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Even before the first positive patient appeared, people in Kyrgyzstan have been closely watching the coronavirus pandemic engulf the world. They had a good reason: Their small mountainous country in Central Asia borders China, where the outbreak began.
Kyrgyz on social media expressed concern about how the virus would affect the country's weak economy. People in the service sector were concerned if it would affect the 2020 tourist season; traders and farmers wondered if it would interfere with spring planting and thus the harvest.
However, the majority in Kyrgyzstan simply cannot afford to lock themselves up and wait until the crisis is over. The country is now seeking a compromise between a strict quarantine and a functioning economy, fearing that otherwise more people may starve than coronavirus.
That recognition has led Kyrgyz people across the country to take action on the matter, who volunteered to help their neighbors and fellow citizens in any way they can.
Some cynics might say that it is because they never had much faith in the government's response. So how prepared were the Biskek authorities when the coronavirus reached Kyrgyzstan?
Timeline of a quarantine
As of April 9, there were 270 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Kyrgyzstan, according to the Johns Hopkins University coronavirus map.
With the spread of the coronavirus, many countries imposed restrictions on public life. They closed borders and schools, and established quarantines. Kyrgyzstan is no exception, although the Government's response was delayed somewhat. Until the beginning of March, the authorities only recommended the cancellation of public events, and rejected proposals to close schools and universities.
All of that changed on March 12, when the government officially restricted all massive activities. Two days later, an entry ban for citizens of seven countries came into force, applicable to China, Italy, Iran, Korea, France, Germany and Spain. Foreign citizens who have visited or passed through these countries in the past 30 days were prohibited from entering Kyrgyzstan
On March 16, Kyrgyzstan completely closed schools and universities and restricted activities and funerals for large families. On March 18, the country reported its first positive case of coronavirus. Or rather, cases. The virus was detected in three people who had arrived in the country on March 12 after making the Little Hajj, or Umrah, pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia. In addition, 135 Kyrgyz citizens arrived on the same flight, 90 of whom were placed in isolation.
These first cases were identified in the Jalal-Abad region in southern Kyrgyzstan. It was there that Kyrgyzstan declared its first state of emergency. Restrictions were imposed on entering and leaving the region, with exceptions for state officials.
Within a week, there were 44 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Kyrgyzstan. The infected person was under a year old and the oldest was 86 years old. This number increased every day as the pandemic spread to more regions of Kyrgyzstan. On March 25, authorities declared a state of emergency in Biskek, Osh and Jalal-Abad, the country's three largest cities, and in many districts.
Now there is a curfew in Biskek. As of April 9, Kyrgyz citizens cannot leave their homes without good reason, such as going to the doctor or shopping for food or medicine.
A helping hand?
With a nation blocked, the Kyrgyz government has had to consider how to make life easier for struggling citizens.
Deputy Prime Minister Erkin Asrandiyev estimated at a press briefing on March 26 that Kyrgyzstan has already lost between Som 27 billion and 28 billion (between $ 347 and 360 million) due to the closure of the borders and the economic recession in the last months. That same day, the IMF board of governors approved a $ 120.9 million loan requested by Kyrgyz President Sooronbai Jeenbekov. This was the first request for urgent financial assistance of this type made by an IMF member state since the pandemic began.
In addition, on April 3 the president ratified a law aimed at stabilizing the economic situation during the pandemic. These temporary measures, which will last until October, include a subsidy so that companies can defer their declarations and the payment of taxes until 2021.
But many Kyrgyz people remain skeptical – social media is full of accusations that the government was ill-prepared for the pandemic. Ordinary people are doing their best to survive and help each other, they say, while the country's leadership lives a parallel reality. How else can you explain the authorities' decision on April 1 to announce a referendum on the country's government system? The referendum, proposed by MP Kurmankul Zulushev to be held in October, would give more power to the presidency.
President Jeenbekov's decision to fire Deputy Prime Minister Altynay Omurbekova and Health Minister Kosmosbek Cholponbayev on April 1 has also been the subject of much speculation. The previous day, Jeenbekov had criticized members of the government for what he described as insufficient efforts to combat the coronavirus. On Facebook, blogger and media manager Gulnura Toralieva criticized the move on Facebook:
Все держалось на Алтынай Омурбекова (экс-вице-премьер-министр), в такой оне ое оре оре И да, никогда не хвалите чиновника, который хорошо работает, уволят
Everything depended on (former Deputy Prime Minister) Altynai Omurbekova at this time of crisis; it is a dangerous decision to remove her from office. So, yes, never praise a hard-working official – he will be fired.
The situation in Kyrgyzstan would probably be much worse without the self-organization of the citizens. An example is the People's Headquarters in Biskek, where I am a volunteer. It is easy; Potential volunteers should simply join the movement's Telegram channel.
More than 2000 volunteers work at its Biskek headquarters. The movement has more than 500 volunteers on the ground, helping poor families, people with disabilities, socially vulnerable people and single mothers in these difficult times. Organizers say they receive hundreds of requests for help every day; People's Headquarters also offers help spontaneously. Eldar Shabanov, one of the group coordinators, told Global Voices:
Идея народного штаба появилась из-за страха, что нашим гражданам будет очень тяжело, если введутка Еще 10 марта я писал пост, где уже выражал озабоченность. Тогда еще не было у нас вируса и карантина. Было страшно за людей, которые перебиваются изо дня в день – водители такси, маршруток, низкоквалифицированный персонал, которые получают оплату ежедневно. В случае карантина они протянут максимум три-четыре дня. Эта мысль не давала покоя и уже тогда было твердое решение – помогать нуждающимся в случае объявл Позвонил другу – поделился идеей, он без замедления поддержал.
The idea of the people's headquarters was born out of fear that it would be very difficult for our citizens to be quarantined. On March 10, I wrote an article in which I already expressed my concern. We did not have the virus and quarantine at the time. He feared for people who barely manage, taxi drivers, minibus drivers, unskilled staff who get paid every day. In the case of quarantine, they will last a maximum of three or four days. I couldn't stop thinking about it, so I decided that if a quarantine was announced we would have to help people in need. I called a friend and told him the idea, and he immediately supported me.
Volunteers also help medical staff, provide protective suits and masks, and deliver hot meals to staff working at quarantine centers. The costumes, purchased through donations, are made by a local company in Biskek and reportedly cost 240 som (three dollars).
Сшито более 300 защитных костюмов для медиков продолжаем шить, роздано более 5000 порций горячей еды, обеспечены более 200 семей только в Бишкеке и его окраинах продуктами питания. Корзина продуктов формируется из расчета на полторы две недели семье из пяти человек. В кассе имеется достаточно денег, чтобы обеспечить еще 1000 семей. С каждым днем желающих оказать помощь растет. Активную работу ведут наши единомышленники почти по всей стране. Есть штабы в Караколе, Токмаке, Канте, Кара-Балте, Оше и Джалал-Абаде. Статистику по другим городам, к сожалению, на данный момент не успеваем собирать.
We have sewn more than 300 protective medical suits and continue to do so, we have distributed more than 5000 servings of hot food, we provide food to more than 200 families in Bishkek and its suburbs alone. The basket of supplies we offer is calculated to last from one week and a half to two weeks for a family of five people. There is enough money in the box to provide for another thousand families. Every day more and more people want to help. Similar-minded people in almost the entire country are doing the same. There are locations in Karakol, Tokmak, Kant, Kara-Balta, Osh and Jalal-Abad. Unfortunately, we don't have time to collect statistics from other cities at this time.
This movement is growing. Every day, updates appear on Twitter with the tags # ЭлдикШтаб (House of the People in Kyrgyz), # НародныйШтаб (Each of the People in Russian), and # БизБарбыз (“We are” in Kyrgyz):
– EldikShtab_kg (@eldikshtab) March 26, 2020
We are the Casa del Pueblo, the national headquarters for combating the coronavirus. We believe that our society must support the State in this difficult period. Come join us!
Kyrgyz migrants abroad have also started raising funds for medical workers. On March 25, an ad appeared on the GoFundMe online fundraising platform. Its founder has since received $ 23,000. He noted that Kyrgyz doctors desperately needed personal protective equipment:
Урматтуу кыргыз элим! Кыргызстандагы даарыгерлерибиздин абалы Covid-19 убагында абдан кыйын болуп жатат. Маскаларды оз акчасына сатып жумушка такси менен келип жатышат. Айлык акчасын дагы кыскартыптыр. Сюжетная книга и книга о том, как учить ишта жатышат. Чогулуп биз ушундай убакта врачтарыбызды колдоп кетели. Канча бере алсанар, кошулгула. Даарыгерлерибиз буттан тайса бутту дей бер. Чогулалы !!!
Dear Kyrgyz people! During COVID-19, the situation of our doctors in Kyrgyzstan is dire. They have to come to work in a taxi and buy masks with their own money. Their wages have been reduced. This is a grim story about how hard work can be. If they make a mistake and become infected, it is the end for them. So let's stand together and support our doctors right now. Let's unite !!
This Twitter user praised the initiative, noting that many Kyrgyz citizens who have emigrated are still dedicated to their homeland:
Со всеми этими сборами и организацией, убедилась насколько кыргызстанцы любят и переживают за стаа Люди могут сколько угодно критиковать уехавших, но я вижу здесь столько людей которые потеряли работу, еле держатся и все равно стараются помочь когда речь идёт о наших там. 💔
– Peri Adan (@Peri_Adan) April 2, 2020
All these donations and this entire organization have convinced me of how much the Kyrgyz people appreciate and care for their country. People can criticize those who have left as much as they want, but I see so many people (abroad) that they have lost their jobs and are barely keeping up, but they are still trying to help our people there (in Kyrgyzstan).
To be fair, businessmen, politicians and large companies have not been left out and are doing their part. Despite its IMF loan, the Kyrgyz Ministry of Finance also opened an account on March 12 to raise donations to support the state's fight against the coronavirus. As of April 9, the account had received more than 121 million som (just over 1.5 million dollars).
A grim prospect
Despite all this help, the National Headquarters increasingly receives requests for help from single mothers, disabled people and people without means of support. Many used to make a living in the markets, which are now closed.
According to Eldar Shabdanov and two other coordinators of the movement, Urmat Nasykulov and Tilek Toktogaziyev, some doctors have even called the helpline for help:
Мы открыли номер для анонимного обращения врачей и за пару дней поступило более 300 обращений. Просят защитные костюмы, горячую еду, транспорт для перемещения по городу. Стараемся оказывать помощь им анонимно, так как в самом начале нашей кампании оторачи открытов Волонтеры, которые доставляют им горячую еду, говорят, что у врачей чуть ли слезы в глазах юеза .
We opened a phone line to communicate with the doctors anonymously, and in one day we received more than 300 orders. They ask for protective suits, hot food and transportation to get around the city. We tried to help them anonymously, because at the beginning of our campaign, the doctors who publicly thanked us were reprimanded. Volunteers delivering hot food to them say doctors almost have tears in their eyes. We hear a report from a doctor who leaves his house at four in the morning and walks about four kilometers to work, and returns home hungry.
This suggests that in Kyrgyzstan, as in many other countries, volunteers have to replace the State. The same coordinator stressed that the country's poor can fight even more than in the era before the pandemic:
Картина с малоимущими более трагична. Отправляют множество фотографий с половиной куска хлеба, с пустым холодильником, сопоследними 20 соком Несмотря на то, что выделен единый номер для обращений, много граждан звонят наотоние коори Недавно мне звонила одна женщина три дня подряд днем и ночью. У нее 9 детей и свекровка инвалид, им есть нечего. Друзьям рассказали, что у одной многодетной женщины из-за того, что дети несколько дней не ели, один ребенок уже не встает с постели и мучается от боли в животе. Это все очень эмоционально тяжело сопереживать. Помощь нужна прямо сейчас и ее надо много.
The image of the poor is more tragic. They send a lot of photos with half a piece of bread, an empty refrigerator, and the last 20 som ($ 0.23) in their wallet. Although a single number is assigned for these appeals, many citizens call the coordinators' personal numbers day and night. Recently, a woman called me three days in a row, day and night. He has nine children and a disabled mother-in-law, they have nothing to eat. Friends were told the story of a woman with many children; a child no longer gets out of bed and suffers from abdominal pain from lack of food. It is all very difficult emotionally. We need help, we need a lot of help.
The movement and its volunteers now receive thousands of such messages every day. For a small mountainous country with a population of six million, one wonders if it is too little or too much.
In any case, this solidarity is showing a brighter side of Kyrgyz society. When Kyrgyzstan overcomes this, we will have many reasons to embrace again. Although perhaps still two meters away, as recommended by the WHO.