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Tajikistan is Still Free of Coronavirus

Authorities claim that diagnostic testing of the citizens arriving in the country have not yet revealed the infection cases.

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SARS-CoV-2, better known as COVID-19 or coronavirus, keeps spreading around the world; more than half a million people have already been infected. According to the WHO, as of March 25, there are very few countries in the world where the authorities claim that coronavirus infection is absent on their territory.

These are countries such as Palau, Botswana, Burundi, Vanuatu, Yemen, Kiribati, Comoros, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Lesotho, Malawi, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Samoa, Sao Tome and Principe, Solomon Islands, Sierra Leone, Tonga, Tuvalu, Turkmenistan, Federated States of Micronesia, South Sudan and several other island territories.

Map of countries with confirmed infection cases as of March 30. Photo: who.int
Map of countries with confirmed infection cases as of March 30. Photo: who.int

Tajikistan is still among these countries, while the virus has already spread to the neighboring republics.

Tajikistan is one of the poorest countries of the former Soviet Union. The country’s economy is heavily dependent on the remittances of labor migrants who annually travel to Russia and Kazakhstan searching for job. The annual volume of labor migrants’ remittances is approximately $3 billion, which is 35% of the country’s GDP.

A week ago, there were twenty flights daily, and the volume of passenger traffic was 6.5 thousand people. About 30 border checkpoints functioned, and hundreds of people were passing through them. This fact casts doubt on the authorities’ statements about the absence of coronavirus infection.

In Kyrgyzstan, the first people with officially confirmed coronavirus infection were Jalal-Abad region residents who returned to the republic after Umrah (Islamic pilgrimage) in Saudi Arabia. The question arises: how did numerous pilgrims from Tajikistan manage to avoid this virus?

However, as of March 30, the Tajik authorities claimed that there was no evidence of a virus in the country. They do not hurry to impose a quarantine and do not even reject public events, which might seem “suicidal” for other countries under the current conditions.

Tajik authorities state that all people who have arrived in the country during the last 10 days are quarantined. Prior to this, only those who arrived from China, Iran, South Korea, Japan or Italy were quarantined. According to the Ministry of Health of Tajikistan, starting from the beginning of February to March 25, 5.5 thousand people were in quarantine, of which two thousand are already discharged.

Munira Karimova, the Chief Doctor of the Dushanbe Infectious Diseases Hospital, confirms the authorities’ information about the absence of coronavirus infection. According to Karimova, Tajik doctors have no secrets and their expert opinions are confirmed by the laboratories of London and Russia.

“Until now, two thousand people who returned from abroad were tested for coronavirus, and all tests were negative. Tests are examined not only in Tajikistan, but also sent to foreign medical laboratories in London and Novosibirsk. In addition, a representative office of the World Health Organization operates in Tajikistan and monitors the processes,” says the Chief Doctor of the Dushanbe Infectious Diseases Hospital.

Navruz celebration in Khujand. Photo: prezident.tj
Navruz celebration in Khujand. Photo: prezident.tj

Despite the fact that the Tajik authorities confirm no cases of coronavirus infection in the country, they also introduce some restrictions. In particular, all international flights have been canceled; people returning from other countries are quarantined for two weeks. In addition, collective prayers were canceled for a while, but now mosques are opened again.

The government has developed a program of preventive measures and actions in the case of virus detection and has requested assistance from world financial institutions, including the World Bank. The details of this program are not disclosed, but authorities say millions of dollars are needed to implement it.

However, authorities’ actions regarding the coronavirus threat are criticized both domestically and abroad. The decision to hold festive public events and refusal to extend the spring break in educational institutions of the country caused the strong negative response.

In particular, the World Health Organization (WHO) in March appealed to the authorities requesting to reject the public Navruz celebration. However, the authorities ignored this recommendation and celebrated a holiday in Khujand with 12 thousand people. President Emomali Rahmon attended the concert. In addition, Navruz was widely celebrated in other regions of the country.

Unlike in most countries, Tajikistan’s secondary schools and universities continue to function normally; the authorities claim there is no need to close them.

The lack of transparency is also criticized. The Prime Minister of Tajikistan coordinates the work of the permanent headquarters for countering the spread of coronavirus infection, where the heads of the country’s main government agencies, the General Prosecutor and the Secretary-General of the Security Council participate. Headquarters meetings are held twice a day, but the details of the issues discussed there are not disclosed to media.

Concerts are not banned in Tajikistan. Photo: CABAR.asia
Concerts are not banned in Tajikistan. Photo: CABAR.asia

According to some government sources, quarantine will be imposed in Tajikistan in the next few days. Representatives of the Ministry of Health and Social Protection of the Population do not officially confirm this information. However, according to the press service of the Ministry of Health, at a meeting on March 28, the necessary measures in the case of announcement of the state of emergency were discussed.

Abror Asoev, Tajik doctor with over 20 years of experience in the Tajik healthcare system, says the epidemic of this virus in the country can have tragic consequences. In his opinion, Tajik doctors have no experience in combating such viruses, and the healthcare system is not ready to face it.

“If only one or two hundred cases are detected, there are likely to be no serious consequences for Tajikistan. However, if coronavirus spreads throughout Tajikistan, it is hard to imagine to what consequences it can lead. The ratio of the number of hospitals to the population of the country is too low. We are having difficulties placing 5-6 thousand people for quarantine. Imagine what can happen if the number of sick patients reaches this figure,” the doctor says.

According to him, the main problems of combating coronavirus in Tajikistan are the insufficient number of hospital beds, medical respiratory devices, medications, and experienced doctors.

Authorities disagree with this criticism and claim that they are well prepared for combating coronavirus. A few days ago, the Tajik Ministry of Health announced that they had vacated and equipped a large Istiqlol hospital in Dushanbe for admission of patients with COVID-19.

Despite the fact that the authorities refute the information about the patients with coronavirus in Tajikistan, this disease is already affecting the country’s economy and society.

More than a million people planning to leave for labor migration are forced to abandon these plans. The processes of prices increase and drop in the value of the country’s currency intensified.

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

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