I had never really thought about them. Except, as a child, to chase them. Or as a father to beg my son not to chase them.
Then, 30 pigeons perish in broad daylight and the Ministry of Ecology opens an investigation. And you start to feel it.
It pecks your skin.
Kazakhstan's two largest cities, Almaty and Nursultan, have been confined for more than a month.
In recent weeks, most of the other major settlements have joined them, as groups of new coronaviruses grow in almost every corner of the ninth largest country in the world.
The vastness of the steppe limits connectivity between remote centers, but this has proven not to be a vaccine.
The quarantine of my family is privileged. Our apartment is quite spacious. The square meters inside become more important when access to the square kilometers outside is closed (parks, playgrounds * and pedestrian areas). We have the resources to wait patiently.
Others in Kazakhstan do not. The country's authoritarian regime has pledged to hand over around a hundred US dollars a month to the roughly four million citizens who lost their jobs as a result of the confinement. It is more than neighboring Central Asian countries can afford, but it is still insufficient.
This tweet from a journalist from Kyrgyzstan, a neighboring country of Kazakhstan, summarizes the chasm between the relatively affluent sectors of the population that use social networks and those that do not. Although Kyrgyzstan is the poorer of the two countries, the comparison is valid:
Слева: твиттерский жалуется, что у него заканчивается виски и что он начал набирать вес иа-за карант.
Справа: остальной Кыргызстан pic.twitter.com/X4iE6s4sN9
– Aibol Kozhomuratov (@AKozhomuratov) April 7, 2020
On the left, a Twitter user complains about running out of whiskey and gaining weight during quarantine. On the right is the rest of Kyrgyzstan.
The governments of this authoritarian region consider the race to flatten the curve as something experimental.
If the choice between the spread of hunger and that of the unsustainable COVID-19 becomes binary, even regimes that resisted the economic maelstrom of the 1990s will be afraid.
Who owns playgrounds?
While European governments have debated and reflected on how to enforce quarantine regimes and social distancing, the answer here feels more reflective.
And when the state misses something, there is a network of informants to help.
The WhatsApp group called the Action Committee, created by the administrators of our residential complex to keep residents up to date on quarantine measures, soon became a powerful pressure group demanding its enforcement: “How dare they Families to take advantage of their authorized walks to the dumpsters to walk around the complex, not once, but several times? People walk without masks, fail to comply with government recommendations! Have you seen the kids still playing basketball ?! ”
Since then, the Police and the military have come forward to patrol the complex almost every morning. In this way, there is no longer any trace of the basketball players whose games gave the courtyard an appearance of normality.
The COVID-19 crisis is an opportunity for the State to demonstrate its strength, but it also reveals its weaknesses.
Authorities in Kazakhstan's capital Nursultan boasted that their network of Chinese-made radars would have their sights set on drivers to ensure they didn't break the quarantine.
And yet, the government has not been able to avoid the high rates of infection among doctors who are in the front line: in fact, doctors represent almost 30% of the approximately 2,300 cases of COVID-19 in the country. .
Personal protective equipment is, in many cases, scarce. So when the Almaty chief epidemiologist blamed the doctors for getting the infection, the doctors and nurses rebelled and threatened to sue her. They received a lot of public support. On April 18, the epidemiologist resigned from her post.
President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, whose government faces the additional curve of the near-total drop in the price of oil, has since acknowledged that many hospital employees have not been cared for.
(embed) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sb_n8BwpiTM (/ embed)
Disinfection resembles another show of strength exercise.
Men with masks and rompers arrive twice a week at residential complexes, announce their arrival with loudspeakers and disinfect everything. Many of the sanitizing spaces (playgrounds, parks, and pedestrian areas) have had little or no use since the quarantine went into effect. But exercise is not useless. Neighbors are cautioned that it is not safe for them to leave until five hours after spaces are disinfected: Stay home.
Pigeons do not receive the same act of courtesy. At the beginning of the quarantine, shocking images of the creatures lying dead in a well-known park were disseminated on social networks. The Ecology Ministry considered the possibility that they had been poisoned and promised to follow up on the matter. It hasn't yet, but the sense of mystery has faded. Those 30 pigeons were disinfected to death.
* On April 28, when the original of this entry was published, the playgrounds next to residential complexes reopened for the first time in more than a month. The measure was part of a presidential order of April 27 that extended the quarantine until May 11 but eased some restrictions in the cities where it is in force. The order also allowed internal flights between the two largest cities in Kazakhstan, Almaty and Nursultan.