Expert’s commentary: The situation with coronavirus in the South Caucasus

David Shahnazaryan, leading analyst, Former Armenian Minister of Interior

The spread of coronavirus in all three countries of the South Caucasus is fundamentally different and it demonstrates different patterns of behavior of the authorities. At present, approximately 360 cases per 100,000 people are registered in Armenia, 94 in Azerbaijan, and 20 in Georgia. It is already known that unregistered cases play an important role in measuring the spread of coronavirus.

Trinity Gergeti Church, Kazbegi, Georgia. Photo by Iman Gozal on Unsplash.

 

At the moment, we can say that the degree of registration is the highest in Georgia, it is less in Azerbaijan and the lowest in Armenia. At the moment, according to the simulation results in Armenia, it can be presumed that there are 83 thousand cases of COVID-19, including 8.140 people who recovered, 216 dead, 27.5 thousand in the incubation period, 25 thousand active carriers with the symptoms and 22.4 thousand active carriers without any any symptoms. The under-registration level can be indirectly estimated based on the Test Positivity Rate, which in recent days has been 41% in Armenia, 4% in Azerbaijan and 0.2% in Georgia, where, accordingly, only 1 out of 500 tests gives a positive result.

To date, the situation is only in Georgia under the control of the authorities. The Georgian government was able to consolidate efforts and since January 2020 was engaged in preventing the spread of the epidemic and in general it managed to achieve this result, although with rather great damage to the economy. In Georgia, artificially, thanks to extensive testing and tracing of contacts of infected people, strict quarantine, effective communication with society and many less significant measures, they managed to extinguish the outbreak of coronavirus, although this fight is not over yet. In a month, Georgia is going to begin to open borders for tourists from countries where the epidemiological situation is under control and for people who have a “covert passport”, as a result, the risk of an epidemic return will be minimized and, when new foci appear, with the help of advanced testing they will be able to catch pay off until the epidemic has time to grow. In total, 12 people died from coronavirus in Georgia.

In Azerbaijan, the situation is ambiguous. First, the spread of the number of carriers of the virus began in Azerbaijan, and this growth was especially active in late March or early April. Subsequently, it was possible to temporarily repay this wave, but since the efforts of the government were not effective and unstable, a new wave began in May, especially active growth began to be recorded in the second half of May. The Azerbaijani government is gradually opening the economy, despite the spread of infection, hoping to restrain its development in some other way. At present, the healthcare system in Azerbaijan is still coping with the flow of infected people, but at some point, if trends continue, its capacities will begin to be missed if the epidemic cannot be stopped.

In Armenia, the situation is the most difficult. The government acknowledged that there was a risk of the “Italian scenario”, and also stated that there were serious risks that the situation would get out of control. It is also stated that if the situation cannot be returned to control, then quarantine can be returned. In addition, the government understands that the majority of carriers are not registered and cites figures similar to the author’s calculations, according to which there are about 20 thousand asymptomatic carriers in the country. The following errors were made: the commission established at the end of January did not take any action, the borders with Italy were closed too late, an election campaign was conducted in Armenia at the initial stage of the epidemic, the ruling force organized mass meetings in support of its position. Later quarantine was introduced, but the government’s fear of social discontent did not allow it to enforce quarantine. As a result, Armenia suffered all economic losses from quarantine and pandemic, but did not make significant progress in saving lives. In Armenia, the authorities introduced an artificial division into those who died from coronavirus and with coronavirus, and the ratio of these numbers changes sharply depending on the alleged political expediency and is generally manipulated. In addition, several unregistered deaths from COVID-19 have been reported in the press. In Armenia, almost three times more deaths than in Georgia and Azerbaijan in total and ten times in terms of 100,000 of the population. At the moment, the healthcare system has almost ceased to cope with the influx of patients, many are sent home, the number of tests is low, and the number of seriously ill patients is growing by 10% per day and currently stands at about 500 (registered).