has crowds of people, cashiers always have ten people in queue. Of course, hand sanitizers are available at the entry, but what’s the use if people crowd as usually? Now the situation has not changed, they also let crowds of people in stores, and long queues at checkouts,” Zhumalieva said.
Rinat (not his real name) works at one of hypermarkets of Bishkek. He said that the administration provided them with masks, hand sanitizers, and installed hand sanitizers for customers at the entrance once first COVID cases were identified in the country. However, they received no instructions on the number of people at a time inside the store.
“We know there are special requirements to supermarkets in Europe. For example, a buyer should take foodstuffs, leave them at cashier, and step a couple of metres back. Once the cashier counts the total amount, leaves the change and steps two metres back, the buyer can take his goods and the change. We didn’t have any instruction on letting a certain number of people in, or on keeping a two-metre distance. Queues can form near scales or near cashier. When this situation took place, a red line was drawn in front of the cashier to warn people not to cross it and not to form long queues. People keep coming to the stores as before,” Rinat said.
The situation at small markets has not changed. Sellers said they have even more buyers.
“We always work in masks and gloves. We can have 70-80 buyers a day, or even more. Up to five or more people can gather at the cashier at a time,” Akyl Zhanybekov, a seller in a vegetable pavilion, said.
According to him, they cannot ask their customers to keep distance and wait as buyers can go to other sellers.
“I think everyone is responsible for their health. We work every day and different people come to us, we don’t know if they are ill. We are in a risk group, as well. But we should work as we need to feed our families and pay out loans,” the seller said.
Meanwhile, the business community expresses their discontent in social media. They are confident that some types of activities could be performed in restrained terms.
Uluk Kydyrbaev, an expert in economic issues, said the state policy made everyone self-isolate and banned business operations except vital ones. However, according to him, such measures have been too strict, while businesses could adapt well to new conditions of work.
“For example, beauty salons could arrange seats at a safe distance, sanitize the premises every thirty minutes. I think our businesses are so flexible that they could adapt to these conditions in order to provide services. There was no close relationship between the state and business,” the expert said.
Sumsarbek Mamyraliev, a café owner, said they increased the distance between tables on March 17 and put hand sanitizers and hand tissues on every table. However, once the lockdown was announced, they had to close and dismiss their employees.
“Some of them live for the day. For example, one of my employees who came from the countryside rents a small room in the suburbs with two children. When I had to dismiss her, she said she would work anyway because she needed to feed her children. She told me “I’d rather die from virus than leave my kids starving,” Mamyraliev said.
He thinks that it was irrational to close all kinds of activities, including public catering, and to open banks, stores and hypermarkets, as one can get infected in stores, supermarkets and banks.
“If they allowed, every entrepreneur would apply sanitary requirements for the sake of their business and would work and provide jobs to people. Those who wouldn’t be able to meet the requirements would close,” Mamyraliev said.
This article was prepared as part of the Giving Voice, Driving Change – from the Borderland to the Steppes Project.