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International Crisis Group report on COVID-19 Crisis in occupied territories

By Natalia Kochiashvili
Friday, May 8
In the morning of 7th of May, the number of people infected with coronavirus increased to 11 in the de facto republic of South Ossetia, Anna Gagloeva, the deputy head of the main sanitary service of the de facto republic, told the Res Agency. According to her, after the last test, the results of 8 tests were positive. At the moment, the health condition of all the infected is stable. As she stated, one of the patients arrived from North Ossetia and there are also students who came from Russia and South Ossetia this week. 160 students have returned to de facto South Ossetia, studying at various Russian universities, all of them either in quarantine and in a South Ossetian medical institution. 9 drivers are also in quarantine.

The so-called South Ossetian de facto republic president, Anatoly Bibilov, called on the population to remain calm and asked them not to panic. In an extensive post on Facebook, Anatoly Bibilov writes that the government will do everything possible to prevent the further spread of COVID-19. The operative headquarters of the de facto republic decided to hold a meeting with the Russian Federation to close the border completely.

"The border with the Russian Federation will be closed from May 10 to May 17. Temporary restrictions on crossing the border will apply to all citizens without exception. The restrictions will also apply to trucks,” the Tskhinvali news agency reported.

The de facto authorities of the Tskhinvali region occupied by Russia announced the first cases of infection with the new coronavirus on May 6th.

Dina Alborova, a political scientist from Tskhinvali, says that the spread of information about coronavirus patients in South Ossetia is of great concern to the local population. According to her, the healthcare system is not ready to fight the virus.

In the social network, Tskhinvali residents are writing more and more about the shortcomings of the local healthcare system and have less confidence in the professionalism of doctors.

Tskhinvali civil activists consider the strict quarantine measures announced by Bibilov as a simple formality, because in Tskhinvali citizens walk without facemasks, gather at funerals and the Ministry of Defense even brings personnel to parades on the street. According to the Resi news agency, the Ministry of Defense is organizing military parades near the houses of World War II veterans.

A report released by the International Crisis Group on the situation in the occupied territories of Georgia says that the picture is different in the Tskhinvali region and the de facto republic of Abkhazia.

Despite the closure of so-called checkpoints, 11 patients were allowed to be transported to the hospital from the territory of Abkhazia to the territory under the control of the Central Government of Georgia, one of which was later tested positive for COVID 19.

According to the report, in the de facto republic of South Ossetia, Russia, which supplies medical equipment to the site, stopped exporting a large proportion of medicines in early March. Officials said there was a shortage of disinfectants. They called on local producers to sew protective coats and tweezers for doctors.

“Local medical staff have not been trained for years and did not even know how to use the 26 breathing apparatus, they received from Russia,” the report said.

Slow actions were taken in the Tskhinvali region to prevent the spread of coronavirus, the report said.

The government allowed the youth tournament to be held on March 22nd-25th, the de facto president addressed the event, which was attended by hundreds of people. Schools and universities have been closed much later than any other country in the South Caucasus, reads the report.

The only international organization operating in the de facto republic of South Ossetia is the Red Cross. The organization provides medical and inventory supplies for prisoners and the elderly in the de facto republic.

According to the Georgian State Minister for Reconciliation and Civic Equality, the agency is actively cooperating with the International Committee of the Red Cross, which is the only one that has access to the Tskhinvali region and is now working to provide some humanitarian assistance to the most vulnerable in Akhalgori and the rest of Tskhinvali region.

According to the report, the de facto officials refused to allow the World Health Organization specialists to enter if they entered from the Georgian-controlled territory and not from Russia.

Unlike the de facto South Ossetia, the situation in Abkhazia was relatively better, the report said, but the problems with infrastructure are obvious there as well. The problems also include the shortage of medical staff and the elderly population.

“Almost 80% of the population is over 60 years old. At the same time, the medical staff themselves belong to the risk group, as their average age is 60 years or more, ”the report reads.

According to the International Crisis Group, special measures have been taken by the de facto government of Abkhazia late. Among them, the election of the de facto president in Abkhazia coincided with the period of the spread of Coronavirus, and the social distance was not preserved. After the declaration of a state of emergency in the de facto republic of Abkhazia, thermo screening began and citizens were urged to stay at home from the sound amplifier attached to police cars.

“The biggest difficulty has been getting out of the crowded funeral procession with locals,” the report said.

In Abkhazia, on 20th of April, a month after the declaration of the state of emergency, the imposed restrictions were eased and the markets were reopened.

In early March, the de facto government of Abkhazia appealed to international organizations for assistance, with UN financial support from the United States and the EU 12,000 medical essentials and disinfectants were brought to the de facto republic. Russia has provided 500 COVID 19 tests to the de facto republic.

The de facto government of South Ossetia should support the efforts of others to help them, the report said. “They should immediately seek the opportunity to send a WHO assessment mission.”

The recommendation of the report is for Georgia, for its part, to work with the de facto leadership of Abkhazia on ways to improve the economy, as these conflict regions are on the edge of COVID 19 crisis and cooperative forces might help in reducing damage.