The citizens of Central Asian republics quarantined for two weeks criticise their authorities for improper organisation, creation of conditions for mass COVID-19 infection and developing new diseases.
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Citizens of Tajikistan complain about the quarantine conditions
The citizens of Tajikistan who were quarantined said the conditions of their stay were not always in compliance with sanitary and other requirements.
Tajikistan, according to official data, has none coronavirus cases registered. However, all citizens arriving from other countries are placed under a two-week quarantine.
Tajik journalist Yakub Khalimov crossed the Tajikistan-Kyrgyzstan border on March 21 and was placed under quarantine to a central hospital of Isfana. Over 50 people who crossed the border that day were quarantined together with him.
They were placed into hospital wards by two to four people.
“There were three people in a ward. The first nights were cold because we didn’t have warm blankets. However, the food was fine: we had hot food 3 times a day,” Khalimov said.
According to him, the hospital had only 2-3 bathrooms, and hot water was not enough, all WCs were dirty and unkempt. On March 23-24, a few more people were quarantined and over 100 people were there in total. According to Khalimov, the conditions of their stay did not meet quarantine requirements: people didn’t keep safe distance, they gathered together and played cards.
“This was a dangerous situation. If someone was infected, dozens of people could get infected,” Khalimov said.
According to Khalimov, in Dushanbe, the quarantine requirement to keep safe distance was well met. Only two people were placed in one ward and they could not get in and out freely.
“In our case, these requirements were not fully met. For example, we had no medical masks, gloves, disinfectants. The staff provided each of us with one mask, washed them and returned back to us. We feared that we could get infected if we had someone with coronavirus among us,” he said.
Abuali Mirali, a resident of Shamsiddin Shokhin district, said he was under quarantine for 21 days. Mirali returned from Russia to Tajikistan and was placed under quarantine right away together with other migrants.
“There were 218 of us, some of us were transported to Bokhtar on five microbuses, and some were transported to Kulob. To tell the truth, the quarantine conditions were bad. The wards were fine, the staff washed the wards often, but it was very cold inside. That’s why 32 people became sick,” Mirali said.
According to him, people who were quarantined “absolutely” did not practise proper hygiene.
According to him, there was a shortage of medications during the quarantine.
“Some people who had flu had high temperature. We didn’t even have common medications. We complained about it to the health ministry officers and they promised to distribute medications free of charge. However, we didn’t receive any medications and we had to order them at high prices,” Mirali said.
Some people who were quarantined told us that some doctors failed to meet preventive requirements. They said some doctors failed to follow the simplest rules – they did not wear masks and gloves.
Doctor of medicine, virologist Saidbek Sattorov said pandemics emerge suddenly in the majority of cases and quarantine conditions depend on the economic situation and capacities of the country.
“Quarantine does not mean all need to be placed into deluxe suites. What’s most important is to keep the sick or suspect far from healthy people,” Sattorov said.
At the same time, he emphasised that people who tested positive should be kept in separate rooms and according to the rules. However, if people have suspected infection, they may be placed into rooms by 3-4 people.
However, in the majority of countries, doctors still get infected with the coronavirus infection despite their observation of preventive measures.
According to Saidbek Sattorov, doctors when working with patients, especially with dangerous patients, must meet all the requirements. The coronavirus, which is especially dangerous, binds doctors to keep to safety requirements when contacting the infected patients.
According to the Tajikistan’s ministry of health and social protection, 7,257 people returned from abroad to Tajikistan from February 1 to April 8. Out of them, 5,243 were quarantined and returned home, 2,014 people are placed into hospitals and health resorts.
Quarantine in Uzbekistan causes contradictory reaction
The Uzbekistanis who were placed under two-week quarantine upon arrival from abroad remember those days differently.
User Teya Tref from Tashkent on her Facebook page told about her experience of stay in the so-called container quarantine centre in Tashkent region, which was opened in late March.
The mobile quarantine zone consisted of several thousand containers modified to accommodation. Every such room contains four beds, a toilet, a bathroom with a shower. 30 duty doctors and 20 supply officers are provided for 500 patients.
“We have everything, an air conditioner, a TV, Uzmobile phone, an electric kettle, bottled water. We have hot and cold water, yet it contains sand. There are mattresses on beds, bed linen, pillows, warm blankets, three sets of towels per person, rubber flip-flops, toothbrushes, soap, shampoo, toilet paper, paper towels,” Teya posted.
According to her, the air conditioner did not work so she had to keep herself warm in bed using bottles with hot water. The administration of the quarantine centre provided her with a heater in five days.
It’s obvious that containers were equipped in a rush and many things were neglected. For example, numerous holes were not filled with sealing foam. However, despite these deficiencies, the author was satisfied with the quarantine conditions.
“We had a carbohydrate diet – potato, rice, pasta, buckwheat, meat. Three times a day. Sugar, tea, a big pack of cookies. The staff was nice,” she wrote.
According to her, the isolation requirement was observed “strictly and seriously”.
“As to the isolation, we were not permitted to go out of our ‘suite’. Everything was very strict and serious. We contacted each other via phones, also we communicated by tapping and shouts. The staff did not contact with us. They left our food in disposable containers in small yard near the container,” Teya wrote.
After a two-week quarantine, she was brought to Tashkent in a bus column and …the driver left her far from home at night. She had to call her friends to get home. The latter took risks because the majority of Tashkent residents were forbidden to use private cars.
A resident of Tashkent, Grishan Danielyan, upon arrival from Moscow was quarantined in a camp for 16 days, where he “wouldn’t want to get back”.
On his Facebook page, Danielyan wrote all passengers were deprived of their phones and passports at the airport. He didn’t like that 4 people were placed into one container (in average).
Also, he didn’t like that containers were not ready for operation, some didn’t have water, some didn’t have electricity. According to him, medical workers were competent and compassionate, while the organisers were incompetent and caddish.
“A family was placed under the quarantine from the hospital under false pretences. They were promised to be transported home. Thus, people were tested for coronavirus and were promised to be taken home as their tests were negative. However, they were brought to the quarantine zone just in case. They were locked in a container…” he shared.
Also, Danielyan complained about poor management of the quarantine in other similar institutions. Thus, according to him, his fellow nationals who came from Moscow on March 24 were placed into the health resort at Nazarbek. However, there was no quarantine in fact and two weeks later they were sent to the container camp for the same period.
According to numerous stories of eye witnesses who were quarantined, the conditions of stay and attitude of the staff varied depending on the place and even shift. Human factor also played a significant role in the quarantine organisation.
For example, this can be seen in the quarantine at Energetik health resort at Kibraisky district of Tashkent region. The first group of fellow nationals with 20 citizens of Russia were met personally by health minister of Uzbekistan Alisher Shadmanov. The chef of the resort never cooked meals repeatedly for 14 days and cooked a celebratory dinner in honour of the International Women’s Day. Svetlana Kim told about it.
In the same health resort, according to independent journalist Aleksey Volosevich, the passengers of Dubai-Tashkent flight rebelled. They allegedly complained about bad conditions of stay and that they were not released despite negative coronavirus tests after two weeks of quarantine. As a result, seven people were sentenced to 15 days of administrative arrest for violation of article 54 of the Code of Administrative Responsibility of Uzbekistan regarding rules of anti-epidemic measures.
Situation in Kazakhstan
“I felt some weakness just before departure from Istanbul. I had a sore throat, cough and running nose. But I thought these symptoms were because of the climate change and the flight, so I thought I would be taken to the hospital immediately,” a Kazakhstani journalist who returned from the UK on the London-Istanbul-Almaty-Nur-Sultan flight on March 10 told.
Upon arrival to Almaty, the passengers were checked by a single thermal imager and had to fill in the questionnaire and specify the route in the last two weeks. In Nur-Sultan airport, they didn’t have such device.
“I arrived at night and wasn’t checked: no thermal imager, no questionnaires. We arrived and dispersed. I went home and went to bed as I thought it would be better in the morning. However, I didn’t get well and I called 103 to call the emergency, which came 50 minutes after my message,” the girl said.
The ambulance service asked how she felt, about her route, checked her temperature and then said she would be hospitalised and tested for COVID-19. She spent next week under quarantine in the City Centre for Phthisiopulmonology, which is seven kilometres away from Nur-Sultan.
At first, the girl was placed into a ward for two, and then the second bed was removed. As they explained to her, those people that arrived in the same plane were placed together. And the rest were placed by one.
During the quarantine, the girl was monitored by doctors, and when she tested negative for virus she was discharged. When she was discharged, the guard told her a man wanted to escape a couple of days ago but was caught. The territory was monitored by the patrol and security was tightened.
Today hotels and resorts are organised for the accommodation of quarantined people and for the stay of doctors. Complaints about the quarantine conditions were mainly from the towns of the country, and also from the capital.
On March 22, 577 passengers of the Dubai-Nur-Sultan flight were placed under observation at one of the designated hotels. People were shocked by the conditions of accommodation and wondered where the money allocated by the state was wasted.
However, the people that arrived from abroad complained to local media about the cold and insanitary conditions in places of their quarantine and feared they could develop new diseases.
Today, Kazakhstan has 1,821 people under quarantine, 6,608 people are self-isolated at home, and over 21 thousand tests were taken.
Revise the priorities
On March 24, the ministry of health of Kazakhstan launched a new rubric on Facebook “Health ministry announces”, where the head of the agency, Yelzhan Birtanov, announced that the aggregate capacity of Kazakhstan laboratories was four thousand tests per day. Later on, the chair of the health ministry’s Committee of Quality Control and Safety of Goods and Services, Lyudmila Byurabekova, said that the personnel reserve of medical workers was sufficient for all the cities and towns of Kazakhstan.
“Both cities [Nur-Sultan and Almaty] are coping well with the people who are being placed under quarantine. The sanitary-epidemiological service of Nur-Sultan and Almaty involves staff from other regions who are on duty at checkpoints to investigate the epidemiological situation,” Byurabekova said.
According to her, Chinese test kits are being used. The country has just received 60 thousand test kits and is planning to buy 150 thousand kits more. The number of infected people is increasing every day, and the main focal points of infection are located in Nur-Sultan and Almaty.
Kazakhstan is fighting lethal infections not for the first time. In 1905–1906, the country had the plague epidemic. The second wave of the dangerous disease took lives of hundreds of people in 1923-1924 and after the Great Patriotic war.
In 1914, a central plague laboratory was opened in Uralsk. The authorities of the country launched the widespread deratisation campaign and the disease subsided gradually.
According to the healthcare analyst Marat Mamaev, the country had a stable epidemiological situation in regard to dangerous infectious diseases and it helped to contain the spread of coronavirus.
“So far, we have a stable epidemiological situation with these diseases thanks to the system of containment and prevention of highly infectious diseases. It has lulled our vigilance. We cannot ignore both the market trends and the disease trends,” Mamaev said.
Expert in healthcare Ali Nurgozhaev also noted that the government needed to provide unhindered access to haemodialysis in current emergency, ensure access to workers to pharmaceutical plants, transportation of laboratory biomaterials, etc.
“The stock of resources in case of intensive epidemics is not available. As a result, we have a risk of deaths because of the shortage of artificial ventilators, deficit of basic protective equipment for doctors. We need to equip and protect our medical staff, ensure quality further training of doctors on infection issues. We need to revise our priorities,” Nurgozhaev said.
Mamaev has the same opinion. He noted that regulatory instruments to be used in emergency were not developed in advance and they need to be developed now based on international experience and with participation of international organisations and local analysts.
Kyrgyzstan: Accustomed to cataclysms
Oibek Aitbaev arrived in Kyrgyzstan from Germany on March 16 and was immediately placed under two-week quarantine to the former American military base Gansi in the Manas airport.
“The conditions are OK. There’s a bed, shower, hot water, toilets, washing machine, a fridge, a water dispenser, an air conditioner in the suite. There are 2-3 people placed into the suite. Meals three times a day,” he shared.
Photo courtesy of O.Aitbaev
Meanwhile, there were many complaints posted in social networks and media of Kyrgyzstan about the conditions of observation. One Kyrgyzstani woman wrote on Facebook that there are only outdoor toilets at the Gansi, but they are not accessible at night, so she was provided with a bucket.
On March 19, a young man referred to a news agency and said his mother who came back from Moscow was placed under quarantine with poor conditions. The place of observation was Gansi.
In addition to the former airbase, the people are also placed under quarantine to the hospital of Belovodsk, which is 43 kilometres away from Bishkek. According to a Bishkek resident, Kamila Kozhokmatova, she was placed in a ward with eight other people.
“There were two wards with eight women in each and one toilet for all. I have had systemic lupus erythematosus for fifteen years. I cannot be placed into one ward with other people – I can catch not only coronavirus but also any disease. It can have a deplorable outcome,” Kozhokmatova said (as cited on Kloop.kg).
According to Tolo Isakov, deputy minister of health of Kyrgyzstan, laboratories that make coronavirus tests are opening across the country now.
“All virologists and laboratory assistants are well prepared. We have enough quantity of test kits, consumables. All services of Emergencies Ministry and Ministry of Interior Affairs are ready to any course of events. Today, we have 2,290 beds available for observation,” he said.
However, media expert on health issues and former employee of health ministry Elena Bayalinova said that the infrastructure of Kyrgyzstan has become so obsolete that it cannot fight the infection.
“I’ve seen these hospitals in Suzak and Nookat (districts where first coronavirus cases were detected – author’s note). These hospitals are old and were built back in the Soviet period, at best,” she said.
She noted that despite the organisational work done, medical staff does not have necessary equipment available – doctors have to attend patients without masks.
However, evidence-based medicine expert Bermet Baryktabasova said Kyrgyzstan can fight coronavirus despite limited resources as it has repeatedly coped with emergencies.
“Our people are responsive and accustomed to cataclysms. Such unexpected severe times and deficit of resources have been in our country before. For example, the revolution and the June 2010 events, when we had many wounded and sick people; Dacha-Su, when the airplane slammed into a village. And every time our society manages to self-mobilise, self-organise and survive,” she said.
Moreover, she said the authorities have problems with management, making coordinated decisions and systemic measures, communications and public relations, broadcasting and propaganda of correct information.
They have failed to calculate the demand for personal protective equipment, medical products; the call centre that answers the calls and provides information to the people has not been organised. There is a shortage of ambulance cars.
She noted the emphasis should be placed on correct awareness-raising campaign, considered restrictive measures, personal hygiene, self-isolation and responsibility for oneself and for one’s family. First of all, all medical workers of the country should be supported.
This article was prepared as part of the Giving Voice, Driving Change – from the Borderland to the Steppes Project.