The Dispatch

The Dispatch – August 4/5: Breaking Records

Health Authorities Suspect Antivaxxer Sabotage while Cases Mount – Ruling Elites Chasing Heroes and Villains – Bishop Agreed to Blanket Phone Tap – Mahatma Gandhi Statue Robbed of Glasses

Georgian sports fans are happy today – one of the country’s most beloved athletes, weightlifter Lasha Talakhadze, won the much expected Olympic gold and broke his own records. Over the past two days, however, the country has been breaking less joyful records elsewhere, with daily COVID-19 cases surpassing 4,000. Here is Nini with usual and unusual updates from Georgia.

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BAD RECORDS Daily Covid-19 cases have seen a dramatic surge in Georgia, almost hitting 5,000 new cases on Tuesday. The number of active cases also stood at a record 36,102 on August 4. Carelessness about social distancing and lagging vaccination are both to blame. The authorities, however, are not rushing with new restrictions – the PM said earlier that the country “won’t survive” another lockdown – a position that has to do more with upcoming local elections than with health considerations. The health professionals, in the meantime, speak in favor of stricter measures. Strong anti-vaxxer attitudes are making things worse: the latest IRI poll says almost half of the population is unwilling to vaccinate – a trend that is also observable on social media.

CONSPIRACY OF CONSPIRACISTS One may find all the vaccine conspiracies ridiculous, but one of them in Georgia may be scarily true: Amiran Gamkrelidze, Head of National Center for Disease Control, said today that some 3,000 vaccine bookings were canceled at the last moment, as people who made the appointment failed to show up. At least some of these cancellations may have to do with rising infections and self-isolation, but messages have circulated on Facebook with anti-vaxxer groups, calling for precisely that: making an appointment and not showing up, hoping to waste a prepared vaccine dose, and at least to prevent others from signing up. Scary!

HEROES AND VILLAINS Lasha Talakhadze won the promised Olympic gold in weightlifting and broke several worlds- and Olympic records (mostly his own). Top ruling party members, including Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili and GD Chair Irakli Kobakhidze, were seen celebrating the win in a cringy group phone call. After all, a regime needs its heroes, not only villains – the role now repeatedly assigned to the government critical media. While chasing villains, however, PM Garibashvili may have become one himself for those outside the country: reports that his official visits to Baltic states were canceled on account of the government’s latest missteps got a confirmation from Lithuanian media. Read the details here.

LOST FOR WORDS As the country celebrated Talakhadze’s win, social media went after Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili for misspelling the athlete’s surname (twice!). However, the President also did good by criticizing the ruling party for abandoning the April 19 deal in her August 3 address. The problem is, used to Mrs. Zurabishvili’s gaffes, very few people are still listening…

CONSENSUAL SPYING After airing alleged Security Service memos by Mtavari Arkhi TV showing surveillance practices on a wide array of public figures, representatives of clergy – which was one of the targets of spying – made comments. Specifically, eccentric Bishop Nikoloz of Akhalkalaki, Kumurdo, and Kari Diocese, who happens to be honest to a fault, said security services from the previous government asked his blanket permission to wiretap his conversations, which he allowed. “Nobody has contacted me since the government has changed and I assumed that the agreement stays in effect,” he added. So where is the line between spying and simply oversharing? More seriously, since the Georgian Orthodox Church has allowed phone confessions for some time, the spooks should be getting quite a bit of information that was intended for God, not Caesar…

ACT OF VANDALISM Tbilisi Mayor Kakha Kaladze broke sad news today, saying that the Mahatma Gandhi statue that was opened in Tbilisi on July 10 was robbed of his glasses.  Kaladze commented that statues are often vandalized by teens while the adults are “calmly” watching. Or could it be that Gandhi chose to avert eyes from all the violence going on in Tbilisi?

That’s the full lid for today. Celebrate the bizarre and the curious in Georgia’s politics with us every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday!

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