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COVID-19 in Georgia Live Blog – March 2020 / Archived

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Tuesday, March 31

21:00 GMT+4 – Georgia Observes the First Night of COVID-19 Curfew

More than 3,7 million Georgians started observing the first night of COVID-19 curfew at 21:00. The Georgians have been asked to stay indoors for 9-hours between 21:00-06:00 until April 21. The new set of restrictive measures including partial curfew was announced by Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia on March 30 in a bid to halt the coronavirus spread. The move came as Georgia reportedly recorded the first internal transmissions of the COVID-19 virus. As of March 31, 21:00, Georgian authorities confirmed 110 coronavirus cases, of which 21 patients have already fully recovered.

15:30 GMT+4 – Gov’t Unveils List of Business Activities Authorized Under State of Emergency

The Georgian government has published a list of economic activities that are allowed to carry on under strict lockdown measures amid the coronavirus pandemic. All other non-essential business activities will be suspended until April 21.

Following businesses will be permitted to operate:

  • medical/healthcare facilities;
  • businesses engaged in retail and distribution of consumer goods such as foodstuff, pet food, cleaning and hygiene products, agricultural chemicals and seeds, packaging products;
  • mills, bakeries, and milk processing plants;
  • companies supplying electricity, natural gas, water, gasoline, diesel, liquefied gas, as well as telecommunications service providers, postal and waste disposal services;
  • commercial banks;
  • payment systems operators;
  • ATMs, self-service payment kiosks, and point of sale (POS) terminals;
  • microfinance institutions;
  • companies providing remote (internet) banking/financial services;
  • pharmacies and companies that produce, retail or distribute medical equipment;
  • agricultural businesses (production of agricultural commodities, such as livestock and crops);
  • taxi cab companies/ride-hailing services;
  • companies providing food delivery services;
  • private security companies;
  • law firms;
  • companies providing car maintenance services;
  • newsstands.

14:30 GMT+4 – Nighttime Curfew Enacted in Occupied Gali District Since March 28

On March 28, Moscow-backed Abkhaz authorities imposed a curfew from 00:00 to 06:00 [01:00 to 07:00 GMT+4, Tbilisi time – Civil.ge’s note] in occupied Gali district in an effort to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus, local media outlets reported. According to the source, the measure is aimed at barring local residents from crossing the dividing line in order to travel to Georgia proper. All residents are required to show proof of identity (residence “permits” issued by Sokhumi) to patrolling Abkhaz authorities.

On Monday, March 30, Abkhaz authorities restricted movement between Gali and Ochamchire Districts. The move came as a patient – having previously traveled to Moscow – had arrived in Zugdidi via Abkhaz-controlled Gali district and tested positive for COVID-19.

State of Emergency entered into force on March 28 in occupied Abkhazia, effective until April 20.

13:30 GMT+4 – Fifth Georgian National Died of Coronavirus Abroad

A Georgian citizen, a 64-year-old man residing in the U.S., has died of COVID-19 at a New York hospital, Paata Imnadze, Deputy Head of National Center for Disease Control and Public Health has stated at a briefing of the Inter-Agency Coordination Council. According to Imnadze, the patient had serious underlying medical conditions. Prior to his decease, four other coronavirus- infected Georgians have passed away in Spain.

12:48 GMT+4 – Checkpoints for Thermal Screening to be Set Up in Telavi, Akhaltsikhe

The Inter-Agency Coordination Council on Coronavirus has decided to install temperature screening stations in Telavi and Akhaltsikhe, in addition to seven other major cities (Tbilisi, Kutaisi, Batumi, Poti, Rustavi, Zugdidi and Gori), Irakli Chikovani, Prime Minister’s spokesperson has announced at a daily government briefing today. Road checkpoints will be used to check whether drivers are complying with state-of-emergency regulations, measure passengers’ temperature and provide first aid for those in need.

12:38 GMT+4 – Two New Cases Recorded, Total Rises to 110

Two more patients have tested positive for COVID-19, Irakli Chikovani, Prime Minister’s spokesperson has stated at a briefing of the Inter-Agency Coordination Council, a government task force to tackle the pandemic. The total number of confirmed cases now stands at 110.

11:50 GMT+4 – Police Uncovers 46 Cases of Defying State of Emergency Orders

Law enforcement officers have revealed 46 new cases of disobeying state of emergency regulations which were introduced on March 24.

The police have fined 21 citizens for partaking in a public gathering of more than ten people in public faces, which is restricted by the government’s decree. Four natural and two legal persons have been fined for violating regulations with regard to economic activities. The police have also seized and placed in quarantine 13 citizens for violating mandatory self-isolation protocol. Six minibus drivers have been fined for carrying out intercity transportation of passengers despite state-imposed restrictions.

11:00 GMT+4 – ‘Non-essential’ Financial Institutions to Shut Down Due to Coronavirus Pandemic

Financial institutions, including currency exchange services, licensed lenders, credit unions, brokerage firms, central depositaries, specialized depositaries, stock exchanges, non-state pension funds, credit bureaus, are obliged to suspend office operations and shift to remote working, the National Bank of Georgia has stated. Banks, microfinance institutions, and payment service providers are exempt from the restriction and can carry on both office and remote operations unhindered. The Central Bank has advised citizens to use online payment services when possible in an effort to better enforce physical (social) distancing measures.

10:30 GMT+4 – Five New Cases Take Total to 108, Number of Recoveries Hits 21

According to the state-run website StopCov.ge updates, five more people have tested positive for COVID-19, increasing the total number of cases to 108, while one new recovery has brought the number of recovered patients to 21.

Monday, March 30

22:00 GMT+4 – Sokhumi Restricts Movement Between Gali, Ochamchire Districts

Acting Abkhaz leader Valery Bganba has instructed the “interior ministry” to set up a police cordon at a permanent checkpoint “Kanal” in order to restrict movement between Gali and Ochamchire districts starting from 21:00 [22:00 GMT+4, Tbilisi time – Civil.ge’s note]. The move comes as a patient – having previously traveled to Moscow – has arrived in Zugdidi via Abkhaz-controlled Gali district and tested positive for COVID-19 today. The infected woman has reportedly travelled to Adler (Sochi) and Sokhumi on her way to Zugdidi.

21:59 – Three New Cases Take Total to 103, Number of Recoveries Hits 20

According to the state-run website StopCov.ge updates, three more people have tested positive for COVID-19, increasing the total number of cases to 103, and two new recoveries have brought the number of recovered patients to 20.

State Representative of Samegrelo-Zemo Svaneti region Alexandre Motserelia told the Georgian Public Broadcaster that one of the three patients arrived from Moscow to Adler (Sochi) by plane, traveled to occupied Abkhazia’s capital town of Sokhumi, went to Saberio village of Abkhaz-controlled Gali district,  and entered Georgia proper through Tbilisi-controlled Pakhulani village, before she was delivered to Zugdidi hospital.

18:10 GMT+4 – Two New Cases Take Total to 100

Two more patients have tested positive for the novel coronavirus in Georgia, taking the total number of confirmed cases to 100, according to the state-run website StopCov.ge.

17:00 GMT+4 – Georgia to Impose Partial Curfew 

Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia announced about stepping up measures to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus as the country confirms internal virus transmission. The Prime Minister said the government is ‘practically’ enacting ‘nationwide quarantine’ effective from Tuesday, March 31. The new restrictions include:

  • Citizens will be required to observe curfew between 21:00 – 06:00 effective from March 31;
  • All public transportation (in/between municipalities) will be suspended;
  • The number of passengers in cars, taxis will be limited to three;
  • Gathering of more than three people will be banned except from groceries and pharmacies (citizens need to observe 2-meter distance);
  • People above 70 are required to stay indoors; exceptions apply for shopping in the nearest groceries and visiting pharmacies and hospitals;
  • Checkpoints will be set up for thermal screenings in the largest cities of Tbilisi, Kutaisi, Batumi, Poti, Rustavi, Zugdidi and Gori;
  • Every citizen is required to carry a passport/ID while going out.

16:00 GMT+4 – Moscow Temporarily Closes Crossing Point with Occupied Tskhinvali 

From March 30, Russian Federation is closing its borders to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. The ban also concerns the occupied Tskhinvali Region/South Ossetia, RES media outlet reported citing the press office of the FSB of Russia for North Ossetia.

A week ago RES announced that the Moscow-backed Tskhinvali Region/South Ossetia authorities will ban the entry of all foreign citizens in the region in the period between March 16 to April 15 amid the novel coronavirus outbreak. However, the ban, excludes the nationals of the Russian Federation.

15:10 GMT+4 – EU Allocates EUR 140 Mln to Help Georgia, Eastern Partnership Countries Tackle Pandemic

The European Commission has allocated funds worth up to EUR 140 million to help the Eastern Parnership (EaP) countries – Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, the Republic of Moldova, and Ukraine – meet “the most immediate needs” amid the coronavirus pandemic. In addition, the European Commission has stated, it will also redirect the use of existing fiscal instruments worth EUR 700 million to help “mitigate the socio-economic impact” of the public health crisis.

“These are very difficult times not only for the EU, but for our partner countries as well. We are responding both to the immediate needs of the health systems, as well as longer term needs to the most vulnerable groups in society and small and medium-sized enterprises, which are the backbone of the economies in the six countries,” Olivér Várhelyi, EU Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement has stated.

https://twitter.com/OliverVarhelyi/status/1244582792144531456

The Commission has also made available more than €11.3 million in small grants to civil society organizations. Owing to a micro-grant provided by the EU, a Georgian producer of medical textiles has been able to purchase 12 additional sewing machines and produced 40,000 medical gowns within a week, reads the EU factsheet.

12:53 GMT+4 – 131 People Fined for Defying State of Emergency Rules

The Georgian Interior Ministry reported that 131 people have been fined for defying state of emergency rules within the last 24 hours in Georgia. 104 persons were fined for public gathering; 13 persons and 6 legal entities – for violating restrictions in the sphere of business activities; 3 persons – for violating rules of quarantine and self-isolation; 5 persons – for transporting cross-town passengers on a minibus.

11:30 GMT+4 – Seven New Cases Recorded, Total Rises to 98

According to the government-run website stopcov.ge, there are 98 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus in Georgia. One of the seven new patients has contracted the disease while traveling to the UK, and five others have come into contact with two already infected patients, Marina Ezugbaia, Medical Director of Tbilisi Hospital for Infectious Diseases has stated. Ezugbaia has added that medical state of six patients could be assessed as “critical,” and that there are several patients on the mend.

Sunday, March 29

19:17 GMT+4 – One New Case Confirmed, Total Hits 91

One more patient has tested positive on the novel coronavirus in Georgia, according to the stopcov.ge, a government-run website, increasing the total confirmed cases to 91.

15:10 GMT+4 – 125 More People Fined for Defying State of Emergency Rules

125 people have been fined for defying state of emergency rules within the last 24 hours in Georgia. According to the Georgian Interior Ministry, 96 persons were fined for public gathering; 3 legal entities and 8 persons – for violating restrictions in the sphere of business activities; 5 persons – for transporting cross-town passengers on a minibus; 13 persons – for violating rules of quarantine and self-isolation.

10:40 GMT+4 – Two More Patients Recover, Bringing Total Recoveries to 18

Medical Director of Tbilisi Hospital for Infectious Diseases, Marina Ezugbaia told journalists that two more patients made recoveries, bringing the number of total recoveries to 18. The two patients are expected to be discharged from the hospital later today, noted Ezugbaia.

Saturday, March 28

23:00 GMT+4 – Six Ministry of Defense Employees Tested Positive for Coronavirus

Six cleaning service employees at the Civil Office of the Ministry of Defense (MoD) have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, the Ministry has reported. According to the MoD, all six employees had been self-isolating before the infection was diagnosed.

“Stringent measures have been taken to prevent the spread of the virus. All members of the staff who had come into (direct or indirect) contact with the infected employees were put into quarantine in accordance with [public health] regulations. In particular, eight servicemen were transferred to Gori Military Hospital to undergo medical checkup procedures,” reads the statement released by the MoD. The Ministry has clarified that one of the six employees might have contracted the disease from his/her family member who had returned from Azerbaijan.

22:38 GMT+4 – Samegrelo-Zemo Svaneti Region Tightens Measures Aimed at Preventing Coronavirus Spread

State Representative of Samegrelo-Zemo Svaneti region Alexandre Motserelia has announced about tightening measures to halt spread of the COVID-19. The preventive measures, effective from March 29, include:

  • halting all public transportation throughout the region;
  • banning all non-essential travels;
  • prohibiting travel of more than three people per car;
  • requiring all passengers in cars to wear face masks;
  • installing checkpoints across the municipalities;
  • setting up task forces composed of policemen, army and healthcare professionals;

State Representative Motserelia noted that there were risks and threats in terms of the spread of the virus that required regional authorities to step up the measures. He stressed that although currently there was a single confirmed case of COVID-19 in Zugdidi, regional capital, the authorities did not rule out a surge in the number of cases.

The State Representative also stressed the fact that the region was bordering Russian-occupied Abkhazia. “Unfortunately, according to the information available to us, situation is inauspicious [in Abkhazia]; we expect our compatriots residing in Abkhazia to [visit Georgia proper] seeking medical care. Each and every citizen will be provided with the adequate healthcare,” noted Motserelia.

Earlier today Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia visited Zugdidi, instructing the State Representative and the regional ad hoc coronavirus task force to exert stringent control over execution of restrictions imposed through emergency laws.

Samegrelo-Zemo Svaneti is home to approximately 330,000 inhabitants, encompassing Abasha, Senaki, Martvili, Chkhorontsku, Tsalenjikha, Khobi, Zugdidi, Mestia (upper Svaneti area) municipalities, as well as self-governing port city of Poti.

20:00 GMT+4 – Five New Cases Take Total to 90, Two More Recover

Five more patients have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, Amiran Gamkrelidze, head of the National Center for Disease Control and Public Health (NCDC), has stated in a TV interview. These five persons may have contracted the virus from the already-infected patient (who tested positive yesterday), and form a single cluster of patients, Gamkrelidze has noted.

Meanwhile, Government-run website StopCov.ge reports that two more patients have recovered from the novel coronavirus, increasing the number of discharged patients to 16

18:10 GMT+4 – NCDC Director: “Very High Probability” of Community Transmission in Georgia

There is a very high probability that Georgia has entered the stage of community transmission, Amiran Gamkrelidze, head of the National Center for Disease Control and Public Health (NCDC), has told Georgian Public Broadcaster. According to Gamkrelidze, health officials could not directly identify sources of infection of three patients (out of 85 cases in total), and in two cases, it is “almost impossible” to track the source.

NCDC director noted that, as Easter approaches, many would be tempted to gather for public celebrations. However, he warned, people should fully observe physical (social) distancing practices and stay home when possible, as the country is “on the verge of a large-scale epidemic.” “Social distancing is our mightiest weapon against the disease,” stressed Gamkrelidze.

16:48 GMT+4 – Sokhumi Closes Psou Crossing Point, Bars Foreign Nationals from Entering Occupied Abkhazia

Moscow-backed Abkhaz authorities have closed Psou crossing point, Georgia’s westernmost Sokhumi-controlled border checkpoint, connecting the region to Russia, and barred “foreign nationals and stateless people” from entering Abkhazia in a bid to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus. According to local media outlet ApsnyPress, Valery Bganba, acting leader of Abkhazia, has signed a decree restricting entry for all foreign citizens except for employees of diplomatic institutions, military personnel of the Border Directorate of Russian FSB deployed in Abkhazia, servicemen of Russian military bases, and servicemen on business trips. Freight transport is also exempt from the ban.

On February 25, Bganba extended a travel ban for foreign nationals due to the coronavirus outbreak in China. The ban then excluded citizens of the Russian Federation.

15:40 GMT+4 – Rukhi General Hospital to Treat Coronavirus-Infected Patients from Occupied Abkhazia 

Rukhi University Clinic, a new general-purpose hospital, will now provide medical care for coronavirus-infected patients, along with Zugdidi Hospital for Infectious Diseases, Government’s administration has reported today. The 100-bed hospital, located in a few kilometers from the dividing line with occupied Abkhazia, will be equipped and fully-functional in several days’ time, Health Minister has stated.

Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia, together with Health Minister Ekaterine Tikaradze and State Minister for Reconciliation and Civic Equality Ketevan Tsikhelashvili, has paid a visit to the Rukhi hospital today. “We will do our utmost to protect health of our citizens on both sides of the dividing line,” the Prime Minister said. According to Minister Tsikhelashvili, Rukhi Clinic will be able to diagnose infected patients and provide them with due treatment. “The hospital will receive patients from Abkhazia region as well,” added Tsikhelashvili.

12:54 GMT+4 – U.S. to Provide USD 1.1 Mln Aid to Georgia to Tackle Coronavirus

The United States will provide a financial aid worth USD 1.1 million to Georgia to help tackle the coronavirus pandemic. Funds have been earmarked to “prepare laboratory systems, activate case-finding and event-based surveillance, support technical experts for response and preparedness, bolster risk communication, and more,” the U.S. Embassy in Tbilisi has written on its Facebook account today.

12:54 GMT+4 – Seven People Fined for Defying State of Emergency Rules

Georgian Interior Ministry has fined seven persons with GEL 3,000 for breaching a 14-day self-isolation period in Mtskheta-Mtianeti, Kvemo Kartli, Samtskhe-Javakheti and Adjara regions. All of them have been transferred to quarantine zones. The seventh individual was fined in Kakheti region for defying the ban on intercity transportation.

11:04 GMT+4 – Two More Patients Test Positive, Number of Cases Rises to 85

Two more patients have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, according to the updated case count on StopCov.ge, a government website.

00:00 GMT+4 – State of Emergency Enters into Force in Occupied Abkhazia

Due to coronavirus concerns, Valery Bganba, acting leader of Moscow-backed Abkhazia has declared a state of emergency effective from March 28 to April 20 throughout the whole territory of Abkhazia. According to Apsny Press, a local media outlet, the Abkhaz “parliament” unanimously approved Bganba’s decision.

Friday, March 27

23:04 GMT+4 – Two New Cases Confirmed, Total Hits 83

Two more patients have tested positive on the novel coronavirus in Georgia, according to the stopcov.ge, a government-run website, increasing the total confirmed cases to 83.

20:00 GMT+4 – 14th Patient Recovers

Government-run website StopCov.ge reports that 14th Georgian patient recovered from the novel coronavirus.

17:00 GMT+4 – Think Tank Says Gov’t Should Step up Efforts to Shield Economy from Coronavirus Fallout

The International School of Economics (ISET), a Tbilisi-based economic policy think-tank, has published an assessment of Georgian government’s handling of the coronavirus-triggered downturn in the economy. Given the rapidly changing scope of the crisis, the government should make effective use of fiscal stimulus, and, if possible, monetary policy to help soften the economic blow delivered by the pandemic, ISET reckons.

According to ISET, under worst scenario, Georgia’s real GDP growth may slow down to 0,82 % (assuming a 5 % baseline) in 2020. Weakened national currency will continue to plague the consumer market, as tourist inflows, remittances, and export – essential source of foreign currency inflow for Georgia – are all expected to plummet in the foreseeable future. “On the other hand, due to restrictions on air travel, the outflow of currency from Georgia to foreign countries will be reduced, which will have a positive effect on the exchange rate. Overall, overshooting of inflation target (annual inflation stood at 6,4% in January-February, higher than the threshold of just 3%) means that the Central Bank will be reluctant to cut its benchmark rate in a bid to “avoid provoking further currency depreciation and stoking inflationary expectation even higher.”

A major weakness of Georgian economy lies in its lack of a broad social safety net infrastructure, which could support afflicted groups during downturns, the research claims. ISET points out sizable informal sector, whose workforce is hard to reach for the government to aid “via conventional means.”

ISET predicts that measures taken by the government and banks will not be able to “directly reach a sizable group of the population affected by the shock” – those unemployed due to COVID-19, employed in the informal sector/gig economy, people with low income, and  households that are dependent on remittances transfers. The think tank stressed the importance of promptly reaching out to these groups “in the interest of broader development agenda.” In case of possible extension of quarantine measures, ISET warns, large part of the population will no longer be able earn their own living in the coming months.

13:30 GMT+4 – Georgia Cancels Contract with Chinese Company That Supplied Faulty Rapid Test Kits to Spain

Georgian government has terminated a supply contract with Shenzhen Bioeasy Biotechnology, a Chinese biotech company that has reportedly delivered “unreliable” COVID-19 test kits to Spain. On March 23, Georgian Health Ministry signed a state procurement contract worth USD 1,182,500 with the Chinese company to purchase 200,000 rapid test kits for diagnosing novel coronavirus. First batch of the kits (3,000 pieces) was expected to arrive from China by the end of this week.

After test kits had been found to have a low rate of diagnostic accuracy, the company reported to us and the contract was scrapped over safety concerns, Health Minister Ekaterine Tikaradze stated at a press briefing of the Inter-Agency Coordination Council, a government task force. “Either way, delivered tests are subject to quality control in Georgia in order to confirm their accuracy and compliance to health and safety standards,” noted the Minister. Tikaradze added that Ministry was already looking for an alternative supplier. “Our citizens will not be put at risk by imprecise diagnosis,” she said.

11:09 GMT+4 – Two New Cases Take Total to 81, Two More Recover

Two more patients have tested positive on the novel coronavirus in Georgia, taking the total number of confirmed cases to 81, according to the state-run website StopCov.ge. Two more patients have also recovered from COVID-19 increasing the number of discharged patients to 13.

Thursday, March 26

22:45 GMT+4 – 11th Patient Recovers

The state-run website StopCov.ge reports that Georgia’s 11th patient recovered.

22:35 GMT+4 – UNM-affiliated Organization Fined with GEL 15,000 for Defying State of Emergency Rules

Georgian Interior Ministry has fined “New Leaders Initiative” with GEL 15,000 for violating the state of emergency, which prohibits gathering of more than ten people in public places to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.

According to the Interior Ministry, the foregoing organization has been distributing personal protective equipment (masks, gloves and etc.) – donated by former President Mikheil Saakashvili’s library – earlier today in Zugdidi, western Georgia, which prompted gathering of more than 100 people in public place.

In a statement released by the organization, “New Leaders Initiative” claimed their aim was to provide people with protective gear, reportedly in shortfall, against coronavirus. Christina Pushaw, who chairs the organization, wrote on Facebook that they were “just trying to help people and asked for police assistance to control the crowd.”

She also noted that volunteers and authorities, despite their efforts, could not enforce physical (social) distancing and subsequently the organizers had to cease distributing. “From Day 1, Mikheil Saakashvili has invited relevant authorities to bring [PPE] supplies from his library in Tbilisi [to Zugdidi] and to distribute themselves to people in need! I repeat this invitation,” Pushaw stated.

21:30 GMT+4 – Georgia Ranks Among Least Coronavirus-affected Countries in Europe

As of March 26, Georgian health officials have diagnosed 79 cases of the novel coronavirus across the country. With a relatively low rate of infections under its belt, Georgia ranks fifth among the least coronavirus-effected countries in Europe, just after the Holy See (a single case recorded), Monaco (31), Liechtenstein (51), and Montenegro (53).

(Source: Situation Update brief by European Center for Disease Prevention and Control – Civil.Ge’s note)

16:15 GMT+4 – Two More Patients Test Positive on Coronavirus, Number of Cases Rises to 79

Two more cases of the novel coronavirus have been recorded in Georgia, bringing the total to 79, Health Minister Ekaterine Tikaradze has stated. One of the two infected patients is a pregnant woman, close relative to another woman from Marneuli cluster of patients.

10:41 GMT+4 – Two New Cases Confirmed, Total Hits 77

Two more patients have tested positive on the novel coronavirus, according to the updated case count on stopcov.ge, a government-run website.

Wednesday, March 25

20:47 GMT+4 – Two New Cases Take Total to 75

According to the government-run website stopcov.ge, two more patients have tested positive on the novel coronavirus in Georgia, taking the total number of cases to 75.

19:30 GMT+4 – First Batch of Rapid Test Kits Arrived from China

1,000 rapid COVID-19 test kits have arrived from China today, Health Minister Ekaterine Tikaradze has told reporters while visiting quarantined Marneuli municipality. Rapid test kits will enable health professionals to diagnose the novel coronavirus in less than an hour and a half, Tikaradze has noted, down from six hours needed for PCR methodology.

According to the Health Minister, Georgia has signed a contract to purchase up to 200,000 test kits in total, which will be delivered gradually, 3,000 kits arriving by the end of this week. Rapid tests will be first used to carry out screening of high-risk areas like Marneuli and Bolnisi currently under strict lockdown, Tikaradze has added.

16:30 GMT+4 – Central Bank Sells USD 40 Mln to Help Steady Lari

The National Bank of Georgia (NBG) has sold USD 40 million at the foreign exchange (FX) auction today in an bid to shore up the weakened national currency. The average weighted bid rate amounted 3.4563, the NBG said. The NBG also stepped in on March 19 to carry out currency intervention worth USD 40 million to ease the pressure on the exchange rate of Lari amid coronavirus fallout. Currently, Georgia’s national currency is trading at GEL 3,50 per U.S. dollar on Bloomberg’s platform.

12:45 GMT+4 – Gov’t: GEL 6 Mln Raised for Coronavirus Relief Fund by Private Sector

Over GEL 6 mln (USD 1,7 mln) has been raised for StopCov, a coronavirus relief fund, after its launching two days ago, Irakli Chikovani, Prime Minister’s spokesperson has stated at a daily press briefing today. The StopCov Fund has been established by the government asking for a helping hand from the private sector in order to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic fallout. Collected funds will be allocated to prevent further spread of the infection.

12:30 GMT+4 – Georgian Orthodox Church Calls on Sick Parishioners to Stay Home, Permits Holding Open-Air Services

The Georgia Orthodox Church (GOC), a dominant religious denomination in Georgia, has issued a statement in response to public concerns over Church’s decision not to change the shared spoon Communion practice and not to suspend church services in order to curb the spread of COVID-19.

The GOC deplored “certain media outlets’s attempt to scapegoat the Church” were the epidemiological situation to exacerbate. “We call on our parishioners who feel unwell to remain at home until full recovery,” reads the statement released today. The GOC maintained that congregants were obliged to stay 1.5 meters away from each other inside the church house and keep at least 2-meter distance outside of it. “In order to avoid mass gatherings, priests are allowed to conduct church services and the rite of Holy Unction on different days of the Holy Week (before Easter Day),” stated the GOC. It also permitted holding open-air church services when possible.

“Those who object to a millennia-old practice of the Eucharist (Holy Communion), are devoid of relevant knowledge and belief in the spiritual importance of the sacrament. [The act of] receiving Communion from the same chalice is a confirmation of unity and mutual love [between parishioners], and those who reject it, reject the Savior himself,” said the Church. The GOC reiterated that it could not deny church service to a parishioner in a good health for the sole reason of public health concerns.

10:47 GMT+4 – Three New Cases Take Total to 73, Tenth Patient Discharged from Hospital

Three more patients have tested positive on the novel coronavirus in Georgia, taking the total number of cases to 73, Medical Director of Tbilisi Hospital for Infectious Diseases, Marina Ezugbaia told journalists at a morning news briefing today. According to Ezugbaia, the tenth patient also recovered from COVID-19 and was discharged from the hospital yesterday.

Paata Imnadze, Deputy Director of the National Center for Disease Control and Public Health, stated that two of the last three patients had contracted the disease while traveling to the U.S., while one case was had been tracked to France. Imnadze noted that the average age of coronavirus-positive patients is 37, the most junior patient is 2 years old, while the most senior is a 82-year-old woman.

02:01 GMT+4 – Georgian Speaker, U.S. Congressman Hold Phone Talk

Georgian Parliament Speaker Archil Talakvadze held phone talk with the United States Congressman and House Georgia Caucus Co-Chair Adam Kinzinger (R-IL).

Noting that the U.S.-Georgia “friendship and bond remains as strong as ever,” Congressman Kinzinger said they spoke about Georgia and its fight against the novel coronavirus, “as well as economic challenges we will all face.”

“We discussed efforts made against the COVID-19, public health situation and need for economic stabilization and recovery,” Speaker Talakvadze tweeted.

00:45 GMT+4 – Photos: Disinfection Efforts Against Coronavirus in Tbilisi

SUVs drive around spraying disinfectant through the streets of Tbilisi to prevent COVID-19 from spreading.

Station Square, Tbilisi. Photo: Eana Korbezashvili/Civil.ge
Station Square, Tbilisi. Photo: Eana Korbezashvili/Civil.ge
Near Dinamo Arena, Tbilisi. Photo: Eana Korbezashvili/Civil.ge

Tuesday, March 24

19:10 GMT+4 – Three New Cases Confirmed, Total Hits 70, Ninth Patient Discharged from Hospital

Three more patients have tested positive on the novel coronavirus, according to the updated case count on stopcov.ge, a government website. One of the three patients currently undergoes treatment at Tbilisi Hospital for Infectious Diseases and he/she has probably contracted the disease while traveling in the U.S., Marina Ezugbaia, Medical Director of the said hospital has stated. The other two cases plus one confirmed around five hours ago are reportedly linked with the Marneuli cluster of patients. One patient who has fully recuperated is now discharged from the hospital, noted Ezugbaia. For now, a total of nine patients have recovered from COVID-19 in Georgia.

15:30 GMT+4 – Central Bank Steps up Currency Intervention as Lari Plummets

The National Bank of Georgia has announced it will sell USD 40 million at  the foreign exchange (FX) auction tomorrow to stem a sharp depreciation of the national currency amid coronavirus fallout. The Central Bank has already carried out two consecutive currency interventions worth USD 60 million from its foreign exchange reserves. As of now, Georgia’s national currency is at a historic low trading at GEL 3,48 per U.S. dollar on Bloomberg’s platform.

13:53 GMT+4 – Wizz Air Suspends All Georgia Flights Until May 1

The Hungarian low-cost airline Wizz Air suspends all of its Georgia flights until May 1, 2020 in a bid to prevent further spread of the COVID-19, Kutaisi International Airport reports.

13:29 GMT+4 – One New Case Takes Total to 67

According to the government-run website stopcov.ge, one more patient has tested positive on the novel coronavirus in Georgia, taking the total number of cases to 67. As stated by Health Minister Ekaterine Tikaradze at a news briefing, two of the 67 infected patients are Austrian citizens, who have already been transferred to Austria by the Austrian government.

13:00 GMT+4 – Gov’t Announces Lockdown Measures, Exempts Essential Services

The government has announced a raft of new measures in a bid to reduce the spread of COVID-19. At a daily briefing of the Inter-Agency Coordination Council, Irakli Chikovani, Prime Minister’s spokesperson, has presented at length restrictions on businesses and public life imposed by the government’s decree on preventive measures against the novel coronavirus.

The decree bans gathering of more than ten people in public space (both indoor and outdoor) except for private residential premises. Restrictions apply to weddings, funerals, sporting and cultural events and other forms of social gathering. A long list of exemptions includes government facilities, medical facilities, military bases, prisons, construction sites as well as public transport (not suspended due to the emergency regulations). Private industrial facilities (authorized to operate by the emergency regulations) are also free from the ban provided that all workers wear personal protective equipment and observe public health recommendations (keeping a two-meter distance, among others).

The government has set specific restrictions on different sectors of economic activity. The decree allows retail and distribution of consumer goods such as foodstuff, pet food, cleaning and hygiene products, drugs, medical equipment, agricultural chemicals and seeds. Cafes and restaurants can only provide take-out, drive-through and food delivery services. Supermarkets, groceries, pharmacies, gas stations and newsstands remain open.

Transportation companies (such as air carriers) are obliged to transport cargo and passengers at the behest of the government. Furthermore, hotels may be requested to turn their space into quarantine zones. According to the government, currently, around 50 hotels are used as isolation units.

Economy Minister Natia Turnava noted that private companies and business associations will shortly be provided with sector-specific guidelines on how to operate under a state of emergency. As stated by Turnava, the said regulations are in effect in entire country bar Bolnisi and Marneuli municipalities (where restrictions are tougher). She maintained that the government, together with the National Bank of Georgia, was taking measures to cushion the blow of the pandemic to the Georgian economy. This, she said, included subsidizing affected businesses and workers, capping prices on nine products of basic consumption and mitigating exchange rate volatility through currency interventions.

12:30 GMT+4 – Georgia’s Public Broadcaster to Air Lessons for Students Due to School Shutdown

Georgian Public Broadcaster’s Channel 2 will start airing lessons for students from March 30 as school shutdown carries on in light of the coronavirus pandemic. “It is possible that suspension of in-class instruction at Georgian schools may be extended [after April 21], hence the Ministry of Education is taking measures to distance education capacity,” Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia has stated at the meeting of the Inter-Agency Coordination Council today. He has stressed that not every pupil had an access to the Internet and pledged to take charge of the problem.

10:00 GMT+4 – Five New Cases Bring Total to 66

Medical Director of Tbilisi Hospital for Infectious Diseases Marina Ezugbaia told journalists that five more cases of COVID-19 had been confirmed in the country, bringing the national total to 66. According to Ezugbaia, all five patients have recently returned to Georgia from the U.S. and have remained in self-isolation until yesterday.

Monday, March 23

19:45 GMT+4 – Defense Minister Visits Quarantined Marneuli as Army Joins Efforts in Combating Coronavirus

Georgia’s Defense Minister Irakli Garibashvili has visited military checkpoints installed in Marneuli, which, together Bolnisi, has been put under lockdown since 00:30 today due to the occurrence of community transmission of COVID-19. As stated by Garibashvili, Georgian defense forces have been deployed in the two high-risk municipalities in order to help enforcing preventive measures against the spread of the disease. According to the statement released by the Ministry of Defense, the military personnel of Eastern Command has manned five checkpoints set up together with the servicemen of Ministry of Internal Affairs. Soldiers have also set up field tents where army physicians carry out medical checkup for locals. Along with the Patrol Police, the defense forces control the perimeter to ensure strict observance of the quarantine regime.

19:10 GMT+4 – 7 New Cases Confirmed, Total Rises to 61

According to the latest data available on the state-run website stopcov.ge, seven new cases have been recorded in Georgia. This brings the case total to 61. According to Marina Endeladze, Chief Physician of the Isolation Unit at Tbilisi Hospital for Infectious Diseases, four patients have been tested for COVID-19 in Tbilisi and are undergoing treatment under her supervision, while three other cases were recorded in Adjara [most likely placed in Batumi Clinic for Infectious Diseases]. Those in Tbilisi have recently been to the U.S., and form a new, independent cluster of cases, Endeladze has noted.

17:00 GMT+4 – Central Bank Suspends Licensing and Registration of Financial Institutions Due to Pandemic

In response to growing concerns over coronavirus pandemic, the National Bank of Georgia (NBG) has suspended licensing and registration procedures for financial institutions for a two-month period. “The President of the NBG has decreed to withhold licensing and registration of microfinance organizations, currency exchange services, stock exchanges, credit unions, brokerage firms, central depositaries and bond registrars,” reads the statement issued by the Central Bank today. Those institutions who have already submitted requisite documentation are exempt from the (suspension) decree.

14:55 GMT+4 – Lari Dips to Historic Low amid Coronavirus Fallout

Georgia’s national currency slid to a new low on Monday to trade at GEL 3.27 per U.S. dollar on Bloomberg’s platform, tumbling due to the coronavirus-induced slowdown. A week ago, on March 17, USD/GEL exchange rate stood at 3.14.

14:00 GMT+4 – Schools and Universities to Remain Closed Until April 21

All educational institutions (primary, secondary and higher) in Georgia will remain closed until April 21 according to the ordinance issued by the Georgian government today. Face-to-face teaching is suspended while the ordinance requires the institutions to transfer to remote instruction if possible. The government has banned conducting in-person seminars, conferences and other educational activities as well. Schools have been shut down since March 2 in an effort to contain the novel coronavirus.

13:50 GMT+4 – Police Set up Checkpoints in Municipalities Under Lockdown

Police have set up twelve checkpoints in Marneuli and Bolnisi municipalities in order to enforce a lockdown imposed at 00:30 today to prevent the spread of coronavirus from high-risk zones. According to the statement released by the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA), law enforcement officers will patrol all non-primary roads together with the military forces dispatched due to the emergency situation. The MIA has also installed a field hospital early today to add up space for quarantining potentially infected patients.

13:10 GMT+4 – Foreign Minister Reiterates Pledge to Help Residents of Abkhazia, Tskhinvali

Foreign Minister Davit Zalkaliani has reiterated the pledge to help the residents in Georgia’s Russian-occupied Abkhazia and Tskhinvali /South Ossetia regions in tackling the pandemic. “We are open and willing to provide aid for our citizens who live beyond the dividing line and we have engaged our international partners in this [process],” stated Zalkaliani at a press briefing of the government task force on the novel coronavirus. According to the Foreign Minister, Sokhumi and Tskhinvali have shut down crossing points [connecting the regions to Georgia proper], further “aggravating the humanitarian situation.” “There are single cases when we are able to provide assistance [to our citizens], but most of the time we don’t manage to” noted Zalkaliani.

On March 19, a delegation of experts from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) arrived in Sokhumi to deliver humanitarian aid (individual protective equipment) and assess locals’ preparedness in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

12:50 GMT+4 – Georgia to Start Rapid Testing for Coronavirus from March 25

Rapid diagnostic testing will kick off in Georgia from Wednesday, March 25, after fist batch of testing kits will have arrived tomorrow, Health Minister Ekaterine Tikaradze stated at a government briefing. “We will start targeted testing of our population that will help our physicians and epidemiologists to detect the virus timely,” said Tikaradze. Rapid test kits will be shipped from China and South Korea over the course of this week.

12:45 GMT+4 – Georgia Reports Eight Recoveries in Total

With five more infected patients now testing negative for the novel coronavirus, the total number of recoveries rose to eight, Health Minister Ekaterine Tikaradze stated at a midday briefing after a meeting of the Inter-Agency Coordination Council on Coronavirus. Discharged patients will now go into two-week self-isolation under physicians’ observation, as it is prescribed by the World Health Organization guidelines. Three more patients are on the mend and may be discharged tomorrow if repeat PCR tests are negative, Tikaradze added.

12:30 GMT+4 – Gov’t Suspends Intercity Transportation Effective March 24

All forms of intercity transportation of passengers, including rail transport, will be suspended after midnight (March 24) in a bid to stymie the spread of the disease, Irakli Chikovani, Prime Minister’s spokesperson, stated at a press briefing of government’s task force on Coronavirus. Cargo transportation is exempt from the ban. Municipal transport (buses, minibuses and etc.) is also halted in Bolnisi and Marneuli municipalities that have been under lockdown since yesterday.

01:00 GMT+4 – Government to Shut Down Marneuli, Bolnisi Municipalities 

Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia announced in a late night press conference that the government is shutting down Marneuli and Bolnisi municipalities, south to capital city of Tbilisi, as reportedly the Georgian healthcare authorities could not identify the source for the latest COVID-19 case confirmed in Marneuli.

“[We] could not identify the source of infection case in Marneuli, [the virus] was contracted during the [death anniversary] rites, that was attended by dozens of people,” said the Prime Minister, adding that “the situation remains quite hard; this is the challenge that we [previously] spoke about, meaning that [the country] moves to the stage of community transmission[s].”

PM Gakharia noted that freedom of movement will be restricted within the two municipalities except for grocery and pharmacy shopping and performing some agricultural works.

According to the latest 2014 General Population Census of Georgia, Marneuli Municipality is home to 104,300 inhabitants, while Bolnisi Municipality is inhabited by 53,590 persons. The two municipalities are densely populated by ethnic Azerbaijani community of Georgia. Azerbaijanis make up around 80% of Marneuli Municipality.

Sunday, March 22

12:29 GMT+4 – 10 More People Transferred to Quarantine for Violating Self-Isolation Protocol

Ten more people have been transferred to quarantine zones for having breached a 14-day self-isolation period. The Georgian Interior Ministry calles on citizens “to demonstrate high public responsibility, comply with relevant legislation and respect decisions of National Center for Disease Control.” Hitherto, a total of 190 people have been placed under mandatory quarantine for violating self-isolation protocol.

10:30 GMT+4 – Two More Georgians Recovered

Medical Director of Tbilisi Hospital for Infectious Diseases Marina Ezugbaia told journalists that two more Georgians [patient N2 and N3] have recovered from COVID-19 virus. One of the recovered patients was discharged from the hospital yesterday, while the second one is expected leave the healthcare facility today.

As of March 22 morning, three Georgian patients have recovered from the virus. Georgia’s patient zero who tested positive on COVID-19 in late February, was discharged from the hospital on March 16.

10:28 GMT+4 – Five New Patients Test Positive on Coronavirus, Total Hits 54

Government-run StopCov.ge website reports that Georgia has 54 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus in Georgia.

Saturday, March 21

21:20 GMT+4 – Georgian Parliament Endorses State of Emergency over Coronavirus

The Georgian Parliament confirmed the presidential decree at an emergency sitting on March 21 with 115 MPs voting in favor, clearing the way for declaring a nationwide state of emergency effective until April 21. The lawmakers gave the government the go-ahead to temporarily restrict a number of rights and freedoms in an effort to contain the further spread of the novel coronavirus.

18:45 GMT+4 – 49th Patient Tests Positive on COVID-19

Government-run StopCov.ge website reports that 49th patient tested positive on COVID-19 virus in Georgia.

15:20 GMT+4 – One More Patient Tests Positive on COVID-19, Brings Georgia Total to 48

Government-run StopCov.ge website reports that 48th patient tested positive on the novel coronavirus in Georgia.

15:10 GMT +4 – President Zurabishvili Addresses Nation, Declares State of Emergency

Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili has declared a nationwide state of emergency effective until April 21 in a bid to halt the spread of the coronavirus. The President stated she had made the decision in response to the Prime Minister’s appeal to declare national emergency in order to enforce measures necessary for limiting the community transmission of the disease.

President Zurabishvili underlined that the state of emergency did not apply to the freedoms of expression and free media so that “the media outlets would inform the public unhindered.” President’s decree does not include enacting nationwide quarantine or curfews.

14:10 GMT +4 – Georgia to Declare State of Emergency

PM Giorgi Gakharia announced at afternoon press-conference that the government initiates procedures to declare a month-long state of emergency. The Prime Minister will now appeal to President Zurabishvili to issue the relevant decree that will need a parliamentary approval.

The decision is expected to move forward in a few hours time. Following March 19 National Security Meeting, PM Gakharia clarified that “…currently there is no need to declare a state of emergency. However, with President’s consent, we decided to take this measure in a matter of few hours if and when the necessity arises.”

10:44 GMT+4 – 3 More Patients Test Positive on Coronavirus, Total Hits 47

Medical Director of Tbilisi Hospital for Infectious Diseases Marina Ezugbaia told journalists at a morning briefing today that three new patients have tested positive on COVID-19. According to Ezugbaia, one of the three patients, who has been taken to Tbilisi Hospital for Infectious Diseases, had arrived from Spain and until now remained in self-isolation.

Friday, March 20

20:45 GMT+4 – Georgian Orthodox Church Refuses to Change Communion Ritual Despite Concerns Over Spread of Virus

After hours-long deliberations, the Holy Synod, supreme governing body of the Georgian Orthodox Church, has decided not to suspend the ritual of worshipers sipping from the same spoon during Holy Communion, which, reportedly, increases risks of spreading the novel coronavirus. High-ranking clergymen gathered in the office of the Georgian Patriarchate have affirmed that the religious rite was consecrated and by no chance “it could increase risk of transmission of the disease.” The Holy Synod also issued a recommendation to place loudspeakers outside of the church buildings to avert high density of worshipers in enclosed spaces.

19:00 GMT+4 – One more new case takes total to 44

According to the government-run website StopCov.ge, one more patient tested positive on Covid-19, bringing the total to 44 cases.

13:00 GMT+4 – 14 More People Transferred to Quarantine for Violating Self-Isolation Protocol

Fourteen more people have been transferred to quarantine zones for having breached a 14-day self-isolation period. According to the statement by the Ministry of Internal Affairs, police officers intervened since the said citizens had defied requirements issued by the Center for Disease Control and Public Health of Georgia. Hitherto, a total of 141 people have been placed under mandatory quarantine for violating self-isolation protocol.

12:30 GMT+4 – Gov’t Suspends Air Travel, Bolsters Coronavirus Response Measures

All flights to and from Georgia will be cancelled starting tomorrow, Irakli Chikovani, Prime Minister’s spokesperson stated after a meeting of the Inter-Agency Coordination Council on Coronavirus, a government task force. Exceptions to the ban include flights administered by the Georgian Airways and authorized by the government. Furthermore, all Georgian nationals notwithstanding flight origin will be transferred to specially designated quarantine zones upon their arrival.

Cross-border travelers are subject to same isolation measures as makeshift quarantine zones will be set up near border checkpoints in Sarpi (state border with Turkey), Red Bridge (crossing point between Georgia and Azerbaijan) and Larsi (bordering Russia).

Health Minister Ekaterine Tikaradze announced opening of an emergency medical center at Tbilisi Republican Hospital which will provide screening and rapid health check-up for the public. The center is tasked to carry out triage procedure, which involves determining the priority of patient’s treatments based on the severity of their medical state. Severe patients will be hospitalized and those with milder symptoms are to undergo treatment at home under physician’s observation.

Tikaradze added that 1000 kits for rapid testing supplied by China will arrive early next week. Around 200 000 South Korean test kits are expected to arrive by the end of next week as well, enabling Georgian health professionals to perform mass COVID-19 screening.

There are enough supplies in Georgia to test patients who meet the criteria for COVID-19 infection, stated Amiran Gamkrelidze, Head of the National Center for Disease Control and Public Health. However, he noted, state healthcare authorities should stock up rapid test kits in addition to almost failproof, but more cumbersome PCR-based diagnostic. Testing may also be carried out in privately owned clinics and laboratories, provided that diagnostic service is offered at affordable prices, stressed Gamkrelidze.

10:45 GMT+4 – MIA Tightens Up Land Border Security to Prevent Spread of Infection

The Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) has announced additional measures to prevent illegal crossing of the land border. The move comes after the decision of the Inter-Agency Coordination Council on Coronavirus to shut down state borders to foreign nationals for a two-week period in order to slow down the spread of highly-contagious disease. According to the statement, the Border Police will employ supplementary human and technical means to control high-risk “green border” areas. The MIA said that border patrol will equipped with protective gear when detaining possible suspects, acting in line with the recommendations from the National Center for Disease Control.

10:30 GMT+4 – Three New Cases Take Total to 43

Three more patients had tested positive on the novel coronavirus, increasing the total number of cases to 43, Marina Endeladze, Chief Physician of the Isolation Unit at Tbilisi Hospital for Infectious Diseases told journalists at a morning briefing. Health Minister Ekaterine Tikaradze stated that the said patients were family members who had recently been to the U.S. Currently, all three patients undergo treatment at Bochorishvili Clinic in Tbilisi.

Thursday, March 19

21:45 GMT+4 – Non-essential Stores to Shut Down In a Bid to Limit Spread of Coronavirus

All non-essential stores will shut down in a bid to limit the spread of the pandemic disease. As stated by Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia, the decision was made at an emergency meeting of the National Security Council. Exceptions to the ban include food stores, pharmacies, gas stations, post and bank offices.

“The step we took is crucial for our citizens’ health; it is temporary in nature, but essential to hinder community transmission of the virus,” noted Gakharia.

President Salome Zurabishvili and Parliament Speaker Archil Talakvadze also attended the Council meeting. “I would like to highlight that currently there is no need to declare a state of emergency. However, with President’s consent, we decided to take this measure in a matter of few hours if and when the necessity arises,” clarified the Prime Minister.

20:15 GMT+4 – Georgian Muslims Suspended Collective Prayers Due to Threats of Spreading Coronavirus

The Administration of All Georgian Muslims, the official governing body of Sunni and Shia adherents of Islam in Georgia, has decided to suspend congregational worship (including Friday prayers) given the “serious threats of spreading the virus in the country.” The decision was made at a meeting in Batumi.

“While the outbreak of the novel coronavirus puts at risk life and health of people, the duty to observe collective prayers is temporarily lifted. Instead of Friday prayers, Muslims should perform Dhuhr (midday) prayers at home,” reads the statement. Mosques would remain open to perform individual prayers, noted the governing body. The Administration called on all Georgian Muslim citizens to keep calm and comply with the recommendations issued by public health professionals.

20:00 GMT+4 – Georgia Troops to be Confined to Barracks

Upon the decision of Georgian Defense Minister Irakli Garibashvili, from March 21 Georgian troops will be confined to barracks “to prevent coronavirus outbreak.” “This decision aims to protect servicemen and their family members,” according to Garibashvili’s statement released by the Georgian Defense Ministry.

“These preventive measures will significantly reduce the probability of virus spread at military bases. Servicemen will be supplied with all necessary means,” the statement reads. Garibashvili also noted that a certain part of the Defense Ministry’s employees have started to work remotely, while “a certain category of employees were banned to come to work.”

16:15 GMT+4 – Central Bank Sells USD 40 mln to Shore up Lari

The National Bank of Georgia (NBG) sold USD 40 million at the foreign exchange (FX) auction in an effort to soften the pressure on the exchange rate of Lari. Georgia’s national currency plunged to a new low (3.0807 GEL per 1 USD) on March 17 amid Covid-19 fallout.

12:45 GMT+4 – NCDC Updates on COVID-19 Occurrence in Georgia 

Amiran Gamkrelidze, Director of the National Center for Disease Control and Public Health, has delivered public statement providing firstand updates on the transmission of the disease in Georgia. Out of 39 infected patients at present, three have developed severe type of double pneumonia (including two old-age patients), while another nine have symptoms of mild respiratory disease and twenty-seven are pneumonia-free. Up to 20 patients of Georgian nationality had been hospitalized in foreign countries (mainly Europe), noted Gamkrelidze.

Currently, state epidemiologist have traced 238 human contacts of the infected patients to take requisite preventive measures. According to the official data, 1446 people remain is self-isolation and 1592 people are placed under quarantine.

12:30 GMT+4 – Gov’t Ramps up Coronavirus Response to Mitigate Contagion Risks

Public life is expected to be further curtailed in Georgia as Irakli Chikovani, government’s spokesperson, has voiced plans to impose new restrictive physical (social) distancing measures, at a now-regular noon briefing. “Stay at home, so we tackle the virus together,” urged Chikovani, reiterating call on citizens to meticulously observe all emergency regulations.

The spokesperson announced Prime Minister’s directive to all Ministries and state bodies to present instructions with regard to restrictions taking effect shortly by the end of the day. “There is no immediate need to declare a state of emergency,” Chikovani noted, elaborating on contingency measures already taken by the government. The Ministry of Environmental Protection and Agriculture was tasked to hold consultations with the private sector in order to fix basic retail prices on nine “vital” products (wheat flour, sugar, rice, noodles, milk powder products and etc.). Countrywide, food inventories are “more than enough”, spokesperson stated. Chikovani added that local manufacturing of face masks and sanitizers had been kicked off. He mentioned an initiative by Tbilisi City Mayor to suspend leasing fees on property in municipal possession. The government advised other municipality authorities to take a similar approach, Chikovani said.

Tamar Gabunia, deputy Health Minister, announced contingency plans in the healthcare system to tackle the possible surge in cases. Presently, 558 hospital beds have been allocated for treating coronavirus-infected patients. The Ministry has put together a list of up to 25 medical facilities (private and public) which will provide additional capacity in response to increased number of patients. According to Gabunia, the Ministry is taking steps to stockpile rapid testing kits allowing to carry out mass screening of the disease. However, she noted, the state regulatory agency would not authorize private entities to register rapid diagnostic test systems until the national COVID-19 testing algorithm were approved by the Ministry. “We will not create any hurdles in this respect,” stressed Gabunia.

12:15 GMT+4 – Coronavirus-infected Georgian National Died in Spain

A Georgian citizen who had contracted the novel coronavirus died in a hospital in Spain, Foreign Minister Davit Zalkaliani stated at the meeting of the Inter-Agency Coordination Council, a government task force to tackle the pandemic. According to the Minister, the patient was of senior age (73-year-old) and suffered from associated chronic diseases (deemed as risk factors). Zalkaliani added that the Consular Service was in contact with the family of the deceased and vowed help to transfer the corpse from Spain to Georgia.

12:00 GMT+4 – 28 Persons Transferred to Quarantine Zones for Violating Self-Isolation Protocol

Law enforcement officers placed 28 persons under mandatory quarantine who had violated self-isolation (housebound) regime despite requirements set by the Center for Disease Control and Public Health of Georgia (NCDC). Citizens from Tbilisi and ten other regions were moved to specially designated quarantine zones to complete a 14-day period of isolation. The Ministry of Internal Affairs called on all citizens to “demonstrate high level of responsibility” and comply with public health regulations.

12:00 GMT+4 – 2 More Patients Test Positive on Coronavirus, Total Hits 40

Two new patients had tested positive on the novel coronavirus, Marina Ezugbaia, Medical Director of Tbilisi Hospital for Infectious Diseases told journalists at a morning briefing. At this stage, she said, three patients’ medical state could be assessed as critical due to complementary risk factors (old age, associated chronic disease etc.).

11:50 GMT+4 – UNDP Mission Visits Sokhumi Pledging Help to Tackle Pandemic

On March 19, a delegation of experts from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) kicked off a three-day visit to Russian-occupied region of Abkhazia, local news outlet ApsnyPress reported. According to the reporting, the delegation arrived to “provide help” to Abkhaz authorities in their efforts to mitigate the threats posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. The delegation held meetings with acting leader Valery Bganba, “foreign minister” Daur Kove and other Abkhaz authorities.

Louisa Vinton, Resident Representative of the UNDP in Georgia, stressed the need to assess “how prepared Abkhaz health system was” to detect cases of the novel coronavirus. The experts were tasked to issue recommendations on safety measures for medical staff and wider population, she said. According to Vinton, the UNDP delegation delivered to Sokhumi protective medical gear provided with the help of USAID and UN Women program. The equipment includes 500 kits for individual protection, 500 liters of antibacterial soap and up to 600 liters of antiseptic liquids for distribution to the public. “The United Nations envisages to extend provision of this kind of supply,” Vinton stated.

The UNDP representative highlighted that the WHO experts would examine the process of laboratory testing and provide healthcare authorities with recommendations on quarantine protocol for medical facilities. Vinton noted that the delegation was engaged in raising awareness about the rapidly-spreading disease among local residents. “It is crucial that every single person makes efforts to prevent the spread of the virus,” she said.

Moscow-backed Sokhumi authorities have not yet reported a COVID-19 case in the region.

Wednesday, March 18

21:00 GMT+4 – Georgians Applaud Doctors Fighting Coronavirus Pandemic

Scores of Georgians took to their windows and balconies at 9 pm sharp to pay tribute to the country’s medical staff by mass applause. The morale-boosting performance was launched on Facebook and shortly engaged thousands of users. Georgians clapped for a few minutes to keep spirits high while thanking doctors and healthcare professionals for their dedication.

14:00 GMT+4 – Central Bank to Sell USD 40 mln to Stabilize Lari

The National Bank of Georgia (NBG) will sell USD 40 million on the foreign exchange (FX) auction tomorrow in an effort to soften the pressure on the exchange rate of Lari. Georgia’s national currency plunged to a new low (3.0807 GEL per 1 USD) on March 17 amid Covid-19 fallout. The NBG also announced its decision to keep the benchmark (refinancing) rate unchanged at 9.0 %, citing “high level of uncertainty” in the global economy.

12:20 GMT+4 – Georgia to Carry Out “Aggressive Testing” if Cases Jump

Health Minister Ekaterine Tikaradze has announced that Georgia might adopt “aggressive testing” for the novel coronavirus, an approach endorsed by the World Health Organization. Health professionals, epidemiologists in particular, will start screening large numbers of people via rapid testing if and when the situation “gets out of hand” as a result of the community transmission.

“We are closely monitoring how different countries tackle the spread of the virus and what measures they take to treat [infected patients],” stated Tikaradze at a press conference after an emergency meeting of the Coordination Council on Coronavirus, a government task force. She referred to the best practice employed by South Korea, which had led to “detection of new cases in early stages” and thus allowed “more efficient treatment.” She mentioned ongoing negotiations with China and South Korea to supply Georgia with rapid Covid-19 test kits. “Our embassy will be in charge of transporting the cargo [test kits], we could speak more specifically about the amounts by the end of this week,” Tikaradze said.

Health Minister touched on the possibility of treating patients with mild symptoms at home in order to free up space for the severely ill in hospitals. “Around 80-82 % of the disease cases are of a mild degree, and home physicians will be able to provide care for these patients,” she clarified.

Tikaradze further reiterated that were cases to increase faster than expected, the Ministry would issue recommendation to prolong closure of schools and universities.

12:15 GMT+4 – Gov’t to Hold Remote Press Briefings to Limit Spread of Coronavirus

The government administration had decided to hold televised briefings in a bid to enforce physical distancing among journalists, Irakli Chikovani, government’s spokesperson, stated in his remarks after the meeting of the Inter-Agency Coordination Council on Coronavirus. Instead, Georgia’s Public Broadcaster will provide live signal for transmission to all TV stations free of charge. Journalists will have to submit their questions prior to the briefing, Chikovani noted. “Government will set up a communication platform for quick response to media,” he added.

10:23 GMT+4 – Four New Patients Test Positive on Coronavirus, Total Hits 38

Marina Ezugbaia, Medical Director of Tbilisi Hospital for Infectious Diseases told reporters that four new cases of the novel coronavirus were recorded, bringing the total to 38. Ezugbaia noted that the latter four infected patients came into contact with the patient(s) who had previously tested positive on COVID-19.

01:05 GMT+4 – Lari at Its Lowest Level against the Dollar

On March 17, Georgian Lari hit yet another historic low of 3.0807 per USD, as the data provided by the Georgian National Bank shows. According to Bloomberg, USD/GEL exchange rate stands at 3.1496, meaning that Georgian national currency depreciated against the US Dollar by $0.1378 in a day.

00:00 GMT+4 – Travel Ban for Foreign Nationals Comes into Effect

Georgia will bar entry to all foreign citizens for the next to weeks in an effort to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. Government’s decision was announced on Monday and entered into force at midnight today (to read more scroll down to the entry on March 16 – editor’s note).

Tuesday, March 17

14:55 GMT+4 – USAID-financed ACCESS Program Allocates Funds for Georgian CSOs to Tackle Pandemic

The Advancing CSO Capacities and Engaging Society for Sustainability (ACCESS) program, a project funded by the USAID and implemented by the East-West Management Institute (EWMI) and other local partners, announced a call for rapid response grant proposals extended to Georgian civil society outfits.

Small grants program seeks to provide funding (from USD 500 to USD 5000) for CSOs willing to take “civic action” in order to limit the spread of Covid-19 in Georgia, provide critical support to affected communities, facilitate inter-sectoral cooperation to boost national response efforts, and address other significant aspects of the pandemic.

12:45 GMT+4 – Gov’t Introduces Extra Measures “to Keep Disease at Bay”

Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia unveiled additional emergency measures aimed at containing the spread of the novel coronavirus at a press conference following the meeting of the National Security Council. Freshly introduced measures include suspending the service of all minibuses (or marshrutkas, as they are known locally), as this type of vehicle was deemed “especially risky for contagion” by epidemiologists, due to the inability to keep one-meter distance between the passengers. However, he added, other modes of public transport (buses, Tbilisi Metro) will operate as per usual. “Spa centers and gyms will also cease functioning to enhance the social distancing [effective tomorrow March 18],” Gakharia stated.

The Prime Minister reiterated government’s advice to senior citizens aged 70 and more to remain in self-isolation as they constitute a high-risk group for the disease. Gakharia also spoke of the concerted efforts by the Georgian Post, Ministry of Economy and Ministry of Health to provide home delivery services for the “socially disadvantaged” (destitute) pensioners to meet their daily needs.

“We are transitioning to the stage of the [actual] spread of the disease. The healthcare system will have to get ready for a flux of new patients,” Prime Minister Gakharia said.  He then named four top priorities of the containment strategy: protecting citizens’ health; softening the blow for the economy; managing the existing inventories and supplies of vital resources; safeguarding the civil order. He further expressed willingness to provide assistance for Georgian citizens residing in the Russian-occupied Abkhazia and Tskhinvali Region/South Ossetia.

11:00 GMT+4 – 34th Case Confirmed in Georgia

“New case of the novel coronavirus was confirmed this morning, as 34th person tested positive on COVID-19,” Marina Ezugbaia, Medical Director of Tbilisi Hospital for Infectious Diseases told reporters at a press briefing on March 17. Ezugbaia noted that the patient had contracted the disease from his/her family member, who is also among the last cluster of hospitalized patients (patients #31, 32 and 33 – as they are referred to by the health professionals). Ezugbaia assessed the new case to be of a mild degree of illness.

00:35 GMT+4 – Georgian Lari Hits Historic Low against US Dollar

On March 16, Georgian Lari hit new historic low of 3.0118 per USD, as the data provided by the Georgian National Bank shows. According to Bloomberg, USD/GEL exchange rate stood at 3.0577 on Monday, the weakest point for Georgia’s national currency since its introduction in October 1995.

Monday, March 16

21:32 GMT+4 – National Security Council Says ‘No Need to Declare’ National Emergency

The National Security Council (NSC), an eight-member advisory body chaired by the Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia, discussed short and long-term economic risks and challenges amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

NSC, which also includes defense, interior, foreign and finance ministers, heads of state security and intelligence services, and chief of the armed forces, does not yet consider it necessary to declare the national emergency, as the Government of Georgia has been “following a concrete action plan and making decisions” according to the current developments.

19:25 GMT +4 – Tskhinvali Bars All Foreigners, Except Russians

Tskhinvali-based RES media outlet reported on Monday evening that the Moscow-backed Tskhinvali Region/South Ossetia authorities will ban the entry of all foreign citizens in the region in the period between March 16 to April 15 amid the novel coronavirus outbreak. The ban, however, excludes the nationals of the Russian Federation.

As of March 16, Georgia has confirmed 33 cases of COVID-19 virus, while the number totaled 93 in the Russian Federation.

Fearing COVID-19, Russia-backed Tskhinvali leadership imposed a temporary travel ban on nationals hailing from more than 60 states on March 2. Earlier, on February 27, Tskhinvali KGB closed all crossing points connecting the region to Georgia proper until further notice.

Abkhazia, Georgia’s another Russian-backed region also imposed travel ban on all foreign citizens except for Russians on February 25. Abkhaz travel ban is effective until April 7.

19:30 GMT+4 – Sokhumi,Tskhinvali to Get Russian Testing Kits for COVID-19

The Russian Federation will provide Moscow-backed Sokhumi authorities with diagnostic test kits for the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) from March 20, local news agency ApsnyPress reported on March 16.

According to the reporting, the test kits were produced by the State Research Center for Virology and Biotechnology “Vector” in Russia, which is administered by the Federal Service for Surveillance on Consumer Rights Protection and Human Wellbeing (also known as Rospotrebnadzor). The disease will be diagnosed based on the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) methodology. Sample collection kits (swabs) will be distributed to all medical institutions in Abkhazia, said ApsnyPress.

In the meantime, first batch of Russian testing kits are expected to arrive in Tskhinvali Region/South Ossetia later this week. Georgian government has pledged to provide testing and treatment for all Georgian citizens residing in Russian-occupied regions.

Sokhumi authorities rebuffed Tbilisi’s offer to lend a helping hand, commenting that “Abkhazia issued no requests [to Georgia proper], therefore they can keep their political speculations for themselves.” Tskhinvali , similarly, turned down Georgia’s proposal for assistance claiming that “Georgian authorities were trying to do political PR for themselves.”

19:15 GMT+4 – Geneva Talks Postponed

Due to rapid spread of COVID-19 virus, the Co-Chairs of the Geneva International Discussions (GDI), the talks designed to address the consequences of 2008 Russo-Georgian War, decided to postpone the 51st GID round, which was set to take place on 31 March – 1 April, 2020.

“The Co-Chairs will take every effort to closely keep contact and engage with all participants using available tools to adequately address pertinent security  and humanitarian related issues, among others, on the GID agenda,” reads their statement.

19:00 GMT+4 – the First Patient Discharged from Hospital

Tbilisi Infectious Diseases and AIDS Center, medical institution that remains at the forefront of Georgian response against COVID-19 virus, announced on Facebook that Georgia’s patient zero, who tested positive on COVID-19 in late February, had been discharged from the hospital. The patient is required to remain in self-isolation for the next two weeks.

13:20 GMT+4 – Georgia Temporarily Bans Entry to Foreigners from March 18

From March 18 midnight, Georgia will bar entry to all foreign nationals  for the next two weeks in a bid to fend off the spread of COVID-19, Irakli Chikovani, Georgian Prime Minister’s spokesperson announced on March 16.

At a press conference held after the meeting of the Inter-Agency Coordination Council on Coronavirus, a government task force formed to tackle the disease, Chikovani stated that Georgian citizens willing to return to their country would be granted an opportunity to travel via special flights run by the Georgian Airways.

Upon the government’s decision, Georgian ski resorts are to close earlier than usual this year.” Government also issued recommendation for cafes, restaurants and bars to suspend indoor service and instead to amp up food delivery service. Georgians over the age of 70 are recommended to refrain from public gatherings and to remain at home to reduce the risks of potential threat to their health.

00:00 GMT+4 – Georgia Suspends land and air travel to and from the Russian Federation 

The Georgian government announced on Sunday, March 15 that the land and air travel with the Russian Federation will be suspended from March 16.  The ban excludes freight cargo and Georgian nationals willing to return to the country.

Prior to the decision, Zurab Abashidze, Georgian Prime Minister’s special representative for Russia held phone talk with Russia’s former Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin (who maintains his mandate to carry out a dialogue with Tbilisi) to discuss the issue, the Georgian government said on Sunday.

Sunday, March 15

18:00 GMT +4 – Sarpi Border Crossing Point with Turkey Temporarily Closed

To halt further spread of COVID-19, Georgia announced on March 14 about the decision to halt border crossing with Turkey through the border checkpoint of Sarpi, village on the Black Sea coast. Land travel between the two countries still possible through Vale and Kartsakhi border checkpoints. Air travels between Georgia and Turkey not restricted.

Georgia confirmed its first COVID-19 case on February 26. Georgia’s “patient zero” was declared cured on March 15, but is prescribed to remain in self-isolation for another week. Meanwhile, the number of confirmed cases hit 33 in Georgia, with some of the new cases considered to be transmitted internally, Georgian healthcare officials say.

Land travel was also suspended with Armenia and Azerbaijan, Georgia’s southern and south-eastern neighbors respectively.

Earlier, Georgia suspended flights with China, Iran and Italy, and obliged those returning from China, Iran, South Korea, Italy, Germany, France, Austria, Spain, Switzerland, Norway and Denmark (countries gravely affected by the disease) to present PCR certificates confirming that they tested negative on COVID-19 while crossing the state border. Otherwise, they would be subject to a 14-day mandatory quarantine.

This post is also available in: ქართული (Georgian) Русский (Russian)

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