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Why Did Kazakhstan Announce Easing of Quarantine Rules?

“Now the question is what position the post-quarantine will put the people in. The coronavirus epidemic cancels many of the earlier gains for one and all,” political analyst Yuriy Buluktayev notes in his article for CABAR.asia.

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Easing of quarantine

On April 27, the President of Kazakhstan announced that the country would ease quarantine rules. The lockdown will end on May 11 unless there is a new outbreak of the disease.

Recall that the lockdown in Kazakhstan has started on March 16; Almaty and Nur-Sultan were put under emergency quarantine on March 19. As COVID-19 spread across the country, quarantine rules have been enforced on all the regions. The government introduced restriction measures across the country, halted public transport, and requested most organizations and institutions to go online.

Photo: Press service of the Republic of Kazakhstan’s Ministry of Defense

What was the reason for the president’s announcement? Is it that, after forty days in quarantine, the coronavirus ended up not as scary as it is presented?  “Quarantine”, for the record, is derived from Latin word standing for “forty”. In Spanish, for instance, 40 is cuarenta; in Italian it’s quaranta. The answers are basically in the announcement per se.

Were the efforts to impede COVID-19 a success?

Kassym-Zhomart Tokayev said, “A pandemic does not grow exponentially anymore. Kazakhstan’s efforts were praised by the World Health Organization and international expert community”.

The President did not use statistics to support his argument. And they are as follows: as of April 29, the number of coronavirus cases in the country amounted to a total of 3063 people. Most of the confirmed cases are in Almaty, Nur-Sultan goes second. The lethality from COVID-19 in Kazakhstan since the pandemic accounts for 25 people. 774 were cured.[1]

Back on April 25, Chief Sanitary Doctor of Almaty, Zhandarbek Bekshin during an online conference said that the city had seen a decline in coronavirus disease. The daily increase averaged by 4%, according to him.[2]

The first thing that comes to mind is the virus not being so “deadly” after all. The news on high lethality in the United States, Italy, Spain, and other countries, however, brings us back on track. More than 210,000 people worldwide have now died with the coronavirus. And yet, it turns out that in Kazakhstan, a country with a population of over 18 and a half million people, the death toll is 25 people for the whole period, including 8 deaths in Almaty, the city of nearly two million people, and 3 in Nur-Sultan. However, it is questionable whether they all died from COVID-19.

Correcting statistics?

Just the other day, Kazakhstan’s media circulated the news that “According to the Operational Headquarters of the State Commission, there was 1 coronavirus death confirmed in Almaty”.[3] The death of a 97-year-old patient had reportedly occurred after irreversible natural implications caused by an acute cerebrovascular accident. While coronavirus, like several other serious diseases, was concomitant.

It is likely that under the influence of sarcasm and criticism in the social media comment section, literally a few hours later they released a message saying that “By the decision of the Commission for the Coronavirus Fatal Outcomes Study under the Almaty public health department, death of a 97-year-old patient in Almaty have been excluded from COVID-19 statistics. ”[4] In other words, disavowing the initial report meant that the statistics of coronavirus death tolls had been corrected.

And even before that, it was reported that a 56-year-old woman died in Almaty on April 23. In addition to the COVID-19, she suffered from lupus and diabetes. Well, look at that! It is known that lupus alone is a chronic autoimmune disease of unknown etiology; it cannot be cured – you can only alleviate the symptoms. Lupus affects the lungs, causing pneumonia and pleurisy, while the cardiovascular system suffers from pericarditis and myocarditis. Well, aren’t those the symptoms of COVID-19? Hence, it’s not clear whether lupus precedes coronavirus or vice versa.

COVID-19 basically is a phenomenon with great uncertainty and obscurity, hence all these puzzles for medical workers. And not only for them. According to an expert, the stats claim that out of 21 thousand deaths over 40 days in Kazakhstan, 25 of them, or 0.12% from coronavirus.[5] That is, coronavirus lethality in Kazakhstan is among the lowest in the world.

Do president-led Kazakh authorities take all the credit for low rates of coronavirus spread? They certainly do. They did what they had to do in force majeure by choosing self-isolation. It is still early to argue that they could have chosen the path of Sweden, or Belarus, for instance. After all, the situation with COVID-19 is still far from over; experts predict a new virus outbreak. But that’s a subject for a different discussion.

Coronavirus fostering the economic crisis

Another reason to ease the self-isolation rules in Kazakhstan is the socio-economic views. The spread of the virus triggered a drop in oil prices and the tenge depreciation. Private business entities began sending their employees on unpaid leave. An increasing epidemiological risk will certainly have a negative impact on the economy. The head of state, in fact, have shared the widespread view on  COVID-19 is a powerful mean fostering the economic crisis. As the president said, “One has lost his income, another lost her job, someone had to change their life plans”. The pronouns used here are instead of real people. Their number is measured not by tens and hundreds of thousands, but rather by millions.

According to the Labor and Social Security Ministry, there were 4 million 146 thousand social payments scheduled in Kazakhstan on April 23 due to the loss of income during the lockdown. So, the majority of them are involuntarily unemployed. For example, the Almaty flea market rests, as everyone knows, heavily rely on Chinese imports. However, Chinese goods cannot enter the Kazakh market during the coronavirus pandemic, just as local merchants cannot enter China. There are similar implications for farmers that cannot freely distribute their products. A total of 8 million 21 thousand social payment applications have been submitted for consideration. Given that Kazakhstan’s workforce is about 9.2-9.5 million people, the situation is rather troubling and requires urgent solutions from an executive branch.

The government is surely taking steps in population income maintenance and ensuring social and economic stability under these difficult circumstances. The crisis response has surpassed 4 trillion tenges, while it is still unclear who supervises the disbursement of funds. 2.1 trillion tenges has been provided from the republican budget, 1.8 trillion tenge – from guaranteed National Fund transfer, and the rest of the money came from raising funds for infrastructure bonds.[6] Funds have been allocated for lending to small and medium-sized businesses at acceptable rates. Though this is not a sustainable model. If 4 million people won’t work for another month or two, this will negatively affect the country’s economy, GDP indicators, and finally, the welfare of the Kazakhstanis.

The president has made the right choice in this case – to ease the quarantine rules because of both medical indicators and significant threats to the country’s economy. In doing so, he warned that partial relief of quarantine cannot be regarded as a return to normal lives. But it looks like Kazakh citizens didn’t need the warning to realize the upcoming new social reality.

Now the question is what position the post-quarantine will put the people in. The coronavirus epidemic cancels many of the earlier gains for one and all It will require renovation in all spheres of human activity, including economic, political, social, and spiritual. And only time will tell what this renovation will be like.

The opinions expressed in the article do not reflect the position of the editorial board or donor.

[1] Source: Coronavirus in Kazakhstan: situation as of April 29th. LIVE. https://informburo.kz/novosti/koronavirus-v-kazahstane-situaciya-na-29-aprelya-live-.html

[2]  Source: https://news.mail.ru/society/41542419/?frommail=1 . 04/25/2020.

[3] Source: A 97-year-old woman died with coronavirus in Almaty. https://365info.kz/2020/04/97-letnyaya-zhenshhina-skonchalas-ot-kvi-v-almaty . April 26, 17:14.

[4] Source: Death of a 97-year-old patient in Almaty excluded from COVID-19 statistics. Newtimes.kz .26.04.2020.

[5] Source: https://informburo.kz/interview/grigoriy-marchenko-esli-provodit-analiz-zhizni-protiv-zhizni-on-budet-ne-v-polzu-karantina.html. 04/27/2020 .

[6] Almost 2 trillion tenge to be allocated from the National Fund for the fight against coronavirus . CPC (March 29, 2020). 

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