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Myths about COVID-19 in the Occupied Territories of Georgia

25.03.2020

 
Lado Bitchashvili, Shida Kartli 

The resolution of the Government of Georgia on the Approval of the Planned Activities for the Prevention of the Spread of the COVID–19 in Georgia is executed in the territories occupied by Russia in accordance to the Law of Georgia on Occupied Territories. While the Government of Georgia introduced restrictions on public gatherings as well as other regulations, the so-called presidential elections were held in the occupied Abkhazia. Both voters and the PEC members were in the polling stations without appropriate equipment necessary to prevent the spread of the virus; only Russian observers were wearing gloves and masks.

Chief Doctor of the Gulripshi district central hospital Zurab Achba wrote a long public status on his Facebook page about the threat of the spread of the COVID-19 in Abkhazia: 

“Why is the biggest explosion of the COVID-19 observed in Italy? – Because they have exactly same mentality as we have – they are irresponsible and do not obey the law. Today, we do not have the government. We have full chaos and therefore I appeal you, the population of Abkhazia. We are left to the mercy of fate and we should not wait for any help. We must protect ourselves, otherwise it will be late. I urge you, stay at home and do not go out unless it is urgent necessity; do not go to restaurants, cafes, weddings, funerals and public places. Do not stay together more than two persons; do not go to working places (except medical personnel and law enforcement officers). If you have country-houses, go there immediately (there you will be in the fresh air and fewer people). Do not feel awkward to wear masks in the streets; wash your hands as soon as you enter home. Drink hot drinks, eat garlic and herbs (full of vitamins) every hour,” Zurab Achba wrote in the social network. 

No preventive measures are taken in the occupied Tskhinvali region either. 
Humanrights.ge interviewed civil activist Tamar Mearakishvili, who is living in the occupied Akhalgori district. 

What kind of situation is in the occupied Tskhinvali and Akhalgori districts? Are there any confirmed cases of COVID-19? 

There are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the occupied region but there are no preparations either; I have an impression that locals are very unserious about the virus, which kills hundreds people in the world every day. One part of the population believes it is artificial, invented virus and it does not exist in reality. They calm themselves and others with this allegation to avoid panic. I think it is caused by the lack of information in the region.

How do people get information, which TV-Channels they mostly watch?

In the occupied Akhalgori district, people mostly watch Georgian TV-Channels; but in Tskhinvali, they mostly watch Russian TV-channels.

Do Russian news channels also report about the COVID-19?

Yes they do. Russian channels also report about the virus. For example, they reported that Russia sent doctors to assist Italy but the people who create public opinion in Tskhinvali, write in social network that they have talked with their relatives in Italy and the information reported by media is fake. One of them is local de-facto government official, who traditionally writes about the myths related with the Lugar Laboratory in Tbilisi and he wrote that COVID-19 is a game. 

Do the populations of the occupied Tskhinvali and Akhalgori districts get information about preventive measures?

They are informed that they need to follow hygiene norms; for example they must wash hands frequently. They must use disinfection substances and wear masks; however, neither masks nor anti-septic substances are available in Akhalgori district pharmacies. 

Are they available in Tskhinvali?

Yes, they are. I bought masks yesterday in Tskhinvali and it cost cheap, by the way. 

Do people wear masks in Tskhinvali?

I did not see any single person wearing a mask in Tskhinvali streets. Every acquaintance I met in the street wanted to shake hands with me and give a hug. When I tried to avoid hugs and asked to keep distance, some of them told me – “we thought you are a clever woman and do you really believe in that?” I did not see anybody wearing masks in the streets, in the pharmacy or in the shops. Yesterday I remembered each person, whom I contacted and of course tried to keep distance with them. 

If the cases of the COVID-19 are confirmed, is Tskhinvali hospital ready to accept patients? Or have they taken any measures?

They say they are ready but they are not at all; the hospital personnel confirms the same. In Akhalgori district hospital, they added only beds in one of the units which was transformed into a so-called “box” and one person spent two weeks there in quarantine; he was already dismissed from the hospital. The doctors just checked temperature of the patient and as he did not have high temperature, no additional tests were done; however, even it was necessary they could not do anything else because there are no appropriate equipment there. I read an article of the Ossetian journalist, who wrote that there is only one artificial breathing apparatus in Tskhinvali hospital and it shows the state of the healthcare system in the occupied region. Furthermore, one employee of the hospital told me they do not have disposable shoe covers and other elementary protection means either. 

Has schooling process stopped in educational institutions? Were other measures taken to prevent the spread of the COVID-19?

The quarantine here affected only educational institutions. Although schooling process has stopped, in the evenings people still gather. Neither the buildings of the educational institutions nor public transport and streets were disinfected.

Considering the fact that you are in isolation and crossing points are closed, what is the situation in shops? Do they have enough products to sell?

The food products are available; the prices have not significantly increased; the food products are enough in the shops both in Akhalgori and in Tskhinvali districts. As for isolation, the only crossing point was open in Perevi and the Tskhinvali de-facto authority closed it on February 26 as soon as the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in Tbilisi. All other crossing points were closed before that. It is already one month since the Akhalgori district crossing point was closed; part of the locals did not return to the district and they stayed with their children in Tserovani IDP settlement; however, those, who returned, bought products with the pensions they took in Tbilisi. However, I do not know whether they will live with it until de-facto authority again gives them possibility to travel to Tbilisi. When the crossing point was opened in the end of January, the locals managed to take their several-months pension they receive from the State of Georgia; they had debts in the shops and paid them. 41 individuals could not cross the so-called humanitarian corridor because the crossing point was closed soon. 

Is it expected that cases of COVID-19 will be kept in secret in the occupied Tskhinvali and Akhalgori districts?

I do not think they keep anything in secret; people is very careful and if anybody undertakes treatment at least for pneumonia or high temperature we would learn about it. The information about similar patients will not be kept in secret in hospitals. 

Although the Government of Georgia cannot control the Tskhinvali and Akhalgori districts, what do you think the central authority can do for local population?

It would be good if the GoG will arrange outpatients nearby the crossing points. The virus is approaching us from all sides; two cases were already identified in Kabardo-Balkaria; residents of our district will not be sent to North Ossetia because locals do not have passports of South Ossetia. Naturally, if they will not get any assistance in the district, people must be able to travel where they can get medical assistance. 

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