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Abkhazia to enter state of emergency from Saturday

27 March 2020
A medical tent outside the Republican Hospital in Sukhumi. Image: Ministry for Emergency Services of Abkhazia.

Abkhazia’s parliament has approved a decree from the president introducing a state of emergency from Saturday.

The measures, brought in to mitigate the danger of the coronavirus pandemic, are set to last until 20 April and will include a curfew.

[Follow our live updates on the coronavirus in the Caucasus.]

It is not yet known how widely the curfew will be used or which civil rights will be restricted. 

The state of emergency allows the authorities to put limits on freedom of movement, freedom of assembly, to impose a quarantine and more. 

So far, the authorities have insisted that there are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Abkhazia. 

The decision came hours after the authorities closed down open markets and food, entertainment, and beauty establishments, and halted all public transport (except taxis) until 7 April.

Acting President Valeriy Bganba, who is also currently the prime minister, also closed down all educational institutions till 7 April and postponed military conscription till May.

Earlier this week, government agencies sent non-essential personnel home and launched a public awareness campaign about the coronavirus.

The state of emergency comes under a month before Abkhazia’s new president is set to be sworn in.

An early election on 22 March saw opposition leader Aslan Bzhaniya triumph.

Bganba said he had coordinated his latest move with Bzhaniya.

[Read more on OC Media: Aslan Bzhaniya elected president of Abkhazia]

Earlier measures

Introducing his decree for approval before parliament on 27 March, Bganba cited the Russian government’s closure of hotels throughout Russia until 1 June. 

‘In this case, if we don’t do the same, there is a danger that tourists move en masse across the Abkhaz border’, Bganba said.

Before 22 March’s election, Abkhazia closed its border with western Georgia’s Samegrelo region but stopped short of imposing any restrictions on Russian citizens entering Abkhazia through the River Psou checkpoint. 

Three days later, the authorities banned Russian citizens from entering Abkhazia as tourists while a medical unit under the emergency situations ministry started checking people crossing the Psou checkpoint for symptoms. 

On 27 May, the inter-agency operational headquarters under the health ministry launched a ‘nationwide call centre’. The centre, unlike a hotline started earlier which was staffed by volunteers, is meant to provide medical consultations.

A day earlier, during a meeting between Bganba and the heads of regional hospitals, Health Minister Tamaz Tsakhnakiya was quoted saying that anyone diagnosed with COVID-19 would be sent to the Gudauta District Hospital. He said the hospital had a capacity of 35 beds with an additional 70 available if needed. 

Gudauta hospital was chosen after a tent was installed outside the Republican Hospital in capital Sukhumi to check patients with symptoms typical of the coronavirus separately.

 For ease of reading, we choose not to use qualifiers such as ‘de facto’, ‘unrecognised’, or ‘partially recognised’ when discussing institutions or political positions within Abkhazia, Nagorno-Karabakh, and South Ossetia. This does not imply a position on their status.